The Elevator-Phobes of a Vertical City
October 3, 2018 11:18 AM   Subscribe

It’s hard to live in any urban area if you are anxious about elevators. Somehow, these New Yorkers make it work.

It comes in waves. Some days, some months, some years even are blissfully peaceful. Then some little incident will happen and it’ll trigger me all over again. And there are lots and lots of would-be triggers.

posted by poffin boffin (55 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
I wonder about how this phobia is played out for most people, is it more the height or the small confined space that elicits this reaction/fear? For me it's not the height, that does not bother me, it's the confined space.

I'm ok in small doses. But if I am in an elevator for more than 5 minutes, I'm going to start to get anxious and upset. The idea of not having the option to leave, that is what upsets me more than anything else. That feeling of being hemmed in.
posted by Fizz at 11:31 AM on October 3, 2018 [3 favorites]


Yeah I think it's more related to claustrophobia than acrophobia.
posted by Grither at 11:37 AM on October 3, 2018


i feel like that's technically claustrophobia? but idk because i get that in huge open areas that are nevertheless crowded with people, which seems like it wouldn't count? being squished between many people is really an enclosed space though.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:38 AM on October 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


An office building I worked in regularly had elevators that would get stuck - I luckily never experienced it, but I had many coworkers who did. I'm generally not scared of elevators or confined spaces, but that's when I know I can get out. Being stuck inside an elevator is another story entirely. I regularly opted for the stairs when I worked there, but it was only a couple of flights.

I can't imagine being scared of elevators in a place like NYC. I remember not long after I moved there I went to a job interview on the 50-somethingth floor of a building; it was the first time that I'd ever felt nervous in an elevator because it was express and it went so fast. When it finally stopped you felt a tiny bit of weightlessness.

NYC was also the first time I'd ever seen a Shabbat elevator!
posted by elsietheeel at 11:40 AM on October 3, 2018 [9 favorites]


I know that elevators are safe. I know that they have all manner of fine-tuned safety devices: automatic braking systems, bunches of backup cables, heavy-duty shock absorbers. I know that very, very few people die in elevators. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the death rate is about 30 people a year (and about half of all victims are people whose job it is to work on elevators).

Whenever someone starts banging on about "too much government regulation," and "cutting red tape," I like to ask them if they use elevators very much.

They're not safe by accident - they're safe because of heavy-handed government regulation.

I'm not claustrophobic in elevators that are...moving and seem to be functioning normally, but I sure as hell wouldn't want to be stuck in one. So for people who find the space unnerving or terrifying to begin with, living in an urban environment where they have to navigate high-rise buildings as part of daily life must be tough.

I used to work on the 64th floor of an office tower. My ears would pop on the way up and down on the elevator.

But getting the express ride down with no other stops from my floor at 5:00 on a Friday afternoon felt like winning the lottery.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:53 AM on October 3, 2018 [30 favorites]


It comes in waves. Some days, some months, some years even are blissfully peaceful. Then some little incident will happen and it’ll trigger me all over again. And there are lots and lots of would-be triggers.

One of the frustrating things about recent, ah, conversations surrounding trauma is that so many people don't seem to understand, or don't care to understand, is that it's not always like an intense phobia where every time you are in a situation you get a panic attack. I am afraid of flying, but I still fly, all the time, and most of the time I am OK. But sometimes there is a specific combination of circumstances that triggers the panic and it will take me several months to get over it.

Also, those glass elevators are *the worst.* Worse than airplanes.
posted by muddgirl at 11:55 AM on October 3, 2018 [12 favorites]


They're not safe by accident - they're safe because of heavy-handed government regulation.

One of the things I always do while standing in an elevator is read the inspection certificate. They're almost always past due.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:58 AM on October 3, 2018 [9 favorites]


I was scared of elevators as a little girl, which wasn't helped by the fact that we lived on one of the higher floors in our building.

It was never about claustrophobia, but about watching people shimmy out of elevators that were stuck between floors. I worried that the elevator was going to move suddenly and crush them as they escaped, or that they would somehow, on escaping, slip into the exposed shaft below.

Or the fact that once in a blue moon it was possible to open the door to the shaft even if the elevator wasn't present.

I'm mostly over it now, but I do try to enter and exit elevators as fast as possible.

(And then there's that New Yorker video. Nobody link to that video.)
posted by evidenceofabsence at 11:58 AM on October 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


The elevator in my college dorm used to get stuck if you shook it a little bit, which friends did regularly as a prank while we all were in there. The first time it happened was kind of scary but after that it was just boring and since we were often coming back from dinner I usually had to pee. Also you didn't want to sit on the floor so it was a fight between standing and accepting the dirt as a trade off for a seat.

It usually took about 30 minutes for them to fix it.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:04 PM on October 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Also this is so sweet and wholesome it makes up for all the negative visualizations about elevators in this post & thread:
The only exception is 2 Chainz, the ultracharismatic Atlanta rapper. He has managed, with patience and true care, to keep Hicks calm in the box. He tells her, “It’s just you and me.” And he’ll actually stop any other passengers from getting on, to make sure Hicks has the personal space she needs. He tells her, “You with me—we’re together.”
posted by muddgirl at 12:06 PM on October 3, 2018 [22 favorites]


I was also terrified of elevators growing up, especially the ones in the mall near where I grew up. It was never about being claustrophobic or being afraid of heights. It was a fear of being trapped alone and that nobody would ever find me. Or the car Tower of Terror-ing to the bottom of the shaft.
posted by Krazor at 12:07 PM on October 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


I don't mind elevators in which I cannot see that I'm moving, but glass elevators horrify me. I try to face whatever portion is least see-through and sing to myself.

I have only been stuck in the opaque ones, and not for very long, thank goodness.

The current AskMe thread about fear of flying makes me think these are related, at least for me, since I hate flying and always have, even before several people I know died on planes. I don't like being in the air at someone else's mercy AT ALL. (I like boats, but only when I know the person driving and/or can see land.)
posted by wellred at 12:11 PM on October 3, 2018


I was afraid of elevators for a long time (mostly claustrophobia, I think) but then I got a job where I was in high rises all the time so I quickly got over my fear.

Then, a couple of years ago my family and I went to the Empire State Building and, though I never let on, I was freaking out. I've been fine in every elevator since then.

I don't mind elevators in which I cannot see that I'm moving, but glass elevators horrify me.

Strangely enough, they don't bother me at all. I just don't like being in a tiny room that is making noises and obviously moving.

Also, don't forget about this guy.
posted by bondcliff at 12:18 PM on October 3, 2018


i actually like the glass hotel ones because at least if you're trapped someone will notice pretty much immediately, but also because i like the exciting futuristic spacewards zoom.

the only time i have been straight up shaky scared was when i got stuck in an elevator with 3 white cops.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:19 PM on October 3, 2018 [8 favorites]


I don't mind elevators, but am not a big fan of people.

What annoys me lately is that buildings around here have recently become more "secure" by locking their stairwell doors on the ground floor so I'm forced to use the elevator every time.
posted by ODiV at 12:20 PM on October 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


Ever seen an Otis branded elevator? I'm sure you have. That's because it was Otis who invented the braking system which prevents elevators from plunging. He did dramatic demonstrations of his device that involved being hoisted up on a non-enclosed elevator (so people could see the mechanism) and having people stand underneath him when the elevation cables were disabled, literally betting their lives on his system working.

My fear of elevators isn't the closeness of the space, but rather it's a glass walled one which looks out into an atrium or outside the building so I can see the height. This is made worse when the inside of the door is mirrored so I can't look away. I've even been in elevators where the ceiling is mirrored so I can't even look up. At that point, it's eyes closed.

Elevators are some of the safest things on the planet. And heights freak me out on a lot of levels.

(I get the claustrophobia part of elevators, though. They are tiny boxes that are quickly filled with people.)
posted by hippybear at 12:20 PM on October 3, 2018 [3 favorites]


Someone got stuck in a subway elevator for a couple of hours just recently--I don't consider myself elevatorphobic, but I can't say I'd cope with that very well.
posted by praemunire at 12:21 PM on October 3, 2018


Strangely enough, they don't bother me at all.

You'd love the CN Tower's glass elevator then (video of an ascent here - and why yes, it's an Otis).
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:23 PM on October 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Was on a jury where a (very scofflawish) woman was suing, the corporate lawyer had so much information and certainly had a self bias but so much info & data, elevators are really really safe.

If you do get stuck, do not not not try to climb out until the maintenance folk arrive, no one can beat gravity.
posted by sammyo at 12:32 PM on October 3, 2018


Gravity in general is not safe at all.
posted by hippybear at 12:47 PM on October 3, 2018 [14 favorites]


A good read, and now because of NYC was also the first time I'd ever seen a Shabbat elevator! posted by elsietheeel I'm reading https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/06/nyregion/on-jewish-sabbath-elevators-that-do-all-the-work.html
posted by readinghippo at 1:14 PM on October 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


I have solved this problem by living in a walk-up, like all NY masochists.

This has also solved about 10lbs of other problems already this year.
posted by rokusan at 1:14 PM on October 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


As a kid I found elevators deeply disturbing and went to great lengths to avoid them. Well-meaning people tried to comfort me, but, the advice given never made any sense. They were always assuming claustrophobia, which wasn't at all the problem. Being in a box wasn't scary. Bury me alive, alone, in a tiny elevator, far underground, and I'll be just fine. (If rather sad about the long term consequences, assuming no prospect of rescue.)

Hanging from a cable hundreds of feet in the air, on the other hand, was scary. Elevators, ski-lifts, Ferris wheels, balconies, aerial tramways. . . I've always hated being suspended from a rope that I didn't tie myself. I'd much rather free-climb the outside of a Ferris wheel than ride inside the car hanging from one.

I've mostly gotten over it now, due to some combination of getting old, doing much scarier and genuinely less safe things that involve trusting hardware high in the air, and learning about elevator safety mechanisms. But, I still dislike them and go for the stairs more often than most.
posted by eotvos at 1:16 PM on October 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


It's curious that elevators are incredibly safe for passengers, yet seem to have a not inconsiderable appetite for elevator service people. But yes, attempting to exit a stuck elevator that you are not absolutely certain has been rendered immobile and will not suddenly start moving if the power returns or somebody flips a switch somewhere is only a good idea if your goal is to be crushed, dismembered, or killed.

The mechanical control systems are also death traps. Rotary converters with exposed rotors positioned perfectly to catch loose pant legs, high voltage relays big enough to crush a finger while electrocuting you, drive motors with plenty of openings large enough to fit a limb for amputation, and more. Thankfully, sharing a room with a modern elevator is not the imminent risk to life and limb the old ones were. There's much less to trip over.

Hell, the little hydraulic ones have everything contained in a single waist high steel box (which is what keeps a person nearby from being cut in half in the event of a high pressure hydraulic leak), aside from the electrical disconnects, fill port, and such. The first time I saw one of those, I wondered where the rest of it was.
posted by wierdo at 1:23 PM on October 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


And the topic loops back around... reading "Tall Buildings and the Sabbath Elevator" (on no less than Elevator World, Inc) I came to the statement "Nevertheless, the possibility of getting stuck in an enclosed box for an undetermined period of time is daunting to many."
posted by readinghippo at 1:31 PM on October 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


My favorite kind of elevator is the Paternoster.
posted by bondcliff at 1:33 PM on October 3, 2018 [10 favorites]


In the dorms at the college I went to we had elevators that let you pry the inner doors open while the elevators were moving, and then the elevator would slowly come to a stop. If you timed it right, you could pry the inner doors open, wait for it to stop at your floor, then pry the outer doors open. This allowed you to run to your room and get something without worrying about waiting for the elevator to come back.

Not really a great idea, but college life is full of bad ideas that seemed good at the time.
posted by Quonab at 1:35 PM on October 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


My favorite kind of elevator is the Paternoster.

We have one of those where I work. Riding it is a weird experience, and the first time or two I was afraid I was going to sever a limb going between floors.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:43 PM on October 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm claustrophobic, so I've never been a fan, but during Harvey, a friend I've had for most of my life, lost his sister at the Omni in Houston because they never installed the flood switch, and didn't turn the elevators off, even after there was water in the shaft more than one floor deep. So now, elevators make me super twitchy.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 1:52 PM on October 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


Ever seen an Otis branded elevator? I'm sure you have. That's because it was Otis who invented the braking system which prevents elevators from plunging. He did dramatic demonstrations of his device that involved being hoisted up on a non-enclosed elevator (so people could see the mechanism) and having people stand underneath him when the elevation cables were disabled, literally betting their lives on his system working.

Get Rich or Die Tryin'
posted by leotrotsky at 1:54 PM on October 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


From the article: elevator phobia (no official name)

Google Translate tells me that the Greek for elevator is ανελκυστήρας (anelkystíras), so I propose anelkystirphobia for this fear.

Actual Greek speakers, linguists, and/or people who have a better aesthetic sense for language are welcome to suggest improvements or alternatives.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:59 PM on October 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Greatest glass elevator of all time is at the Mole Antonelliana in Turino. (Not my youtube video, but I have one very similar)
posted by jindc at 2:17 PM on October 3, 2018 [3 favorites]


Just watched Child's Play w/ grumpybearbride last night and we were remarking on the crazy exposed elevator shaft. Turns out that is a real building where you can rent an apartment right now!
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:23 PM on October 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Long time NYC resident here. Never disturbed by elevators. But last year I was alone in an elevator in Doha, Qatar. Was my first day off in two weeks so was heading to the hotel spa without my cell phone (bad call). Got stuck in an elevator that kept bouncing in place and didn't have air conditioning -- at least 110 degrees F. Pushed the emergency call button only to discover it was broken and didn't actually call anyone.

It took about 20 minutes to get anyone's attention and then another 20 for them to figure out how to get me out. (I did repeatetly point out the NYC Firemen would just use a crowbar to get me the fuck out, but to no avail.)

I still cringe anytime an elevator appears to have any malfunction. I definitly don't recommend clicking the link in the article to "the man who spent 41 hours in an elevator" :-)
posted by Dean358 at 2:40 PM on October 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


The office I work in is at the top of a 12 story run by a glass elevator. Sometimes people get into this elevator for a little thrill, or give the kids a little fun ride. There are lots of folks who just don't want to be in a glass box, way up there.

Occasionally, when I am feeling naughty, I will thump the glass with my fist, and say: "Don't worry, it is tough." They are not reassured.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 3:32 PM on October 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


I started work at a new (for me) building a couple of weeks ago. It has a quite comforting what-to-do list in case the elevator stops/gets stuck. Except for it doesn't say what do "if" you get stuck, but "when"...
posted by mephisjo at 6:52 PM on October 3, 2018 [2 favorites]




Also, a thing I learned from going to certain conventions... don't play music that makes people want to dance while riding in an elevator. Dancing breaks elevators.
posted by hippybear at 7:43 PM on October 3, 2018


During the 1945 Empire State Building B-25 crash:
Elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver was injured when the cables supporting her elevator sheared [struck by plane debris] and the elevator fell 75 storeys, ending up in the basement. Oliver managed to survive the fall and rescuers later found her amongst the rubble. It still stands as the Guinness World Record for the longest survived elevator fall.
The Guinness account reads like a doubled-down Final Destination script:
When the plane hit the building, Betty was badly burned having been blown from her position on the 80th floor. Once she received first aid treatment for her injuries, she was put into another supposedly safe elevator in order to meet an ambulance waiting at the bottom.

Unbeknown to rescue workers, the safety cables of Betty's elevator had been cut when the plane penetrated the elevator shaft at the 38th floor. Witnesses heard what sounded like a gunshot as the cables snapped on her descent...
Falling inside the burning elevator (and fighting freefall), Betty lived to tell her story, and died in 1999 aged 74.
posted by cenoxo at 8:09 PM on October 3, 2018 [6 favorites]


I've often wondered whether it's better to crouch and brace, or to lie flat, in a falling elevator. Probably the former, right?
posted by praemunire at 10:17 PM on October 3, 2018


I hate lifts due to claustrophobia but have reduced mobility currently so am forced to confront this repeatedly every day, working on the 9th floor in one building and living on the 8th floor of another!
posted by ellieBOA at 12:27 AM on October 4, 2018


I find elevators stressful not because of claustrophobia or acrophobia, but because of social anxiety. It's a small un-airconditioned enclosed space and you get to share it with strangers - sometimes a very tightly packed crowd of strangers - and not everyone gets off or on at the same floor, so there's frequent crowd shuffling, and basically it's like a super-short Tube journey, only quieter. Empty lift fine, glass-walled lift fantastic, packed-full rush-hour lift at work just awful.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:24 AM on October 4, 2018


I find them strangely comforting, probably because I can think through scenarios but have never needed to apply any of my plans. I'm very sympathetic though - I used to be terrified of escalators and, the first time I went to London when I was about 11, I remember running into so many situations where it was escalator or nothing. I was really proud of myself for getting on the first one, and disappointed that the fear didn't really subside with experience.

My heart still skips a beat when I step onto a down escalator, but it's like 100 fears suppressed to pass as a functional adult. I will fully take a stupid amount of stairs unless I'm injured, despite not being really fit enough for it.
posted by carbide at 3:36 AM on October 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


My favorite kind of elevator is the Paternoster.

Still in use at the Marina Towers in Chicago (the corn cob towers) for the parking valet. (the manlift part starts at 1:20 if you are impatient).
posted by srboisvert at 6:34 AM on October 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


These days, I try to remember the scary stories I've read about elevator decapitation, and resist the urge to use my hand or other body parts to keep the elevator doors from closing.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:42 AM on October 4, 2018


I am disabled and can't do stairs. I live in a house with an elevator. I pay $41/month for a landline phone in the elevator, which has never been used. It is a legal requirement here, to have it, but there is no inspection for a residential elevator, after the initial one when it is first built. I still wouldn't cancel the service.

We had an incident this year when it got stuck. I now know way more about it than I ever did before; having had that experience has reassured me. My elevator is made of very generic, easy to understand parts, that are easy to repair and have multiple fail-safes. It's all good.
posted by elizilla at 6:43 AM on October 4, 2018 [6 favorites]


I pay $41/month for a landline phone in the elevator, which has never been used.

I used to live in a building where the elevators had them. Once or twice, someone had called the elevator's phone number, and started an automated recording.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:50 AM on October 4, 2018


I am INCREDIBLY CLAUSTROPHOBIC and I have no idea why I was masochistic enough to read this thread, I am honestly in a cold sweat at my desk. My terror of being trapped in a small place is partly why I'm never without my phone - not even in a public bathroom, where I once memorably had to kick a door down when the lock jammed.
posted by nerdfish at 7:57 AM on October 4, 2018


When I was child I was afraid of elevators and my sister was afraid of escalators. Needless to say my mother hated taking us shopping.
posted by waving at 10:16 AM on October 4, 2018 [5 favorites]


It me! I live in New York and am afraid of elevators because claustrophobia. Glass ones are much better for me — it's all about not wanting to be trapped. I will walk when I can / it is practical. Sometimes I will wait a while to get in one that is not full. I have a special hatred for people who hold the door so more people can get in and I know which elevators I commonly use have door close buttons.

Only once have I had a job where I had to commonly take a scary elevator and I would often just walk down twelve flights. Six is the most I will walk up.

Sometimes even with all of this, I have to take a small, slow, hot elevator, maybe with people inside. I will grit my teeth and do it because I understand probability and I love living here, but it's not the most fun thing, for sure.
posted by dame at 11:44 AM on October 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


Thread needs more Miles Davis.
posted by each day we work at 8:59 AM on October 5, 2018


How to Survive an Elevator Free Fall — "So, you're in a falling elevator. Life has given you proverbial lemons, and you have seconds to make some lemonade or end up as pulp. What to do?"
posted by cenoxo at 9:36 AM on October 5, 2018


hippybear: Gravity in general is not safe at all.

"Gravity is a harsh mistress." - The Tick

I have some fear of heights - flying is ok but, anywhere between 30' up and "height of the Burj Khalifa" or so, I get weak-kneed and dizzy. I'm not at all claustrophobic. I've been stuck, alone, in an elevator for a couple of hours, no panic at all.

For me, it's people. I don't like crowded elevators. I had a panic attack one day on the DC Metro when the car I was in got tightly-packed enough that people around me were touching me. All of that energy / all of those emotions in one place sets off all kinds of anxiety alarms.

I routinely tell people "I'll catch the next one" if there's more than one or two people in the car when the elevator doors open, and I am probably not going to hold the door for you if I see you running toward the elevator I'm in.
posted by hanov3r at 11:13 AM on October 5, 2018


How to Survive an Elevator Free Fall — "So, you're in a falling elevator. Life has given you proverbial lemons, and you have seconds to make some lemonade or end up as pulp. What to do?"
This is the right question to ask. . . but, the answer isn't really complete.

Whether one is better off standing up and using the bones in one's legs as sacrificial shock absorbers or lying flat to spread out the impact seems like an empirical question. (Or, at the very least, a quantitative one.)

I'd naively guess there's a low-impulse regime where it doesn't matter 'cause you'll be fine as long as you don't fall on your neck, an moderate-impulse regime where spreading out the impact might let your escape without injury, a high-impulse regime where breaking both your legs and slowing the speed at which your head hits the ground might help, and an extreme regime where nothing you do matters. But, which one corresponds to a "typical" falling elevator isn't obvious. Nor is whether one should lie face up, to protect your ribs and soft parts, or face down, to protect your spine.

I suppose lying down with your head (and as much of you as possible) supported by the softest parts of other people is probably the winning personal strategy. But, it isn't very nice. Taking the self-sacrificing approach, offering to become the cushion for others is probably hard to communicate in five seconds over all the screaming.
posted by eotvos at 12:52 PM on October 5, 2018


Thankfully, falling elevators aren't typical at all.
posted by hippybear at 5:38 AM on October 6, 2018


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