Going Up

On elevators, screwdrivers and lipstick


Another gray, wintery Saturday and my wife, my two teenage daughters and I are heading downtown to my office on Weybosset Street. I need to retrieve some papers and then we are going to lunch afterward.

My office is in one of the older buildings on Weybosset, just five stories high. The elevator ride up to the third floor takes not even a minute. After I scavenge the stuff I need, we head back. The elevator door slides shut, my younger daughter punches “1st Fl.” and the elevator begins its short descent, but then suddenly lurches to a stop.

As the overhead lights flicker, we exchange looks of surprise and then disbelief. We’re hanging between two floors in a box about the size of a prison cell... it’s Saturday afternoon and there’s nobody in the building. Were we going to be there in that metal box for another 48 hours?

After punching every possible button furiously several times, it’s apparent that something is seriously “out of service.”

Well, I think to myself, this is one of those emergencies that requires the use of that elevator phone behind the metal plate just above the control panel. (This happened some years ago before everyone over six months old had a cell phone.) I push in the little door only to find that somehow it’s gotten wedged inside and there’s no way to reach through the crack to grab the phone.

The second level of our family march towards panic is reached. Nobody’s hand is small enough to get inside the phone box. What now?

I reach into my jacket pocket and find my miniature Swiss Army knife attached to my keychain. I open it up and sure enough, there’s a miniature Phillips head screwdriver inside. “God bless the Swiss Army,” I say as everyone gives a sigh of relief. Wonder of wonders, the screwdriver actually works and I’m able to remove the panel door and grab the phone. There’s no dial, just a red button. I press it, there’s a short ring, a woman’s voice answers. She sounds like she’s just finished yawning.

I explain our situation – that we‘re trapped in an elevator in an empty building and we really need to be rescued. She assures me that the fire department will be there as soon as possible.

The 15 minutes we wait before we hear a siren down on street level seems like an eternity. Just as I’m about to pick up the phone again, a man’s voice calls down, “Everybody okay?”

“Yes!” we all cry gratefully.

“We’ll have you out in a couple of minutes,” comes his reply.

There are a few loud moments of wrenching and tool sounds coming through the ceiling; the big, heavy overhead hatch door creaks open and an aluminum ladder slides down into our midst, followed by a pair of fireman’s boots.

I look around expecting to see the relieved looks on the faces of my daughters and my wife. Instead, what I see is all three desperately digging into their handbags, pulling out their lipsticks, combs and makeup because, well, there are firemen arriving.

Good morning.