Small Wonders: How to ride an elevator

March 09, 2012|By Patrick Caneday

Few places offer a more intense view into the makeup of the human condition than the elevator.

Where else in our daily lives are we forced to spend valuable seconds — even a full minute — tightly confined with a group of fellow earthlings in the microcosmic journey to our final destinations?

In my non-columnist life, I work in a monolith to a media giant. My cubicle is on one of the upper floors, so I spend a lot of time sealed in the suspended 6-by-6-foot vertical people-mover chronicling tips and observations about humanity and survival in my 10 to 20 elevator rides per day.


Some might be valuable life lessons. Others may simply get you from one floor to the next without having a minor, unwanted coffee break from sanity. Which is easier said than done:

When boarding a lift, allow the passengers already on it to disembark first. This sounds obvious, and I wish I didn't have to restate it. But, if you are one of the few people I've bumped into because you are too impatient to let me get out of your way first, perhaps it's time you went through with those plans to isolate yourself from the rest of us in a rural Idaho compound.

It's respectful practice to enter the elevator in the order that you arrived at it. My 8-year-old knows how this works; so should the rest of us. The exception to this rule is, of course, “ladies first.” Besides simple courtesy, this helps to prevent the awkward and annoying start-and-stop dance that also occurs at four-way intersections when basic driving rules are forgotten and no one knows who should proceed first.

If possible, move to the back or sides of the car and stand with your back to the wall. Standing in the middle of an uncrowded car or facing the wall just creeps other riders out. I don't really know why. It just does. But the world needs antagonists. So if that's you, just be prepared for worried glances in your direction.

If you enter an occupied elevator while conversing with someone else, you have a choice: pause your discussion so others don't feel excluded, or be open to the unsolicited contributions of others. Either is fine. I've been both the recipient and giver of advice in what amounts to between-floors speed therapy.

There is an appropriate space cushion that exists around all humans, like the Millennium Falcon's battered deflector shields. Respect it, especially after someone disembarks and you find yourself standing awkwardly close to your cabin mate from accounting.

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