Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Crisis in the Stairwell

Tonight when I got home from school, I dropped my bag of new school supplies on the bed, and practically turned right around and left again.

I took my little grocery chariot and my ginormo purse, and headed out to the grocery store. I hesitated out on the landing for a second.

Me: Should I take the elevator?
Devil: This chariot-thing is kind of awkward to carry down the stairs.
Angel: But that's so lazy to take the elevator DOWN the stairs. Plus, you always get annoyed when you're just about to get in the elevator but someone calls it up so they can come DOWN to the lobby.
Devil: But... this thing is annoying to carry. It will be so much easier to take the elevator.

Well, the devil was partly telling the truth (the chariot is kind of awkward to carry down the stairs), but ultimately it was all a BIG FAT LIE.

I got into the elevator (no easy task, mind you. Elevators here are made to hold two people at a time max. Maybe 3 if they're children. Getting my big purse, my grocery roller, and myself in there all while holding open the swinging guard door open was awkward enough that I should have just changed my mind and taken the stairs.).

I hit "0" for the Rez de Chausse or Ground Floor. The elevator was about 6 inches from the ground floor when... CLUNK!!... it stopped altogether. The inner doors opened, so I figured everything was fine and pushed the swinging guard door open. Well, I tried anyway. It was locked. I was stuck.

See, the elevator has this safety mechanism that won't allow the swinging guard doors to open on any floor where the elevator is not currently present (this is a safety no-brainer). However, it's a problem when you're almost to a floor, but the elevator won't recognize that fact.

I turned myself around in the miniscule space to read the "in case of a breakdown" instructions. Basically:

1. Push the alarm button continually until...
2. Someone from the elevator safety surveillance company picks up the phone, and
3. Try to figure out everything he says, even though he says it in French at the speed of light over a crackly PA system that's installed overhead.
4. Panic, because you don't know if anyone is ever going to come rescue you, and you don't dare call again because they might get put out and leave you there on purpose out of spite.
5. Recognize to yourself that someone, eventually, will see that you're stuck.
6. Panic again. What if that takes a long time and you have to go to the bathroom?
7. Almost cry at that thought.
8. Show gratitude for the fact that you could have been stuck 4 floors higher up. If the elevator "plunged" 6 inches down, you might get a bruise, rather than the broken bones you'd have after falling 4 floors in a glass elevator.
9. Put in your headphones and just try to enjoy the time you've now got on your hands.

Today in my French class (I know this seems like a harsh transition, but believe me, it's related) we read an except from La Vie Mode d'Emploi (which I assume to mean roughly... Life: A User's Manual, or A User's Manual for Life) by Georges Perec.

In the excerpt we read, he talks about the depressing monotony that takes place in every urban apartment building. How each person barricades themself in their own apartment and lives this solitary life, while all of their neighbors are participating in all of the same little gestures as a part of their day-to-day lives: turning a faucet on and off, setting the table, doing the laundry. And yet, as neighbors, the only things we know about each other are the little echoes we hear through the wall, or the occasional sterile "hello" in the stairway. He talks about how the stairway becomes almost a hostile place, but it's the place of the most "activity" in the entire building (at least the activity that everyone can see).

In general it seems like everyone in my class felt like it was impossible to be friends with your neighbors, even ones that live on your same floor, simply because everyone has this general feeling of distrust and automatic annoyance for their neighbors (at least this is the perception by my fellow students). People just aren't willing to go out of their way to make an effort, for whatever reason.

I found that to be horribly depressing, but I had that whole discussion on my mind when I was stuck in the elevator. I kept wondering to myself if my neighbors would help me, even though I've never met any of them, or even seen a single one of them a second time after our first passing.

About 15 minutes after I got off the PA with the security company, someone finally came into the lobby. It was a woman who looked about my age, and she was pushing a stroller.

"Oh, please let her be nice!" I thought to myself, and asked her if she could help me. I explained that I had called the emergency service, but I didn't understand what they said to me, so I didn't know if they had explained how to get myself out of the elevator, or if they were sending someone, etc.

She, to my complete and utter relief, was incredibly nice.

"Oh, you poor thing!! How long have you been stuck there? 15 MINUTES?? That's terrible!!" (Well, yes, I thought it was quite annoying, but I didn't actually expect that much sympathy for so little time. Now, if I had been stuck for an hour...)

We called the emergency service again, and she clarified with them that they had already dispached a technician, who should be there in another 10-15 minutes.

"Oh, 15 more minutes!!" she seemed so distressed on my behalf, which I have to admit made me really like her, even before the next words out of her mouth. "Do you want me to get you anything? Well, not much will fit through the grate, but do you need anything to eat?"

At that I had to giggle a little on the inside. I thanked her and told her I thought I would be okay. She continued into her apartment right off the lobby, and before she shut the door I could hear her explaining the whole situation to someone...

"There's this poor girl stuck--I mean completely stuck--in the elevator, and she's been there for 15 minutes! And they said they won't even have someone here for another 15..." click.

Two or three minutes later I hear feet on the stairs, and then I hear in the cutest little girl voice(little kids speaking French is just darling, in my opinion) say, "Oh, mom! Look! There's a lady trapped in the elevator!! Mom! Mom! Look at her!! How sad!"

"Yes, honey. I see her. It will be okay."

They finally made it down all of the stairs that wind around the elevator and into the lobby. The mother made sure I was okay and that there was a technician on his way, at which point he actually walked through the door.

I was out, lickety-split, took my chariot, and went on my grocery-getting way.

Getting my 35 pounds of groceries UP four flights of stairs in my wheeled chariot is a different story altogether, though not one that's interesting enough to tell. It was just awkward and sweaty.

Note to self: next time the elevator is broken, just eat out for a couple of days.

1 comment:

Jess said...

Dang; what a story. I'm glad you weren't stuck for hours.