Conversations on Elevators

"Temporary" ladder to the cupola

Our mountain dome is only two floors, not counting the 4-foot crawl space below or the small cupola on top. The “temporary” wooden ladder (still in place) goes up to that. One side of it has been well marked over the years with the heights of grandchildren and their friends. They climb up and down the ladder quite nimbly. I don’t choose to go up at all anymore, and Mark does only to open and close the windows or to replace a light bulb.

We both go up and down the stairs between the first and second floors dozens of times a day. We considerate it part of our exercise, and besides, it’s the only way to get from one to the other. Fifteen years ago when we designed the house it didn’t seem illogical to have the kitchen upstairs. In fact, we still like the idea. It’s lugging the groceries and packages up that we didn’t consider ahead of time and now have become more and more exhausting. Much of that is our own doing as we go to town, 16 miles away, as infrequently as we can. When we do go, we do every errand possible, including the marketing. Our car is packed, backseat and trunk.

We get home and fill the front hall, then discuss which bags must get upstairs to be put in the freezer or refrigerator and which ones we can carry up later in the day.

A dumb-waiter would do the trick, although I tire of the jokes when I talk about having a “dumb-waiter” in the house. An elevator would be the most perfect answer. We and our bags could all go up together. The fact is there’s no place to install either one.

Stairs to the main floor. Better than an exercise plan!

Elevators in commercial buildings aren’t often friendly places. The doors slide open, people get in and maybe nod to someone, but usually they just turn around and face the door––the proper stance. A few words are spoken here and there. “Could you push number 3, please?” “Thank you” Excuse me please, I need to get off here.” People shuffle and make way. More people come in.

At work there was more of a chance of a “Good Morning” or “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” One day a man standing behind me, whom I didn’t know, tapped me on the shoulder.

“I hope you don’t mind me saying this but your . . .  er um placket, or whatever you call it, on your skirt is unzipped.”

Oh my, I did have to respond to that. I thanked him, zipped up my skirt, and told him that I wished my husband had told me that before I had left home.

However, I especially remember the elevators in our apartment building in Arlington. We lived up on the 12th floor, the top floor. People almost always conversed, and I was amazed at how much information they wished to impart between the 1st floor and the 4th or 6th   or 11th. I even had a “show and tell” one day. A woman I didn’t know spoke to me excitedly because she had purchased several bottles of wine on sale. She took them one by one out of her shopping cart and then pulled them out of their paper bags to show me. When we got to her floor the bottles were lined up on the elevator floor. I held the door so she could get them all out. I pictured her in the hallway, repackaging them into their paper bags and putting them back into the cart. I hope she had a lovely dinner, enjoying a glass of her bargain-priced wine.

My elevator trips often coincided with a man from the Navy Department who was agonizing over whether he should retire or not. I heard the story in short chapters, one for each ride. He finally did retire and he wondered later why the decision had been so difficult. A year later, as I pondered over retirement, I understood his concerns.


Then there was the very pleasant old French woman who had once been to see us in our apartment and had admired the fish in our saltwater tank. Mark and I both had difficulty understanding her accent. Later, every time we met on the elevator she’d ask “Owerdeleedoofeezes”? I’d nod and smile and ask her how she was. What was she asking?



It took me several elevator rides to realize she meant “How are the little fishes”.

Now I could answer her when she asked.

And the elegant African couple––he in his black suit and tie with a carnation in his button hole. She dressed in her native robes––tapestries of golds and reds, with a turban just as exquisite. I, in my old jeans and t-shirt, tried not to stare. I wished later I had told them how absolutely beautiful they were. It was a conversation I should have had.

One day an older man got into a one-sided conversation with us, and he couldn’t complete his story before we reached the 7th floor. He got off at his floor but then turned around to finish. The door started to close so he banged it back open with his cane. His story continued, and we nodded to show we were listening. The door started to close again and once again he banged it open with his cane. He talked. We nodded. He banged. This went on several times until the door protested and closed. We said our hasty but enthusiastic good-byes and continued up to the 12th floor.

So now I wonder what it would be like if we actually did have an elevator here in the dome. We could unload everything from the car into the front hall as always, but then put them all into the elevator at once. Then Mark and I would both get in and go up to the 2nd floor. I wonder what conversations we would have on this short trip between the two floors. What stories could we tell?

There would certainly be no time (or room) for a lady to display her wine bottles, or for us to understand what “Owerdeleedoofeezies” was all about.

And how many trips would it take to hear about the agony of deciding about retirement? Of course I can’t even imagine the elegant African couple standing cramped amidst our plastic bags and packages. But I would like the man with his cane to go up with us. Not that he’d have time to talk, but it would be helpful to have him here banging our elevator door open often enough for us to unload our groceries. And then, once the freezer and refrigerator items were put away, the three of us could sit down in the living room with a cup of tea, and we could leisurely listen to his story. I think we’d enjoy what he had to say.

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