Notice to Otis

Everything below is true, absolutely true.

My wife and I had to attend a board meeting of the ballet Monday evening. It was held in offices at Textron, a Fortune 500 company, headquartered in Providence. The ballet board president is an executive there, so we use their conference rooms. I’m the ballet vice president.

We passed through security, obtained our badges, and boarded an elevator for the 18th floor. The doors closed and nothing happened. We pressed the button again. Nothing. We then pressed ALL the other buttons, including “open,” “1,” and “basement.” Nothing.

We looked at each other. We were actually trapped in an elevator. We begin ringing the alarm button. All we heard was the echo in the elevator shaft, and I’m trying to apply the Doppler Effect to tell if we’re falling.

No panic. I opened a compartment under the buttons and pulled out a red phone handset. Very good. A red phone means “hot line,” right?

Well, maybe “tepid” would be more like it. I received a recording asking me to wait (What else could I do on a stuck elevator?), and playing, well, elevator music. Then, after a couple of minutes (“Is it getting stuffy in here?” asked my wife) I was told to press “1” to speak to an operator.

There was no “1.” There were no numbers, no dial, nothing. Stupefied, I stared into the phone. My wife asked if I had pictures of the kids she could hold. Then, a voice from the red phone.

“Hey,” I yelled, “I’m stuck in elevator #1 (I read all the documentation, twice) in the lobby!”

“I have no idea what lobby, or where you are,” she replies, bored.

“Where are you?!” I yell, thinking it may just be a tad tougher to breathe at this point.

“I’m in Hartford, at Otis emergency center headquarters.”

“You’re in Hartford, Connecticut?! That’s where this red phone leads?! How long for you to get a team here? Hartford is 90 minutes away!”

“Oh, we wouldn’t have personnel available until tomorrow. Try contacting someone locally.” This is why there’s a red phone in the elevator? To talk to Otis headquarters? Perhaps they should have carrier pigeons.

Before I could threaten her life by sending over some people who owe me a few favors, my wife points out a button and speaker on the other side of the elevator. (Why is Braille in different colors, even though it doesn’t matter, but emergency instructions are raised letters in the same color as the background? What genius makes these design decisions?)

I punch the button. And a guy promptly says, “Hello, how are you?”

“Not good,” I say, “we’re trapped in elevator #1. Where are you?”

“In the lobby,” he says. “Have you tried ringing the alarm button?”

“Yes, didn’t you hear it?”

“No, it’s too noisy out here to hear those things. Gee, we just had these elevators reprogrammed. Can you hold on a minute?”

Now, that was his exact question. What was I going to say? “No, I have to give my wife CPR, but I’ll try to cut it short.”

Finally, a voice outside the door. “Hello? If you can hear me, hang on, we’re going to…..”

Then the voice recedes. The elevator has begun on its own! We’re going up! My wife says, “We’re going in the right direction!” “No,” I point out, “we don’t want to achieve more height at this point.”

Mysteriously, the elevator stops on 14. We run out, directly into a Textron manager heading home. “Don’t use that one,” we urge, “we were trapped on it.”

“Didn’t you get the memo?” he asks, clearly serious, “They just gave us instructions in case we were trapped on the elevators.”

We were ten minutes late for the meeting. The president shot me a look. “Better not to ask me,” I suggested to her. She took another look, and decided not to pursue it.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.


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