Stuck on an Elevator, Cool Dad Not as Cool as He Thinks


Nicholas White was trapped in an elevator for 41 hours. Thankfully, I was not.

I was taking out the trash on a Saturday morning, and as most garbage evacuation plans go, mine was quite simple:

1. Ride elevator with garbage bags to basement.
2. Deposit garbage bags into trash cans.
3. Ride elevator back to my floor.

Like a boss, I executed Steps 1 and 2 flawlessly, but Step 3 tripped me up. I entered the elevator, a smallish space under bright, hot lights, and pressed the ‘1’ button. The doors slid shut with a thud, but nothing happened. I pressed ‘1’ again. And again. Hmm. Then ‘DOOR OPEN’. Nothing. Then every other floor button on the panel. No response, and I didn’t have my phone on me. I hadn’t anticipated calling anyone or Instagramming our building’s trash heap. Cool Mum and the boys were about to head out for the morning, and I had no way of informing them of my stuckness. 

For the first time in my life, I turned to the ALARM button. I gave it a brief, nonchalant push. It’s how I ring doorbells, because all it takes is a split-second buzz for someone to know I’m at the front door. I see how absurd that was. Of course, any brief ring of the ALARM would be blown off as a mistaken push, a butt dial. With no apparent rescuers, I gave the ALARM a solid press, letting the bell clang throughout the elevator shaft for a minute. I was stuck on the basement level, right next the super’s apartment, so I was sure he would hear it and investigate. I was wrong.

I noticed just how warm the lights were, and my situation was starting to sink in. Trapped under a hot glare, I started a sweat a little. So this is how a rotisserie chicken feels.

To make clear that the ALARM was no accident, I slapped the sides of the elevator car, inquiring “HELLO? HELLLLOOOO???!” I jumped a few times, landing with solid two-footed stomps to dislodge the car from whatever friction or grip of Satan was holding it in place. Nothing was achieved except for an uptick in my rapidly climbing heart rate.

I’ve read enough stories about this going wrong, so I didn’t even consider prying off a ceiling hatch and climbing to freedom. The elevator door was a solid piece that slid into place, not two half-doors that meet in the middle, so I couldn’t pull the doors open even if I wanted to. Unlike the higher floors, the basement had few passersby. It was Saturday morning, so I knew people would be coming and going, but I doubted anyone would happen to notice I was trapped. Any residents trying to call the car to their floor would eventually just take the stairs instead of trying to solve the case of the unresponsive elevator.

I was picturing Cool Mum and my two boys in the apartment, getting ready to leave, unaware that I was starting to panic in the bowels of the building. Never mind that the boys were half-tormenting each other when I left, they were probably all in harmony, gathered around the piano singing ‘Amazing Grace’ or ‘My Favorite Things’ while CM’s fingers danced on the keyboard. I imagined homeschool graduations, weddings, Cool Grandkids – everything I would miss while waiting for the super to answer my cries for help.

I noticed one last option from the utterly useless button panel, the EMERGENCY STOP button. I hadn’t tried it because I thought it was for stopping the elevator in midflight, like in the movies when people want to make out. I activated the EMERGENCY STOP, tugging it with a click. The door slid open, and fresh air, or at least however fresh air in the basement could be, rushed in. I rushed out. Upon reuniting with my family, I noted that I’d only spent 5 minutes in the elevator, and none of the Cool Bros had neither graduated nor wed in in my absence.

I was also embarrassed by how rattled I got during my brief entrapment. I used to think I could handle myself with aplomb in such a situation. Just sit in the corner and wait for my extraction, maybe come up with some good ideas for blog posts or stumble upon some spiritual epiphany. Not even close. I was freaked.

I thought of the poor gentleman who was trapped in an elevator in his office building for 41 HOURS over a weekend. (Watch the security cam footage.) I don’t know what I would’ve done, but it wouldn’t have been pretty. But I do know that I’ll never enter an elevator without my phone again. It’s an overkill, paranoid vow, especially considering that I’m old enough to have lived plenty of life without the safety net of a cell phone. However, paying $120 a month to Verizon means that I’m going to take advantage of every bit of connectivity my iPhone offers, especially in unreliable moving metal cages.

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