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Going Down an Elevator Is Rarely Uplifting : ELEVATOR: Uplifting

May 29, 1988|BOB O'SULLIVAN | O'Sullivan is a travel writer based in Canoga Park

I got on an elevator a while back with a friend. Immediately on entering he took his hat off and placed it over his heart.

"It's customary," he said. "Actually, I'd do it anyway because I don't want to meet my maker with my hat on and I don't trust these things."

It occurred to me that I didn't trust them either. I still don't. And the more I see of them in my travels about the world, the more I don't trust them. I figure if the Lord had meant for me to ride up and down on a string, he'd have made me a yo-yo.

My wife, Joyce, has opined a time or two that He did just that. And indeed, I may be a little eccentric on the subject. I'm not about to organize a demonstration and carry a sign reading, "Down With Elevators." But I am saying the whole business needs a little more thought.

Hoisting a Lift

The names, alone, should make one suspicious. I've heard them called "elevators," "hoists" and "lifts." But why are they never named after their downward motion? They don't only go up.

Ask for directions to the lift in Harrods, in London, and you won't have any trouble. But suppose you're already up and want to go down. How far do you think you'll get if you ask for directions to the "drop"?

And why do they also call that part of a moving staircase that only goes down, an escalator? It never escalates.

One of my children solved that one 25 years ago when he was little more than a toddler. As we were walking through a department store he told me he wanted to ride the "upalator," but that the "downalator" was too scary for him.

Wouldn't it be simpler to call them the upalator and the downalator? The only exception might be the escalator in the Centrum, the big department store in Warsaw. If I remember correctly, that machine only went up. It had no "down" counterpart.

Like a Coffin

Most of the elevators Joyce and I have seen in Europe tend to be small. The one in the Hotel DeLille, in Paris, accommodates only one person and one suitcase. The person must be thin and the suitcase only fits if standing on end.

One of our fellow guests pointed out that, lined in red velvet as it is, this particular elevator looks so much like a coffin that you're surprised to see the occupant move when the door opens.

There was an even more memorable elevator in Stockholm, in the Palace Hotel. It was different in that it was quite large.

All of us who had been waiting in the lobby got on and went through the rituals that go with good elevator manners.

We faced the front and shuffled around a little till all of us had our approximate quota of space, gave each other little half-smiles and stared up at the spot at the top of the door.

Stuck in Sweden

Then somebody pushed a button. Others mentioned their floors and the same man cheerfully pushed buttons for each number called.

The doors closed. The light dimmed, the motor hummed for a few seconds and the doors opened. Somebody got off, looked around, found that he was still in the lobby and was trying to get back on when the doors closed.

The light dimmed, the motor hummed, stopped and the doors opened. There was the same man who'd just got off.

"Nice of you to come back for me," he said. Several of us exchanged glances. We hadn't gone back for him. The doors closed, the light dimmed, the motor hummed and the doors opened. Again we were facing the lobby.

It happened three or four more times before we all realized that the machine was having us. The elevator had not moved at all. It had just gone through the motions.

I found it hard to believe that such a thing could happen in a country with Sweden's engineering record. In fact, as Joyce and I began climbing the hotel stairs with our luggage I could have sworn I heard mechanical-sounding laughter from deep in the building.

Old Elevator

Had the Swedes developed a sentient elevator? It worked flawlessly later on. I figured that someone, probably a Swedish engineer, must have had a few words with it.

The Irish elevator was another matter. We were in Galway at the Great Southern Hotel, with a tour group of mostly Irish Americans who'd "come home" to pay homage to the old sod.

It was an old building and an old elevator. Eight of us got on, on the fifth floor, and were on our way down to the lobby to catch our bus for Shannonside.

The car stopped on the fourth floor and although the elevator was full, a chambermaid got on. The doors closed and we were starting to go down again when the machinery groaned and stopped. The lights flickered and went out.

"It's my fault," the chambermaid said. "Things were grand till I got on. It was my weight that did it. I'm so sorry." Several of us told her that was silly and that it was nobody's fault.

'Push the Button'

"Push the button," somebody said.

"Which button?" somebody else asked.

"Any of 'em. All of 'em."

"Oh, dear Lord," said a small voice. "You might be pushing the emergency by mistake. Miss Riley gets awful mad when the emergency bell rings. She'll think I did it. Everything that goes wrong, she thinks I did it."

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