POSTCARD: Stuck in the Middle

PARIS, France—Returning on a Sunday night from a weekend trip to Switzerland, I got into my apartment building’s tiny, old-fashioned elevator and everything seemed to be going fine. Famous last words.

The elevator stopped with a jolt. There was stillness and silence. I tried to push on the doors, but they would not budge. I was left in a small dark space, with all my baggage and no escape plan.

I pressed all the buttons around me and was suddenly surrounded by weird beeping noises. They wouldn’t stop, but would often change in type and frequency. My dying phone was beeping too, meaning that it still wasn’t completely dead, which gave me a ray of hope. I tried to make a phone call, but there was no reception inside the elevator. I then started shouting “Bon soir? Bon soir?” That didn’t have the desired effect, and I switched to the more expressive “Aide-moi!” (Help me!). How is it possible to be so isolated inside an apartment building full of people?

I removed my black heels from my suitcase and started banging one of them on the elevator door. This seemed like such a “French” solution that for a moment it cheered me up. As my eyes got used to the darkness, I made out a yellow button on the side that had a bell on it. Given the situation, the yellow color felt like an insult. I held one hand on the newly discovered button and banged on the door with a heel with the other, occasionally saying “Aide-moi.” I heard voices below talking to each other, complaining that the elevator doesn’t work, but none of them were talking to me, although, if anything, I should have been complaining with them.

The yellow button started flashing in green, and a whole new set of beeping noises joined the others. I felt like I was in a casino. Or maybe, I thought, the beeps were actually taps which corresponded to the Morse code? As the scenarios were turning in my mind, a prerecorded mechanical-sounding voice made an announcement: “Welcome to the client contact center of the company Kone. Your call will be addressed in a few moments.” I was at least grateful that they didn’t tell me my call was important to them. A few minutes later, a real French voice was angrily trying to shout over all the elevator’s beeping and my shoe’s banging. It was coming from an intercom somewhere inside the elevator, asking me where I was and what was wrong. Then we got cut off. For a while there was more beeping, followed by the same very frustrated, brusque voice. I explained that I had been stuck in an elevator for a very long time.  The voice said it would send someone over, but refused to give me an estimate of when (Ça depend). I started wondering whether I would be rescued before or after my new prison runs out of air.

I couldn’t tell how fast or slowly the time had passed, but while I was dreaming about the ice cream bars in my freezer upstairs, the light suddenly turned on. I heard keys rattling and a voice asking, “Is there anyone in there?” The elevator man had come! Vive la France! When the door opened I was as happy to see him as if he were Prince Charming or a Knight in Shining Armor. I was between floors so I handed him my bags. I then had to climb out, squeeze inside an opening between the elevator and the ceiling and jump on the floor below me. I was free! This must be how the first Bastille Day felt, I thought.

What did I learn from the experience? That even if you are in a foreign country, alone, with no reception, in the dark, stuck in a tiny elevator...eventually, it will be ok. And, by extension, probably so will almost anything else.

Elizabeth D. Pyjov’10-11, a Crimson arts writer, is a romance literatures and languages concentrator in Adams House.

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