Going Down

As the old adage goes, nothing brings people together like a common enemy.
I’ve worked in the same building for several years, walking in and out of the same revolving doors, seeing the same people in the stairwells during the quarterly fire drills, passing the same group of 22-year old sales guys on their smoke breaks, but I never felt any sort of kinship with them.
Occasionally I’d give a nod to one of the older lawyers on the 21st floor, or a cursory “Sure is cold out there” to the ladies who get off on that floor with the fancy lobby, but that was really the extent of our relationship.
That all changed on January 21, 2008, which will forever go down as “E-Day” in our building. It’s the day the building stood still. The day I found my hate. The day we got a new elevator system.
At first it was an office joke. “Hey! Did you see the 4-page memo about our new elevator system coming next month? Hello, overkill?”
“No doubt! Umm, yeah. How complicated could it be? The button with the arrow pointing up means you want to go up. The button with the arrow pointing down means you want to go down. Do they think we’re morons?”
Apparently in an effort to cut down on the long morning and evening waits for elevators, our building purchased a new highly intelligent vertical transportation system which uses sophisticated algorithms to determine the most efficient route for each person to travel, resulting in the minimum number of stops and maximum speed to destination.
We all laughed about all the celebratory signs that began to pop up throughout the building: Coming Soon! New Elevator System!
Shortly thereafter, our laughter started to show the first signs of strain. “Hey… uh, did you guys see the latest email from the building management? There’s a 15-minute instructional video we need to watch. On how to use the elevator system.”
“Ohmigod, are you guys watching this? ‘Press the number of the floor you want to go to. The kiosk will then tell you which elevator to step into. If you are with a large group all going to the same floor, you must all still punch your floor into the kiosk, and be aware that your party may be split up into multiple elevators for maximum efficiency. Do not get into an unassigned elevator as it will not stop on your floor’ What the hell?”
A few days later, flyers were posted over the Up/Down buttons threatening that “Traditional call buttons will be deactivated. Floor buttons inside the elevator will also be deactivated. Please use the main kiosk as of January 21st.”
When E-Day arrived, the building management had representatives from the elevator company standing by all the kiosks, wearing ill-fitted blazers and plastered smiles, encouraging everyone to “Hey! C’mon over here and punch your floor into the kiosk!” as though we were each getting one free pull on the giant slot machine and a 2-for-1 coupon for foot long hot dogs at the Golden Nugget.
The first day was mass chaos, and a clear indication that our crisis management team is poorly prepared in the event of a real emergency. I waited in line for the kiosk and saw the person in front of me get assigned to Elevator H. I pressed my floor into the kiosk and was told to go to Elevator H. The person behind me pressed her floor and was told to go to Elevator H. None of us were going to the same floor. As I squeezed my way through the crowd gathered around the kiosk to get to Elevator H, I realized that every single person was being assigned to Elevator H. Elevator H never came. Nor did G, I, J, K, or L.
The man in the blazer pulled out a walkie-talkie.
“Uh yeah this is Andy on the south bank. Yeah, uh, something’s wrong with the kiosk. It’s assigning everyone to Elevator H, but it’s not coming down. Yeah. Uh huh. Yeah, can you override that? Uh huh. Okay.”
He took a deep breath.
“Folks? Having a little problem with Elevator H here, so uh, I’m gonna need you all to re-enter your floors back into the kiosk. Yeah. Just working out some bugs. Sorry ‘bout that.”
If harnessed, our collective dramatic sighing, sarcastic huffing and bitter grumbling could have powered a small city. I would have settled for just one elevator, though.
“Well, that was sure a great investment!”
“I’m so glad I don’t have to press that confusing Up/Down button anymore.”
“Yeah, now I only have to stop on five floors to get to mine INSTEAD OF THE TWO I used to stop at.”
It was like the building sold our stairs for a bag of magic elevator beans, and we were ready to kill some giants.
The initial system hiccups didn’t get much better in the weeks to come, and the complaints grew. An entire floor of people missing their trains one evening because the elevators didn’t arrive for twenty minutes and they didn’t want to walk down the seventeen flights. Kiosks that told us to go to Elevator J when clearly Elevator J had no intention of stopping on our floor, so we had to ride it back down and start all over. People making a mad dash to their assigned elevators only to have the doors shut in their faces before they could hop on.
Do you have any idea what it feels like to get on an elevator that has no buttons inside it and suddenly realizing that it’s not stopping on your floor? It’s like being in an iron maiden, that’s what it’s like. As if to taunt us, a few of the elevators still have buttons in them. You can press them all you like, but they won’t work. They won’t even light up to give you the false sense of control.
The machines have taken over. Resistance is futile. The call is coming from inside the elevator. Stop on the nineteenth floor, HAL! STOP ON THE GODDAMN NINETEENTH FLOOR! I’m afraid I can’t do that, Jenny.
The management company tried to make amends by plying us with treats. On Valentine’s Day, we all arrived to a lobby full of pink and red cookies, each individually wrapped and tied up with red ribbons. We grumbled as we snatched the sweets off the table without even making eye contact.
“I’m diabetic, and I took two.”
“They owe us for these elevators.”
“Damn straight.”
“I ought to grind these into the carpet.”
“That’d show ‘em.”
“Hey, you have a good one!”
“Thanks – you too!”
Twenty-one floors of laser-focused, collective hatred and I’ve never felt such a heart-warming sense of belonging in my life.

22 Responses to “Going Down”

  1. claire Says:

    Engineers’ll make things harder for the sake of improvement ’bout every time, my dad would say, and he used to be one.
    You made me laugh and fear the future at the same time. At least y’all’ve got your hate to keep you together now. It’s the little things…

  2. Strode Says:

    Hey, the company had to spend your bonuses somewhere! Didn’t they?

  3. Carrington Says:

    Those aren’t elevators. They’re Happy Vertical People Transporters made by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.

    The only sensible response would be to reprogram the kiosk. I suggest reprogramming it after hours. With an axe.

  4. You can call me, 'Sir' Says:

    These are obviously the first steps in the robot overlords’ plans for domination:
    1) Extract hope
    2) Ply with treats
    3) Rinse
    4) Repeat
    So simple, yet so effective.

  5. You can call me, 'Sir' Says:

    These are obviously the first steps in the robot overlords’ plans for domination:
    1) Extract hope
    2) Ply with treats
    3) Rinse
    4) Repeat
    So simple, yet so effective.

  6. serap Says:

    Take the stairs Jen, take the stairs! They sound like scary elevators that could eat you up whole. Of course, that could just be my claustrophobia talking!

  7. diane Says:

    I am elevator/claustro phobic as it is. I would be seeking damages and massive amounts of therapy if I were caught in an elevator like that!!

  8. sizzle Says:

    that sounds so idiotic. you are trapped in the elevator! aack!

  9. Dustin Says:

    Ah sweet, uniting, warmth giving hate,
    P.S. All your elevator are belong to us.

  10. Roy Says:

    Holy crap. For reals?
    Please do not have your building people call my building people. I don’t do well with TOTAL LOSS OF CONTROL!

  11. Don Says:

    This can’t be real. Simply can’t. It sounds like the techies I work with have actually gained some influence. The horror!
    Say, the movie “I, Robot” takes place in Chicago. I wonder if …

  12. vahid Says:

    If they try to implement with the same setup with the building restrooms, I say you turn and run. “Please proceed to Stall H…”

  13. Bre Says:

    I’m a sucker for new technology and all – but that feels a bit extreme. Also…. what do they do about the folks who take the steps?

  14. jenny Says:

    claire: true dat. it’s not money that makes the world go ’round, it’s hate.
    strode: is that where they went?! d’oh!
    carrington: ohmigod, you’re so right! where’s my axe?
    sir: i just hope the treats start getting better. would it kill them to buy some twix?
    serap: i’d certainly get my daily exercise in that way, wouldn’t i?
    diane: it’s kind of unsettling, i have to agree.
    sizzle: idiotic, but true!
    dustin: i’m in ur elevator, killin ur doodz.
    roy: don’t worry, when they asked me which way you went, i told them denver.
    don: a lot of what you’ll read here is embellished, but this sir is 100% true. i’m not that creative.
    vahid: awesome idea! i just barge into stall H like… sorry, kiosk told me to go here. can you scooch over?
    bre: you can’t use the stairs in my building except in the case of a fire/emergency. all the doors are locked from inside the stairwell except the ground floor. we’re really trapped.

  15. Miss Britt Says:

    If my life experience has taught me anything, it’s this:
    Anything with the word “kiosk” involved is evil.

  16. shari Says:

    I remember when revolving doors were high-tech. Gah! On the plus side however, you now have the basic plot for the new screenplay starring Steven Segal or Bruce Willis or someone. They’re all the same guy anyway, and it’s all the same movie, right?

  17. Last Girl On Earth Says:

    Oh, Jen! Thank you for making my night. I’m TRULY not laughing at your pain. But the idea of Hal taking over the elevator is too much. Here in NYC we ride up and down all day, building after building. PLEASE let’s hope Hal doesn’t invade NY!

  18. jenny Says:

    miss britt: i got my ears pierced at a kiosk in a mall, so i totally agree.
    shari: i’m going to start bringing a gun and a grappling hook into the elevator from now on.
    lgoe: it’s okay, as long as people are laughing *and* learning valuable lessons from my pain, i don’t mind.

  19. churlita Says:

    It’s so beautiful when people come together under the umbrella of hatred.

  20. cloudy Says:

    That is the oddest thing I have ever heard. I hope it does not come to an elevator near me, even if it might mean bringing me closer to the suits in my building.

  21. marla Says:

    I have never heard of a system like this but my first thought was “this is never going to work”. What happens if you need to go to a different floor during the day? Do you have to go back to the lobby first? Can you get a photo of the kiosk? At least the building is bonding over the pain.

  22. Don Says:

    Later I was thinking something that needs mentioning once in awhile and that is that I love your blog because you very consistently tell the best stories and write really really well. Bestestly! I’m really sorry, however, that this one is true.

Leave a Reply