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I’ve always wondered how I would react in an emergency.
I’m a take-charge kind of person. I’m perhaps a little prone to jumping to conclusions, but I like to think that given enough time and space, I eventually can see reason and do the right thing.
A misbehaving elevator recently gave me a chance to test my self-vision.
Carol, a woman I work with, and I got stuck on the elevator while we were leaving our office tower in Waterloo, Ont. Unlike in the movies, where the elevator skids to a halt and strands its occupants between floors, scaring them before eventually boring them to tears, ours kept going up and down, occasionally stopping but never opening its doors.
I recalled a commercial I’d once seen where the elevator got stuck and the occupants shared their groceries and created a party atmosphere. Carol and I had no party food.
I located the emergency phone, and when I opened its little door I found a big sticker advising me not to panic and not to worry about the air supply as there was no danger of suffocation. I hadn’t thought of suffocating: I was previously only worried about plummeting to my death in the basement.
The phone was located a half-metre from the floor and the cord was a scant 10 centimetres long, so I was forced to crouch in the corner to use it. I wondered if this was a good position to be in for a crash.
I used the phone to call for help. I got a recorded message advising me to call back. I wasn’t sure what I would be doing 15 seconds from then, but as it turned out I was still stuck in the elevator, so I called back. I explained the situation to the lady who answered. Apparently, she had a form to fill in and she wanted me to spell my name.
I panicked and screamed: “Why? So you can provide the spelling to the coroner to ensure he spells it correctly on the toe tag they attach to my shattered body?”
Carol inched away from me.
The lady on the elevator phone advised she would send help right away if I gave her my name and the names of any others on the elevator with me. I relented and gave her this compulsory information so she could set the rescue plan in motion.
I waited a really long time and no help came, so I called the elevator lady again and complained that I’d called ages ago and yet here I still was being tossed up and down the building like some sick giant’s yo-yo. She said it had only been four minutes. Well, it was four enormous minutes! She said someone was on the way. I asked where help was coming from and she didn’t know, but she thought I should relax, they would be there soon.
“So, they could be coming from Toronto or Waterloo or Saskatoon, and you want me to relax?” I shrieked. “I don’t think so! Get me off of this elevator right now, I mean it!”
Then I hung up on her. That would teach her.
Carol managed to inch further away from me.
I continued to press all the floor buttons, reasoning that if it stopped on each floor before it crashed, the injuries might not kill us.
It stopped only on the floors it chose for itself, completely ignoring my wishes and never opening its doors.
After several more minutes, Carol asked me to let go of the alarm button, which I had been pressing for nearly 15 minutes, as the sound was making her eyes bleed.
She asked if I thought it would help if we jumped at the moment of impact. I think she was trying to make a joke; it didn’t work.
I struggled to remember the MythBusters episode that advised that jumping didn’t work. But what did it say would work? I considered jumping Carol and standing on her to cushion my fall. She was kind of bony, but her coat was puffy.
She seemed to read my evil thoughts, and offered to let me use her cellphone if I wanted to call anyone. “Why?” I screamed. “Do you think we’re going to die in here and I should call my family to say farewell? Why aren’t you panicking, Carol?”
“Well, I used to go into the silo with my dad all the time when I was young.”
“You were in an asylum?” I squeaked.
“Silo, Sharon, silo.”
What in heaven’s name did those tubey things on farms have in common with elevators? I didn’t ask. Her ties to sanity were obviously fraying.
I pushed the alarm button again.
Moments later, during one of our brief stops in the basement, Carol pried the doors open with her bare hands and ran off. I was left to gather up my belongings, which I’d spread around the floor, perhaps subconsciously trying to make a homey atmosphere, and made my escape into the basement alone.
Strangely, ever since that night, if we arrive at the elevator at the same time Carol makes an excuse to return to her office.
I think I need to work a little harder on the jumping-to-conclusions part of my personality.
Sharon Gerger lives in Waterloo, Ont.