One of my favorite places for people watching is the elevator. There’s a ‘waltz’ that occurs as it fills up and empties, floor by floor. We’re quite polite to each other when it’s crowded; we accommodatingly step off, usher out a passenger by briefly holding the doors, step back on and keep doing that until we shuffle off on our own floor. When I once briefly worked on the 30-something floor of a high rise in San Francisco, the elevator going down was an excruciatingly painful end-of-day exercise because it would be full and like the BART subway, you had to let the car go by and hope there’s room on the next. Or the next. Or the next. Then fuck it. I’ll take the stairs (down) kinda day or strategically go the opposite direction first.
I count how many of us stare at our phones. And if not staring at the phone, what are we doing (probably rooting around looking for the phone so we can stare at it)? Have you noticed that, once acknowledged by a fellow rider, either by having a friendly conversation or just the briefest of words…the person exiting feels obligated to say ‘goodbye’ in some way, like “have a good morning” or the one I use, “enjoy your day.” We don’t automatically tell everyone we pass to have a good day unless we’ve been forced to acknowledge each other already. Feng shui promotes a practice called ‘cutting the cord’ so that any negativity or unhappy lingering emotions or stress can be relieved by physically visualizing scissors cutting the cord between your core and the object, be it a building or relative or any experience. I imagine that briefly talking to each other creates a small connection, a cord, and so we feel that we need to conclude the interaction.
I also always notice my height in proportion to the others. Although I’m only 5′ 6″ (and that’s stretching it cause I’ve started shrinking), sometimes I’m the tallest person in the elevator and I love that feeling. I remember back to junior high when, at 16, I was only 4’11” and feared I would be forced to look at backs the rest of my life. I once worked with a woman who was 6’2″ flat footed and she wore heels and she was an asshole. It’s that (falsely) superior feeling of lording over people.
But…once released from this cordial ride, all bets are off. At the doctor’s office, people almost run so they can be first in line. If it’s at work, the secure, keyed company door slams in the next person’s face cause it’s suddenly become every man for himself and we revert back to ‘me first mentality’.
The crux of my rambling elevator talk is that we normally get on and move to the back to make room for others to keep loading and then continually adjust ourselves in expanding and contracting the personal space between us as we ascend/descend. So sometimes I just don’t move. I want to see what happens if I continue to stand just a little too close to someone; it was okay 20 seconds ago…why is it a problem now?
Not long ago, merging onto the highway got its own best practice and now we understand that we should alternate highway car, merging car, highway car, merging car. My friend Ariel called it zippering. Except for the occasional ass-wipe who tries to get a few cars ahead by zooming down the merge lane or the car that rides the other cars ass as if they are jumpered together, so that nobody can slip in between….the collaborative teamwork is done with nary a beep or finger or confusion or delay.
What if we positioned ourselves once relative to the floor we want? Since I work on 15 out of 16 floors, I should definitely head toward the back. If you work on floor 9, stay near the front (this elevator bank runs 9th-16th floors). Like a pinball game, the rest of us could maneuver to our relative spots like an actor who heads toward her mark or the Southwest Airline queue where we know how to line up to board in order. So why can’t we create a best practice for the elevator?
Excuse me. Pardon me. Enjoy your day.