Thursday, February 07, 2008

Operator Error

I once walked up to an elevator in a New York apartment building. It was an elderly edifice, and its elevator was similarly venerable.

A man approached the elevator door at the same time as me, but from the opposite direction. Unremarkable occurrence.

We stood, as strangers do, well apart from each other, and stared discreetly off into space, examining the floor, the elevator door, the ceiling -- anything to avoid an embarrassing meeting of the eyes.

We waited.

And waited.

And waited.

In a situation like this, after a certain amount of time has passed, it becomes permissible in the presence of a stranger to betray a certain amount of polite impatience. No kicking the wall or pounding the elevator door -- but a quiet sigh and a murmured "Jeeze, slow elevator, huh?" will not get you marked as a lunatic. My interlocutor gave a mild grunt of agreement, and we went back to staring into space.

And we waited some more.

I wasn't staring at my watch or anything, so it's hard to gauge objectively just how long we stood in front of the elevator door, but it was a good long time. Four minutes? Five? Long enough, anyway, for me to begin to suspect that the elevator was out of order and the building's management negligent in failing to post a sign to that effect. (There was no gauge on the wall indicating the elevator's current position; it was too old for such fripperies.)

By and by, an old but reliable lesson from the early days of industrialization occurred to me: When a machine isn't working as expected, and no obvious mechanical symptoms present themselves, it is wise to consider Operator Error. My fellow stooge must have had the same thought, or something like it, because we turned to each other and we said in mortified unison:

"You did push the button, didn't you?"


dwgs said...

Thus are friends made.
Git' On Up
Git' Down
Elevator buttons at Motown.
(Shamelessly stolen from Bizarro)

Anonymous said...

Note that given the visible age of the place, your expectations had "primed" you to wait for a while....

bobby lightfoot said...

It's like when you are in a relationshit and you realize you BOTH hate each other. Woah! So cathartic.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, here in Denver, even if there are 16 people waiting, every new passenger pushes the button. Twice.

Anonymous said...

What I believed you witnessed was your own hesitation mirrored.

If you played the whole day backward your mirrored self would also:

Jump backward into a waiting bus.
Unguzzle a cappuccino and barf a scone. Unpet the neighbor’s retriever. Drool sucking back into the dog’s mouth to the tune of backward-masked guitars. Etc...

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