Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Let's (not) get elevated

Without steel-frame construction and the elevator, there would be no New York City, no vertical metropolis, no upward-thrusting scrapers of the skies... but nor would we shudder as we do at the strange story of Nick White, trapped in a Manhattan office tower elevator for 41 hours — forty-one hours — from Friday evening through Monday, one weekend in 1999. 

I remember this story quite well. I think I read about it in the newspaper on the Tuesday after, and talked about it with people I worked with as well. We all shuddered as we sort-of laughed at the poor bastard. Forty-one hours! For a couple of reasons, the New Yorker magazine has revisited the story in an article that includes the following gem of information about the elevators in housing projects (think of those Bronx 30-plus stories tall council flats), elevators which are steeped in piss and smoke, and which creak and creep and clank, while things, cables and things, always rattle against the exterior of the car as you're in it, and go clank-tlank-tlank-DOINNNNNNNNNGGG-tinnnnnng....CLANK. The writer states that there are things you should not do in elevators, including this:
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 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.
And, sad to say, there's that other bit of advice, which people keep forgetting: 
Every so often, a door opens when it shouldn’t and someone steps into the void. This is worth keeping in mind.
As for Nick White, he somehow was given the security camera video from the 41-hour ordeal. It can be viewed on Youtube. I can almost taste the long hours eating up his sanity, the creep of time, the sleep of reason brings forth monsters... and hope dying by the minute, the hour, the second:
Eight security guards came and went while he was stranded there; nobody seems to have noticed him on the monitor.
And this too, as if a hidden hand was crafting his doom: 
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.
Ugh. Read the piece and shudder... and then run! outside! into! the sunnnnnnnnnnnnnn!