Friday, September 25, 2015

don't speak

I work on the 36th floor of the 15th tallest building in Philadelphia. At 41 floors high, it takes three separate elevator banks of six cars each to service the building efficiently. The elevators are clearly designated as to which floors they travel. Giant signs sporting two-foot numerals clearly mark each elevator alcove. The far left group will take passengers to the mezzanine, all the way up to the 18th floor. The center group will skip the lower floors and make its first stop at 19. The last set of elevators — the ones I take to my office each weekday morning — rocket up to the 30th floor where it begins its ascent to 41.

My building houses many different tenants — real estate developers, investment firms and some competing law firms. There are the occasional non-profits, but typical corporate entities occupy most of the floors. They receive very business-like visitors on a daily basis.

Earlier this week, I swiped my pass card at the front-desk security and headed towards the elevators. There were already a few people waiting. Soon we were joined by several more people, including one young lady with a briefcase who was sticking a self-adhesive "VISITOR" pass on her expensive-looking blazer. She was a "dressed for success" type in an impeccably coordinated ensemble and every hair in place. She waited patiently with the gathering crowd for an elevator to arrive.

Finally, a metallic DING announced the arrival of an elevator ready for the next load of passengers. Six or so of us filed in and dutifully pressed buttons for our various desired floors. The doors silently slid closed and we were off — whooshing past the lower floors. In my peripheral vision, I saw the young lady with the briefcase stare at the button panel. She squinted, raising and lowering her head, obviously in search of something that she was not finding. 

The car stopped at 30 and a man got out. Since its button was not pushed, the 31st floor was skipped, but two people exited when the car stopped at 32. The young lady with the briefcase turned and addressed the remaining passengers in the moving car.

"Um...," she began hesitantly, "don't all the elevators stop at all the floors?"

No one answered. Except, surprisingly, me.

"No, they don't. These," I pointed down, indicating the car we were in, "only stop at 30 through 41. Where are you going?"

She frowned and sort of stomped her high-heeled foot. "I'm going to 9." She kept on frowning.

"Well," I began my instruction, as the car paused briefly so several folks could disembark at 34, "you'll have to stay on until I get off at 36. Take the elevator all the way down to the lobby, get off and walk to the far grouping of elevators. They go to the lower floors." I smiled.

She grit her teeth and banged her briefcase against her thigh. "Ugh! You would think that someone at the front desk would have told me."

At this point, we were the only two people left in the elevator. She was fuming. I tried to show some sympathy to her frustration. "Yeah, they probably should have said something."

She was not through venting. As the doors opened at 36, the young lady with the briefcase, the tailored jacket and coiffed hair — a woman who I had seen for the first time just minutes before; a woman who didn't know me, didn't know my family, didn't know my background — just blurted out to a veritable stranger: "Those people at the desk are retarded." Then, she looked at me, lowered her voice and twisted her lips into a feeble smile. "Oh, excuse me," she said, "Have a nice day."

I stepped out of the elevator and the doors closed. I hope whoever she was visiting in the building was very clear with their instructions.

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