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April 15, 2008 5:56 AM   Subscribe

Nicholas White was trapped in an elevator for 41 hours. Then things started to go downhill.
posted by dmd (124 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fascinating read (if heavy scrolling required!)

So most of us are indeed wasting our time jabbing the "doors close" button. I knew it!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:06 AM on April 15, 2008


That's it: I'm moving to Wyoming.
posted by Dizzy at 6:08 AM on April 15, 2008


LOL @ "vertical-transportation-industry professional"
posted by Slothrup at 6:09 AM on April 15, 2008


I'm not going to read the article, but that video was amazing.
posted by dgaicun at 6:09 AM on April 15, 2008


Loading up an empty elevator car with discarded Christmas trees, pressing the button for the top floor, then throwing in a match, so that by the time the car reaches the top it is ablaze with heat so intense that the alloy (called “babbitt”) connecting the cables to the car melts, and the car, a fireball now, plunges into the pit: this practice, apparently popular in New York City housing projects, is inadvisable.

I should think so.
posted by orange swan at 6:13 AM on April 15, 2008 [7 favorites]


That video was excruciating.
posted by The Straightener at 6:14 AM on April 15, 2008


Ok, fuck it, the article is interesting too. But New Yorker articles tend to be too damn long.
posted by dgaicun at 6:16 AM on April 15, 2008


But New Yorker articles tend to be too damn long.

Gets you into the experience of being stuck in an elevator for 41 hours, though, doesn't it?

But seriously, what a great, sort of sad post. I'll go ahead and take the stairs today.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 6:18 AM on April 15, 2008


But New Yorker articles tend to be too damn long.

*mind boggles*

What a great article that was - nicely structured, with fascinating detours, and a mounting sense of suspense that was gripping. I can't think of what I'd have left out if I'd been the editor. Thanks, neat post.
posted by mediareport at 6:34 AM on April 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


Can someone post the punchline? I've got other procrastination to get to.
posted by DU at 6:37 AM on April 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


Great article.

"In most elevators, at least in any built or installed since the early nineties, the door-close button doesn’t work. It is there mainly to make you think it works."

You too, Jody? I always feel like a jerk when someone's walking up and we make eye contact and the doors close before they get there. Now I can scream out to that person, wild-eyed through the brushed steel jaws closing to the outside world, "It wasn't meeeee! I didn't want it to be like this!"
posted by resurrexit at 6:37 AM on April 15, 2008 [7 favorites]


Did this remind anyone else of a Murakami story, specifically The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle? Man goes into a confined space alone, gets trapped, and it changes his outlook on life.

Sounded familiar to me, anyway.
posted by supercres at 6:40 AM on April 15, 2008


Oh, and the best part of the door-close paragraph:

"[I]t can be illuminating to watch people compulsively press the door-close button. That the door eventually closes reinforces their belief in the button’s power. It’s a little like prayer."
posted by supercres at 6:41 AM on April 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


DU: The punchline is he eventually fucks his entire life by listening to lawyers.
posted by The Bellman at 6:44 AM on April 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


the door-close button doesn’t work.

After having told this to doubtful and frantic button-pushers, I've taken to actually testing it. In most of the elevators that I frequent, it does nothing on the ground floor, but works on the other floors.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:45 AM on April 15, 2008


where's ceiling cat when you really need him?
posted by kbanas at 6:45 AM on April 15, 2008 [5 favorites]


I feel somewhat guilty for being unable to read that overly-verbose article. The feeling should pass in short order.
posted by jsavimbi at 6:49 AM on April 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


You know what else doesn't work? Pressing the elevator call button multiple times or after someone else has already pressed it and it is lit up. People like that should be sterilized. It's like the people who still walk around with their umbrellas open when it's not raining anymore.
posted by spicynuts at 6:52 AM on April 15, 2008 [9 favorites]


Fascinating story, thanks. Wow, it was a little long.
posted by grouse at 7:00 AM on April 15, 2008


Pressing the elevator call button multiple times or after someone else has already pressed it and it is lit up. People like that should be sterilized.

Absolutely right. There's no telling what kinds of nasty germs you can pick up through repeated contacted with an elevator button. Purell is de rigueur.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:00 AM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


What a sad end to the story though. You've got to feel for the guy.
posted by MrMustard at 7:03 AM on April 15, 2008


Thanks for the article. Fascinating stuff.

>Generally, no one should speak a word to anyone else in an elevator. Most people make allowances for the continuation of generic small talk already under way, or, in residential buildings, for neighborly amenities. The orthodox enforcers of silence—the elevator Quakers—must suffer the moderates or the serial abusers, as they cram in exchanges about the night, the game, the weekend, or the meal.
That's me. An elevator Quaker.

But, yeah, a sad ending to the story. I read these types of stories noting away how to act in such a situation. Right - put your wallet over your eyes to block out the light, don't lie face-down on the carpet, that sort of thing. But the final bit, about warring with the company, launching a law suit, that is what I am noting away right now.
posted by philfromhavelock at 7:10 AM on April 15, 2008


> You know what else doesn't work? Pressing the elevator call button multiple times or after someone else has already pressed it and it is lit up.

The behavior of that button is dictated by some software in an embedded system. Embedded systems programmers are crazy. If you told me tapping out "Shave and a Haircut" on that button will bring the elevator to my floor with emergency speed on a particular brand of elevator, I'd believe you. Those embedded systems guys are capable of just about anything.

I'll continue to press lit call buttons as much as I like, thanks. You simply can never know what might happen.
posted by sdodd at 7:14 AM on April 15, 2008 [9 favorites]


I always feel like a jerk when someone's walking up and we make eye contact and the doors close before they get there. Now I can scream out to that person, wild-eyed through the brushed steel jaws closing to the outside world, "It wasn't meeeee! I didn't want it to be like this!"
posted by resurrexit


Uh, the Door Open button usually works, though.
posted by Reverend John at 7:18 AM on April 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


At least he didn't get trapped on his way from murdering someone.
posted by goatdog at 7:19 AM on April 15, 2008


Good grief! The article is worth reading. What a sad story. Poor guy.

A few years ago at a hospital in my city a surgical resident died trying to catch an elevator (Warning : linked article is full of scary elevator stories). It was rather horrific: the door closed on him while he was partially in, trapping him in the doors and then it began to move to the next floor, decapitating him. There was a Physician's Assistant in that elevator, trapped for over an hour with that poor man's head. There was talk amongst healthcare people that at least it was another medical person and not some poor high school volunteer tramatized for life over the gore.

Because of that event I still refuse to stick my hand or foot in an elevator's path to try and stop it. And I don't press the button to my floor until everyone is in. I wonder if that 'door open' button even works now.

That event happened years ago, but every once in a while I'll be in an elevator in the medical center, someone will force the doors at the last second to get on, and someone else inside will scold them to not do that - don't they remember?! - they'll say to the person - and then they'll stop themselves because no one want to be reminded or hear that story for the first time while we're actually in an elevator. Then I remind myself again, to take the stairs more often.
posted by dog food sugar at 7:19 AM on April 15, 2008 [15 favorites]


Reminds me of the Douglas Coupeland thing from Microserfs, where he theorises about a disease that afflicts only type-A people and its only vector of transmission is the 'door close' button on elevators.
posted by dirtdirt at 7:20 AM on April 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


ghod that was fantastic reading.
posted by cowbellemoo at 7:20 AM on April 15, 2008


MrMustard: "What a sad end to the story though. You've got to feel for the guy."

I feel for him being stuck in an elevator for two days, but wasting four years on a stupid law suit that ended up ruining his career? That was just stupid.
posted by octothorpe at 7:23 AM on April 15, 2008


What a great article that was - nicely structured, with fascinating detours, and a mounting sense of suspense that was gripping. I can't think of what I'd have left out if I'd been the editor.

I would have left out most of the elevator industry background. After the first "aside" I simply skipped past them to find out what happened to White in the end.

The elevator industry stuff is mildly interesting, but I felt trying to graft it into White's story was kind of gratuitous- We know you'll read the article to find out what happened to Nick White, so we're going to weave in a whole second article that has been sitting around the editorial room, waiting for the right hook to make it seem interesting. The thing is- I think both articles, about Nick White's specific adventure, and the general story about elevators, stand on their own and don't necessarily need each other at all.


From the article: he recognizes that he walked onto an elevator one night, with his life in one kind of shape, and emerged from it with his life in another.

It's hard to know, having not gone through what he did, but I see his misfortune following the incident to be more of his making, than the fault of the incident itself. Buck up, move on, and go back to work (and don't concern yourself with any settlement) is the lesson I take from this tale.
posted by Doohickie at 7:24 AM on April 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


The Bronx family-court system, for example, was in a shambles last year because the elevators at its courthouse kept breaking down. (The stairs are closed, owing to security concerns.) This led to hour-long waits, which led to missed court dates, needless arrest warrants, and life-altering family strife.

I found this part incredibly depressing. Some of the lowest income families in the city got their lives even more fucked up because of improper elevator maintenance and no one else having the idea to open up stairwells. Fan-fucking-tastic. No wonder this county is in the state it is.
posted by piratebowling at 7:27 AM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I skipped most of the 'detour' stuff in the article.
posted by delmoi at 7:34 AM on April 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's hard to know, having not gone through what he did, but I see his misfortune following the incident to be more of his making, than the fault of the incident itself. Buck up, move on, and go back to work (and don't concern yourself with any settlement) is the lesson I take from this tale.

Right, because being trapped in a tiny room for days without so much as a glass of water is the kind of thing you would expect people to be able to bounce right back from.
posted by delmoi at 7:36 AM on April 15, 2008 [5 favorites]


Sounds like a lot of his failure to "bounce right back" was put on: "He got a lawyer, and came to believe that returning to work might signal a degree of mental fitness detrimental to litigation."
posted by goatdog at 7:39 AM on April 15, 2008


He got a lawyer, and came to believe that returning to work might signal a degree of mental fitness detrimental to litigation. Instead, he spent eight weeks in Anguilla.

I felt bad for the guy up to this. He was trying to spin the whole thing into an early retirement scheme. What a sense of entitlement. Ugh.
posted by echo target at 7:51 AM on April 15, 2008


Oh, I see what he did there. It's that old "spoonful of sugar" magazine article structure: [interesting stuff to suck you in] [dry background] [interesting stuff to keep you going] [dry background] [denouement of interesting stuff as a reward for finishing].

Hey, it's two separate articles. One is boring, and one is fascinating. Break them up, and link to the boring one so the nerds can get the details they need. Sheesh. It's not like people don't know how to scan for the main character's name.

Also, the guy was stupid to let the alarm bell ring constantly for as long as he did. Wouldn't you think that would be ignored as a malfuctioning switch? You have to intermittently push it, in patterns, so somebody will recognize that a human's doing it.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:54 AM on April 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Is it just me or is the article really heavy on the commas? It seems, to me, that almost every other word (maybe every word, in some cases), is filled with pauses that, most of the time, make it really hard to finish a sentence.

I just seem to be pausing a lot is all.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 7:56 AM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


The article was fascinating, but this thread is really depressing.
posted by goatdog at 7:56 AM on April 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Also, the guy was stupid to let the alarm bell ring constantly for as long as he did. Wouldn't you think that would be ignored as a malfuctioning switch? You have to intermittently push it, in patterns, so somebody will recognize that a human's doing it.

He did that as well, but I think I'd go crazy keeping at it for 41 hours. Also, I thought the technical background was quite interesting.
posted by the other side at 8:00 AM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


The article was great. Marked lack of discussion of Paternoster lifts, though.

Man, I love Paternoster lifts.
posted by dersins at 8:03 AM on April 15, 2008


Was coming in here to report on what dog food sugar said. I can't help but recall that story every time I see someone trying to force themselves bodily through closing elevator doors. That's one of the rare times I will strike up a conversation with a stranger on an elevator--cautioning them against decapitation.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:10 AM on April 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Interesting article though overly long as stated a few times above. I cannot help but think that by putting his hand over the camera and away again numerous times would at least be more noticeable in a security guards peripheral vision. As I watched the video I concluded that the pattern of movement would not raise suspicion. Of course, this presumes that the security monitor was even glanced at during the time of being confined. The only thing worse in terms of being confined in a lift for 2 days alone that I can think of is being confined in a lift packed with other people.
posted by numberstation at 8:11 AM on April 15, 2008


Yeah, I enjoyed it, long but kept me (mostly) interested. And 41 hours?! Jesus, that really would start to get a little old wouldn't it. Fuck.

The only thing worse in terms of being confined in a lift for 2 days alone that I can think of is being confined in a lift packed with other people. This occurs to me a lot too as 7 of us cram into a lift with a max load of "10 people" (it's like tents, there's no fucking way you'd get 4 adults in that). We get stuck in here for 41 hours and we'll be eating each other.

Couldn't happen in a Paternoster, another reason for loving those bad boys.
posted by jontyjago at 8:20 AM on April 15, 2008


What a mesmerizing video. You already know the plot and the ending, but watching it play out is enthralling. Particularly with the other three elevators, their lights turning off and on. I kept thinking "at least the lights are on in this poor guy's elevator".
posted by Nelson at 8:21 AM on April 15, 2008


What a great article that was - nicely structured, with fascinating detours, and a mounting sense of suspense that was gripping. I can't think of what I'd have left out if I'd been the editor.

I would have left out most of the elevator industry background. After the first "aside" I simply skipped past them to find out what happened to White in the end.


+1

elevators are just not that interesting, I'm afraid
people trapped in elevators, though: very interesting
posted by NekulturnY at 8:27 AM on April 15, 2008


Right, because being trapped in a tiny room for days without so much as a glass of water is the kind of thing you would expect people to be able to bounce right back from.

Right, that's why I included the weasel words, "It's hard to know, having not gone through what he did,..."

But given the situation he was in, he just seemed to give up on life and didn't try anymore. He took an 8-week vacation (who has THAT much money anyway?) He listened to his lawyers and didn't even attempt to go back to work. To me, the most logical course would be to at least attempt to put it behind you and get on with your life. It seems like he didn't even try.

And while I haven't been locked in an elevator for 2 days for no good reason, my wife was in a pretty nasty car accident (car she was in hit by a redlight-running drunk driver) that resulted in some permanent limitations on her physical activities; her right knee has never been the same (or even close). Following lawyers' advice, she would have sat on her backside and waited for the settlement. Instead she moved on. In the end, due to legal wrangling not having anything to do with who was right or wrong in the case, she got almost no settlement. It's a good thing she didn't just sit on her butt eating bon-bons until the settlement came through.

So when I talk about trying to move on when you've been wronged, I have a little bit of an idea what I'm talking about. Yeah, White was wronged and deserved compensation, but I see nothing in the nature of the incident that would prevent him from going back to work. Or at least trying.
posted by Doohickie at 8:29 AM on April 15, 2008


It's hard to know, having not gone through what he did, but I see his misfortune following the incident to be more of his making, than the fault of the incident itself.

Which is rather precisely what it says just after the bit you quoted:
Looking back on the experience now, with a peculiarly melancholic kind of bewilderment, he recognizes that he walked onto an elevator one night, with his life in one kind of shape, and emerged from it with his life in another. Still, he now sees that it wasn’t so much the elevator that changed him as his reaction to it.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:31 AM on April 15, 2008


The Bronx family-court system, for example, was in a shambles last year because the elevators at its courthouse kept breaking down. (The stairs are closed, owing to security concerns.) This led to hour-long waits, which led to missed court dates, needless arrest warrants, and life-altering family strife.

No wonder why they're filling elevators up with burning christmas trees.
posted by fermezporte at 8:33 AM on April 15, 2008 [6 favorites]


Oh god, that video made me almost cry. My reaction to this post and the one about the dangerous walkway in Spain, I'm beginning to suspect some kind of phobia on my part. Now that I think of it, I even freaked out climbing pyramids in mexico because they're so steep. And I also have this fear of falling down cement stairs and breaking all of my teeth out. ARGH! METAFILTER, YOU ARE FREAKING ME OUT!
posted by Stewriffic at 8:34 AM on April 15, 2008


I felt bad for the guy up to this. He was trying to spin the whole thing into an early retirement scheme. What a sense of entitlement. Ugh.

Are you kidding? Of course he should be entitled to compensation! I mean, if this was done to a POW we'd be calling it torture. I mean, this guy had no idea how long he had been in there, he had no idea when or even if he would get out. The guy had nothing to drink and he was in there over three calendar days!

of course he's fucking entitled! WTF?!

The only thing more obnoxious then an undue sense of over-entitlement for yourself is an undue sense of under-entitlement for others.

You know, a bunch of people here probably could manage to spend 41 hours in an elevator and come right back if they knew how long they'd be in there. But, again, he had no idea when or if he'd ever be rescued. Having water to drink would also be pretty important.
posted by delmoi at 8:36 AM on April 15, 2008 [10 favorites]


On reflection, I'm afraid that beautiful Noo-Yawka fly-in-a-jar montage of the incident wouldn't've been possible if it had been dgaicun stuck in that elevator, as he would have been masturbating for approximately 36 of the 41 hours.

Not to say the rapid time-lapse wouldn't've been an entertaining spectacle in it's own different way (especially when scored by Yakkity Sax). Or that the inevitable lawsuit over carpal-tunnel damages wouldn't be equally ill-fated.
posted by dgaicun at 8:39 AM on April 15, 2008 [5 favorites]


At a certain point, he decided to open the doors. He pried them apart and held them open with his foot. He was presented with a cinder-block wall on which, perfectly centered, were scrawled three “13”s—one in chalk, one in red paint, one in black.

No-one is coming. You will never leave the elevator. Nicholas White, welcome to Hell.
posted by greytape at 8:42 AM on April 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


And while I haven't been locked in an elevator for 2 days for no good reason, my wife was in a pretty nasty car accident (car she was in hit by a redlight-running drunk driver) that resulted in some permanent limitations on her physical activities; her right knee has never been the same (or even close).

I don't think the situations are even remotely comparable. I mean, physical injuries happen, people get over them. But this kind of thing could be very psychologically damaging. And maybe he could have just sucked it up and gone back to work, I don't know, but the problem here is that he was trapped on an elevator for 41 hours, not his attitude about it.
posted by delmoi at 8:47 AM on April 15, 2008


" I even freaked out climbing pyramids in mexico because they're so steep."

Right behind you Stewriffic. That is, absolutely not right behind you!
Those pyramid steps are on a fiendish gradient calculated to trigger phobia. Ditto that bloody walkway in Spain! How could people do it! (I can give you some advice - forget the Great Wall of China too - if you have a problem with the way space is angled away from you. On the latter I was being passed by grannies and toddlers as I flattened myself inside a guard watch tower, then got hauled down hand-over-hand by all the Mongolian guides. Deeply humiliating..).

Now I'm getting a lift problem - from this guy's utterly wretched experience!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:54 AM on April 15, 2008


Generally, no one should speak a word to anyone else in an elevator.

Since I quit smoking, I almost exclusively take the stairs at my work. My argument is that as I'm only on the third floor, and the running up and down is helping me to get back into shape.

At least, this is what I tell people. The truth is, that it is a handy excuse to not be subjected to one of my biggest pet peeves: people who talk on their cell phones in elevators.

I'm totally OK with people chatting with one another face to face, it's usually weather or work related, and almost always banal and ignorable. But when people get on their cell phones in an elevator, three things happen: 1.) They talk louder, this is because they are in a big metal box that is cutting off their signal, and they believe that shouting will help. 2.) As a direct result of number one, they keep asking "Are you still there? So anyway, I was doing this thing... Are you still there?" and finally, and most excruciatingly 3.) they will have personal conversations that are astonishingly inappropriate for a work place, it's like they think that if they are in an elevator, they are in a private room where they can share their innermost thoughts and feelings... even when they are not alone.

"So yeah, we were in the back seat and she was giving me head..."

"Bitch, don't you ever hang up on me again, when I get home..."

"No, I'm not going to bail you out again, you got yourself arrested..."


Don't get me wrong, this article certainly makes me appreciate the amount of work that elevators do:

the world’s oldest and biggest elevator manufacturer, claims that its products carry the equivalent of the world’s population every five days.

Wow, that's cool. But you know what? It still doesn't make having to deal with people worth it. Until I get a job in a taller building, I'll stick to climbing the stairs.
posted by quin at 8:56 AM on April 15, 2008


Also important to note, re: psychological damage: He has to get in that same goddam elevator every day when he goes to work.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:58 AM on April 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


The behavior of that button is dictated by some software in an embedded system...

I'll continue to press lit call buttons as much as I like, thanks. You simply can never know what might happen.


Including the option that the 'crazy embedded systems developer' thinks idiots who waste their time pressing the call button multiple times and must be punished and therefore there is an embedded program that says 'delay the elevator one minute for each additional time after the first that the call button is pushed'?

Pushing the damn thing once, given the odds of finding the one cadence that some crazy ass programmer embedded to send the elevator immediately to you, is probably your best bet.
posted by spicynuts at 8:59 AM on April 15, 2008


I'm quite shallow. My main thought was that I'd have probably needed a poo at some point in the 41 hours.

I also thought, looking at the video, how gutting it must be to finally prise the doors open and find a brick wall. That alone would probably make me mad enough to be frothing at the mouth after 41 hours.

And having read the article, I wondered why no-one recognised he was missing. On those days when my other half and I are a little fractious I sometimes stop and think about situations like this being one of the many fringe benefits of being in a stable relationship: there's always someone watching your back.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:00 AM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I agree, it could be psychologically damaging. I see no indication in the article that it was so psychologically damaging as to prevent him from working. And the fact that he didn't even try to go back to work (not on the advice of a medical professional, but on that of a lawyer) doesn't help his case. Yes, maybe this incident did render him unable to go back to work, but since he never tried, how are we to know?
posted by Doohickie at 9:00 AM on April 15, 2008


Jody Tresidder : Those pyramid steps are on a fiendish gradient calculated to trigger phobia.

I don't know if there is any truth to this, but I've heard that one of the chief reasons for their design is to force anyone climbing them to use their hand and knees. Which is to say, that the very design is supposed to force people climbing them to be humble and penitent in their approach.

Which is a bit genius and devious all at the same time.
posted by quin at 9:05 AM on April 15, 2008


Is it just me or is the article really heavy on the commas?
posted by CitrusFreak12


It is not just you. It is the New Yorker.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:11 AM on April 15, 2008


"It's like the people who still walk around with their umbrellas open when it's not raining anymore."

Those are called "parasols".
posted by Eideteker at 9:17 AM on April 15, 2008 [6 favorites]


Wow, what a really wonderful article. I came for the guy stranded, I stayed for the wonderfully intelligent and far reaching elevator examination.

I just have to pipe in and say that, and that I too have seen the Marriot Marquis in NY and was very suprised by the elevator queue system. It is a different elevator experience -- you tell a sort of master control panel what floor you want, and you have 6 or 8 elevators serving your side of the circle, and it just responds "H". You then look in your circle, find the H, and usually it has lit up before it has even arrived to help guide you to it.

I've been to Manhattan many times, so maybe that's why everything else was less interesting, but I truly did marvel at this new system for queuing and I'm happy to have read more about it.
posted by cavalier at 9:19 AM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Looking back on the experience now, with a peculiarly melancholic kind of bewilderment, he recognizes that he walked onto an elevator one night, with his life in one kind of shape, and emerged from it with his life in another. Still, he now sees that it wasn’t so much the elevator that changed him as his reaction to it. He has come to terms with the trauma of the experience but not with his decision to pursue a lawsuit instead of returning to work. If anything, it prolonged the entrapment. He won’t blame the elevator.

I think that's a pretty common lesson about life, unfortunately. Sometimes when something unjust happens and we want justice... the pursuit of that justice isn't as beneficial to the victim as walking away and moving on to a new future. Instead, this guy is actually still stuck in that elevator.

I've had really great cause to sue a few times, and everyone urged me to do so. There was a lot of pressure to do it, and it felt like by not suing I was allowing myself to be victimized and being a coward and not standing up for myself. I'd gone through something traumatic and was supposed to fight for justice, but just going through the traumatic thing is bad enough. It seemed to me that although justice wasn't being served that the negative energy that has to be held onto when you go through lawsuits like that, I would just prolong my victimhood by embracing it. I couldn't take more of it, so I didn't sue. And although I sometimes wonder what would've happened I'm glad I didn't.

Getting money for traumatic pain and suffering sounds like a reasonable thing to have happen. But for some people, the pursuit of it costs too much. The traumatic event becomes such a bigger part of your life, it's harder to escape.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:25 AM on April 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


I don't know if there is any truth to this, but I've heard that one of the chief reasons for their design is to force anyone climbing them to use their hand and knees. Which is to say, that the very design is supposed to force people climbing them to be humble and penitent in their approach.

Quin,
I've never heard that before!

But it's a brilliant theory. And looking back at the pathetic figure I made - utterly prostrate and frozenly submissive a third of the way up the Mexican steps (because the effect of the angle doesn't kick in immediately) I was absolutely a pantomime of penitence.

(Not to mention purple with embarrassment!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:26 AM on April 15, 2008


Oh man, yeah, the brick wall is the most terrifying touch:

At a certain point, he decided to open the doors. He pried them apart and held them open with his foot. He was presented with a cinder-block wall on which, perfectly centered, were scrawled three “13”s—one in chalk, one in red paint, one in black.

If I was working construction on an elevator shaft, you'd better believe the first thing I'd do is grab some paint and scrawl on the brick walls of the shaft, at regular intervals, "The cake is a lie".
posted by Greg Nog at 9:28 AM on April 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Behold the Sabbath elevator
posted by hortense at 9:29 AM on April 15, 2008


I was thinking that if this happens to me, I would pee in my shoe and drink it.
posted by mattbucher at 9:31 AM on April 15, 2008


The only thing more obnoxious then an undue sense of over-entitlement for yourself is an undue sense of under-entitlement for others.

I'm not saying he doesn't deserve a settlement - he went through a really shitty time, and people who should have noticed his situation earlier were careless. He absolutely deserves some money for his trouble, and I too would be taking a couple of weeks off after something like that.

But at some point you have to just move on. You can't let an incident like this define you for the rest of your life. It seems like he learned that lesson in the end.

Miss Lynnster said it better than I, though.
posted by echo target at 9:37 AM on April 15, 2008


I was thinking that if this happens to me, I would pee in my shoe and drink it.

Reasonable, unless you do it at the three-minute mark.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:37 AM on April 15, 2008 [7 favorites]


he eventually fucks his entire life by listening to lawyers

... That's not really a unique story.

I am reminded of a line from an Avenue Q song, Schadenfreude:

"Being on an elevator when somebody shouts, "Hold the door!" - ""NO!"/ Fuck you, lady, that's what stairs are for!"
posted by WalterMitty at 9:43 AM on April 15, 2008


Great article by the way, whatever the naysayers are braying. :x
posted by WalterMitty at 9:45 AM on April 15, 2008


You know, a bunch of people here probably could manage to spend 41 hours in an elevator and come right back if they knew how long they'd be in there. But, again, he had no idea when or if he'd ever be rescued.

At the latest he would have been rescued Monday morning when the building was full of people again being annoyed by the alarm bell and wondering why one of the elevators wasn't working.

His should have just allowed his company to send him on a paid vacation to the tropical destination of his choice for a few weeks (apart from his normal vacation time) and then let them kiss his ass bigtime for several months when he got back.

I have no doubt it was a traumatic experience and I don't envy him it at all, but it's not like they did it to him maliciously. Elevators malfunction all the time (t least they do everywhere I've worked), not necessarily due to neglect.
posted by Jess the Mess at 9:50 AM on April 15, 2008


You know what else doesn't work? Pressing the elevator call button multiple times or after someone else has already pressed it and it is lit up. People like that should be sterilized. It's like the people who still walk around with their umbrellas open when it's not raining anymore.

What a douchebag comment. These people affect you how, exactly?
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:52 AM on April 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


What a douchebag comment. These people affect you how, exactly?

They're ruining marriage button-pressing for the rest of us!
posted by dmd at 10:03 AM on April 15, 2008


I haven't watched the video yet, but the article is fascinating. As I'm reading it, I'm picturing some of the more memorable elevator rides I've been on. Hotels with the glass elevators with a view, the Hancock Tower, etc. Like the article makes a point of, they're important but almost invisible parts of everyday life.
posted by ninjew at 10:03 AM on April 15, 2008


I learned a lot of things from reading this article. One of which is:

Don't leave passive aggressive notes for friends or coworkers.

They may be trapped in an elevator on the thirteenth floor without food or water.
posted by the other side at 10:03 AM on April 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


Thanks, that was a great article. I'm half tempted to become an elevator engineer, and half tempted never to ride in one again. I found this part interesting:

"One was that the glass cabs allow you to see the elevator’s various components, and also how fast you’re going—a thrill or a trial, depending on your temperament or, according to Fortune, your gender. In his experience, most women face the door, away from the glass, to avoid the sight of the mezzanines flying by."

Looking out seems like the fun bit.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:11 AM on April 15, 2008


Actually there's still plenty of elevators where if you press the floor button and door close at the same time, the doors will immediately close </spoiler>
posted by [@I][:+:][@I] at 10:36 AM on April 15, 2008


At work, a guy in our Denver offices got stuck on the elevator for a couple hours one day (with maintenance personnel working on it trying to un-stick it the entire time). I think the property management company gave him a $50 AmEx gift card or something similar for his troubles.
posted by mrbill at 10:43 AM on April 15, 2008


That was a great article. The horror movie buff in me was a bit disappointed, though, to see The Shaft get a mention, and not the Dutch film The Lift, of which it was a remake. (It also has one of the best taglines of all time: "Take the stairs! Take the stairs! For God's sake, take the stairs!")

Also, the mention of elevators' use to screenwriters as locations for conversation reminded me of something I once read about the production of Star Trek: The Next Generation. When Roddenberry and the other creators were designing the Enterprise D, it was suggested that for efficiency's sake the transporter room might be just off the bridge. The idea was nixed when somebody realized that the turbolift was an indispensable place for dialogue.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:10 AM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm picturing those changing shifts of security guards not noticing the monitor--and likely at least one of them who did notice but elected to ignore it, because the end of the shift was just a bit away and responding to it would just complicate his day, and then he'd get yelled at for however long he hadn't seen it before, and someone else would take care of it later. I'm also wondering if the guards who finally did notice were present on the prior days' shifts, and guessing they were. I'd have liked to see the article actually touch on whatever flimsy house-of-cards excuses that aspect has.
posted by Drastic at 11:25 AM on April 15, 2008


What a douchebag comment. These people affect you how, exactly?

It's called a pet peeve, tough guy. I didn't ask God to strike them all down and give them leprosy.
posted by spicynuts at 11:25 AM on April 15, 2008


Also...
posted by dmd at 11:26 AM on April 15, 2008


The moral of this story is, you should always carry a cell phone when riding an elevator.
posted by beagle at 11:31 AM on April 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Since we're on the scary elevator theme, I'd like to add the Paternosteraufzug [German wiki] to the conversation. It's a one-person elevator that is constantly in motion with no door - you just step onto it as it passes and go up or down on it. Obviously, a Paternosteraufzug would never fly in the litigious USA, but they're not uncommon in Europe.

As a matter of fact, there's one in the original film The Omen, in a scene in the Italian hospital where Damian was born. The elevator wasn't the scariest part of that film.
posted by workerant at 11:34 AM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I learned a lot of things from reading this article. One of which is:

Don't leave passive aggressive notes for friends or coworkers.


Seriously. That's a hell of an apology to have to make.

Thanks for the article. I thought it was terrific.
posted by LeeJay at 11:36 AM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


he eventually fucks his entire life by listening to lawyers

Eh, don't blame the lawyers for that. Do you really think they'd counsel him to not work? For 4 years? (He'd have a great malpractice suit if they did.) No, that was all him.
posted by naju at 11:54 AM on April 15, 2008


supercres: Did this remind anyone else of a Murakami story, specifically The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle? Man goes into a confined space alone, gets trapped, and it changes his outlook on life.

I'm not familiar with that one, but it did remind me of Fleep (As seen on Mefi).
posted by Anything at 12:16 PM on April 15, 2008


Eh, don't blame the lawyers for that. Do you really think they'd counsel him to not work? For 4 years?

Well, it happens. When my parents divorced, the lawyers told my depressed dad to cut down his income to avoid paying higher alimony. Let's just say that was some seriously baaaad advice for my dad's long term well being. Lawyers say stupid shit sometimes when they're looking only at legal stuff and winning in court instead of considering their client's status as a traumatized human being who could easily be blindly pointed towards self destruction. If that lawyer would've told my dad that my mom would've come back to him if he jumped off a bridge, he probably would've done it without a second thought at the time, assuming the lawyer was a professional and knew what he was talking about. Sometimes people are simply too weak, vulnerable, and in shock about the mess of their lives to think rationally.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:25 PM on April 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


And then years later they wake up and go "what the hell did I do?"
posted by miss lynnster at 12:26 PM on April 15, 2008


Totally interesting; thanks!

I'm kind of surprised that his employer (BusinessWeek) didn't offer a telecommute situation, at least for a while, supported with some therapy. Because he was at work, it seems like this could have been a worker's comp situation. Of course, the article didn't go into any other side of the matter - just him and the experts.

And as someone mentioned, I'm prone to thinking one should never be without mobile phone. Yet, often in buildings such as that, there may be no service in the shaft.

I've only recently gotten over my elevator phobia, but it was more that I was afraid of riding along with male passengers. Enclosed in a box and all...
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 12:36 PM on April 15, 2008


Check out elevaattorit.org, serial numbers take to images (848) of all kinds of elevators and escalators for your pleasure, including pater noster of Finland's parliament house. Somebody has a nice hobby/fetish. Cool but busy design, btw.
posted by Free word order! at 12:56 PM on April 15, 2008


I'm reminded of an episode of the Dick Van Dyke Show, when Rob, Laura and Don Rickles were trapped in an elevator. Rob finally crawled through the trap door on top and stood on top of the car. He saw some writing on the brick wall and stretched over the various cables to read it:

In nineteen hundred and thirty-six
Tony Caruso laid these bricks.
And now, my friend, I wish you luck
'Cause if you're reading this, you're stuck!
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:57 PM on April 15, 2008


I think the guy deserved some compensation from the property management company because the building security and maintenance staff must have really slipped up somewhere to not notice a elevator alarm and a not working elevator with someone trapped inside for over 40 hours, and he wouldn't have survived very much longer, but $25 million? Come on.
posted by orange swan at 1:04 PM on April 15, 2008


Oh this place is a treasure. Imagine 41 hours here.
posted by Free word order! at 1:05 PM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


The moral of this story is, you should always carry a cell phone when riding an elevator.

1) An elevator is essentially a Faraday Cage, so you're unlikely to get reception

2) Even with the doors open, He was on floor 13 of an express elevator, with nothing but concrete and steel walls for 13 stories below, and probably at least another 12 stories above him. Even on the floors high above him with exits, there were metal doors covering the openings.

If you still get cell phone reception in there, I'd like to switch to your carrier.
posted by chrisamiller at 2:27 PM on April 15, 2008


Ach. That video looked exactly like insomnia feels.
posted by eponymouse at 2:35 PM on April 15, 2008


I feel for him being stuck in an elevator for two days, but wasting four years on a stupid law suit that ended up ruining his career? That was just stupid.
It wasn't the lawsuit that ruined his career.

What ruined his career was the idea that not ruining his career would ruin his lawsuit.
posted by Flunkie at 3:16 PM on April 15, 2008


COMMENT ONEHUNDRED BITCH

Now that I have your attention, does anyone recognize the piano piece from the elevator video? I would like to purchase it from itunes or what not. If not I'll just have to audiohijack that shit.
posted by dgaicun at 3:30 PM on April 15, 2008


"The security guard handed him an open Heineken. He took one sip but found the beer repellent..."

"...this reaction was not, of course, owing to the time spend in the elevator, but merely to the naturally terrible taste of Heineken."

[NOT PABSTBLUERIBBON-IST]
posted by anazgnos at 3:48 PM on April 15, 2008


We have one of those smart elevator systems here in my building and Im always a little uneasy with it...

However, I loved the article and the mechanics behind the elevators. As a constrction type IT guy, I have to do a lot of space planning and I look at the floor plans for some of these buildings and I wonder, "Do we really need 14 elevators for 50 floors?" I guess we do.
posted by subaruwrx at 4:03 PM on April 15, 2008


Wow. Thanks for the post - fascinating story.
posted by goo at 4:13 PM on April 15, 2008


Imagine being stuck in that elevator. You pull every fail-safe, do everything by the book, everything that is supposed t get you rescued - but you are ignored, or the fail-safes don't work because, as it turns out, they are really just there for looks.

You try everything to get out. EVERYTHING. You press buttons. You set off alarms. You SCREAM. You climb up the sides of the damn wall and try to do some acrobatic daredevil routine through the locked "escape hatch." You cry.

Hours pass. You don't know how many, because the first one that passed was already one hour too long. You'd think somebody would have noticed; somebody you work with, somebody who cares about you; somebody whose job it is to care about these kinds of things. Nobody notices. Are you sure you even exist?

Have you ever been abandoned? Actually, seriously, really abandoned? I don't mean your buddy leaving you at the bar because he thought you had a ride already. I mean forsaken. Try spending 40 hours - the equivalent of a full work week - reflecting on being forgotten, and trying not to reflect on being utterly forgotten, and trying to stay sane.

Is this what it feels like to be the last man on earth?

Of course you get angry. You have to choose anger over - over what? Over sadness. Over depression. Anger is a survival instinct. Anger is sane. Depression is losing yourself. And with that blaring alarm playing tricks on your brain, without food, or water, or a place to piss - losing yourself is much too easy.

You're angry when you finally get out. Angry when you hear a weasly voice asking what you're doing in that elevator. Angry when your beer tastes like shit. Angry that you have to go all the way back up in a goddamn elevator to get your jacket.

And angry when you find a disparaging note taped to your monitor for your disappearance. And angry when you hear the jerks wondering where you are on your answering machine. Because you were stuck in an elevator for forty f***ing hours straight, that's where you were. Where you you? Where was anybody the one time I needed them most?

I'll take $25 million, thanks.

... but if any lesson was really to be learned, I bet Mr. White still smokes cigarettes.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:54 PM on April 15, 2008 [16 favorites]


Wow. I was stuck on an elevator in a Moscow hotel once for four hours. But there were four of us and we had two bottles of pepper vodka between us, so it really doesn't compare to this.
posted by trip and a half at 5:01 PM on April 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


At least there wasn't elevator music.

Another fun fact about elevators: If you attempt to force the doors open while it's in motion, the elevator will automatically stop.
posted by Laen at 5:28 PM on April 15, 2008


Definitely a little off-topic, but when I opened up the video of Nicholas White in one window and began watching this in another, the audio synched up beautifully and I got a little teary because yes alright I am more than a little ridiculous and I know the bear isn't really alive shut up.

As is, that poor man. I like how the story dead-ended, basically, in a way of mirroring where Nicholas White currently is.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 6:51 PM on April 15, 2008


Great article. White's story read like something straight out of a Paul Auster novel.
posted by dhruva at 7:06 PM on April 15, 2008


I loved the article. The video was interesting too, though I found the (non-elevator-type) background music just as, if not more, compelling than the grainy, repetitive video.
posted by roomwithaview at 7:47 PM on April 15, 2008


God the article was mind-numbing. I didn't care about the history crap, but scrolling continuously to get the actual STORY was a pain in the ass. The story itself was good, but the 3-5 paragraph at a time sections of drivel was irritating.
posted by TomMelee at 7:55 PM on April 15, 2008


the fail-safes don't work because, as it turns out, they are really just there for looks.

Perhaps I didn't read the entire article carefully enough, but that's the grim notion that it leaves in my mind. If the emergency buttons don't work in an actual emergency, then they are, strictly speaking, just there for show.

Yikes.
posted by treepour at 8:01 PM on April 15, 2008


It seemed to me that although justice wasn't being served that the negative energy that has to be held onto when you go through lawsuits like that, I would just prolong my victimhood by embracing it.

There's getting money for your own suffering and then there's providing a disincentive to people to fuck people over. Of course, this depends on the amount of negligence involved and whether it's a one-off even if very negligent. To take a very different example, how many women who are sexually assaulted would rather put it behind them than go through the awful ordeal of a trial? Potential victims count. (NO, I am not saying these two examples are similar in any other way)

So I can see some $$ for personal suffering and maybe a few $ more in this case to provide a lesson to those involved and a warning to others. 25 million? No. But some degree of general deterrence should factor in. That's why they go after product liability cases the way they do.

As for personal reflection on this event -- I have to say that the only thing I can imagine worse than this (while still basically being the same situation) would be being trapped with someone else in an elevator for 40 hours. I'd gladly give up the company to forego the possibility of having to share that small a space with someone freaking the fuck out.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:43 PM on April 15, 2008


Instead of a beer, I would have asked the security guy for a crowbar so I could beat him with it. How the fuck could they not notice him on their monitors for nearly two days? What is the point of the security cameras in the first place? The words "criminally negligent" come to mind.
posted by Potsy at 8:50 PM on April 15, 2008


I was trapped in an elevator at 4:45 PM on a Friday afternoon on my last day on the job. It only took about 20 minutes to get me out (and I was able to call and text on my cell phone), but I figured it was a sign.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 8:51 PM on April 15, 2008


Also it's worth pointing out that most sources say that without water, a person will die after 3 days (a few say 4). 41 hours is probably more than halfway to death.

Every single one of those security guards should have been fired and prevented from ever serving in a position related to people's safety again.
posted by Potsy at 9:00 PM on April 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wow, the instant coffee crowd is out in force today. Boy-howdy!
posted by oxford blue at 9:38 PM on April 15, 2008


Wait a minute. Is this suggesting that ... not every lawsuit is a good lawsuit?
That a lawsuit that identifies a real problem is a better idea than a lawsuit that just identifies sorrow and insists on its compensation?
That not every reaction to an offense is justified?

Why do you hate America, New Yorker?



OK, yeah, the security guards probably should have been indentured to his service day and night for a month each. But that doesn't acting like a bratty 13-year-old, suing whoever's handy, or acting like a bratty 13-year-old so that you can sue whoever's handy. Security firm should have volunteered the indentures.
posted by eritain at 9:50 PM on April 15, 2008


I'll take $25 million, thanks.

Except he didn't get anywhere near $25 million.
They settled for an amount that White is not allowed to disclose, but he will not contest that it was a low number, hardly six figures. [...] Meanwhile, White no longer had his job, which he’d held for fifteen years, and lost all contact with his former colleagues. He lost his apartment, spent all his money, and searched, mostly in vain, for paying work. He is currently unemployed.
He threw away a job at Business Week, probably pulling some pretty decent bank, on the off-chance that he could reap a windfall on someone else's dime. All for something that, I mean... yes, certainly sucks a whole lot... but $25 million worth of suck? I don't think so.

I know lawyers usually play like sheiks in a souk with the numbers: start out huge, go back and forth a bit, then end up with maybe $2-3 million for your troubles. Too bad it didn't work out. He probably should have gotten a better lawyer.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:22 AM on April 16, 2008


Sad ending. Greedy though. Not worth destroying your life for - and that was all on him, It was unpleasant sure, but I probably wouldnt have gotten out and decided to sue someone. I'd be more interested in fixing the "failsafes" that failed me. Yeah you got stuck in a lift, move on.

It reminded me of my grandpa - when I was young, he used make me stand next to him, in silence for 60 seconds. When I asked him why, he would say 'elevator practice'.

Then again, I might have stolen that one off Tommy Cooper.
posted by daveyt at 5:10 AM on April 16, 2008


I really like the video music too. If someone finds it, let me know.

I would also hate to be trapped in an elevator like that...it kind of makes you realize how some of what you take for granted (emergency buttons being effective, and vigilant security guards) are really just providing an illusion of safety. What if instead of him being trapped in the elevator there had been someone else in there brutally murdering him? Those guards would never know.

I hope that afterwards they felt like the poor excuses of human beings that they were in that incident.
posted by DMan at 9:13 AM on April 16, 2008


This is why I never ride an elevator without a three day supply of food.
posted by amro at 10:14 AM on April 16, 2008


I was a bit underwhelmed. The writer knew he had a bit of a shaggy-dog story with an anticlimactic ending, and beefed it up with a McPheeian 'history and culture of the elevator' interpolation, but there wasn't enough of the latter to stand on its own.

My two big elevator stories are first, the time the elevators were misbehaving in the NYC office building I worked at, including an episode that I witnessed where people were jumping down to the floor level from the elevator level, a bit worried that the doors wouldn't stay jammed open or that they might lose their footing and plummet through the opening into the shaft. Second, that someone I knew briefly in Chicago had a girlfriend who (more or less) got her long hair caught in the outer doors and her head pulled down along the shaft, scalping her (a bit like the guy in the safety video thread, where I considered mentioning this). She recovered, but ... ick.

It was nice to have the bit about the door close button indirectly confirmed by an industry expert, though. And I remember when I was in NYC in the 80s, that Marriott elevator problem was in the news, but I don't remember that it was ever portrayed as anything but a "malfunction" (instead of a fundamental design flaw).
posted by dhartung at 11:33 AM on April 16, 2008


Also it's worth pointing out that most sources say that without water, a person will die after 3 days (a few say 4). 41 hours is probably more than halfway to death.

Y'know, I'm so notoriously bad about drinking water that I'd say I've probably spent half of my life halfway to death. Which explains a lot.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:02 PM on April 16, 2008


I'm suffering a bit of insomnia, of late, so I got right into the article...I was actually fascinated by the survival of the elevator in the 1945 plummet, and also liked this line: The elevator, underrated and overlooked, is to the city what paper is to reading and gunpowder is to war.

I'm definitely not a fan of elevators, myself. Small spaces in general, but elevators in particular. I suspect I suffered a bit of trauma as a pre-teen when I was trapped in one with a few of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. White hotpants and all. Also in the elevator were three other choir members (we were performing at the same benefit with the cheerleaders, but this was the only accursed time we spent any time with them ...one of whom was the object of my youthful affection. He was the most outgoing of the choral geeks and at one point in his stammering introductions to the women, he actually mispronounced my name. May have had something to do with his being eye level to all those bodacious...er...tatas, so to speak.

I know the former teenage boys out there will see the experience in an entirely different light, but my flat chest and I were definitely scarred by the experience.


Okay, so my problem really has nothing to do with elevators, but we were stuck long enough so the setting is firmly tied to the angst. I can't imagine how screwed up I'd be had it been a 40 hour stretch....
posted by squasha at 9:16 AM on April 24, 2008


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