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Going Up?

Postcard from the Mezzanine

By Jessica E. Vascellaro

THE MEZZANINE—Being an intern has its up and downs, literally: 3rd floor, 5th floor, ground floor, penthouse. The elevator rides don’t stop. But as I continually defy the laws of gravity, I have come to notice a few things about the office, particularly those which transpire behind closed—or, rather, opening and closing—doors.

At its core, the elevator is one of few social spaces where workers must confront one another—no matter how much they try to avoid it. Most would prefer a world where interaction is conducted exclusively over AOL Instant Messenger, an addiction easily concealed by computer screens and cubicles. Face-to-face meetings have become conference calls; voice-to-voice phone calls are all too often abandoned for impersonal e-mails. And before you know it, for many workers, the hours from nine to five are most often spent practically alone. The take-out services from gourmet cafes have literally fed this culture of anti-socials so that now not even the daily special in the cafeteria can entice colleagues out of their cubicles. Only the elevator can.

Nowhere are the symptoms of this disease more exposed than in the elevator. In this most unfortunate of social mini-interactions, there are a number of methods employed to cope with the threat of actually having to chat with a fellow rider.

Take the morning ride up. If you don’t first try to hide behind someone nervously sipping a venti Frappuccino latte, you can be sure to seem otherwise occupied by stiring your own iced something. By the time you get to the top floor that blueberry muffin you saved for later is all but gone—stuffing your mouth with food saves you from unbearable small talk.

If you are not physically encumbered with bags, briefcases and cell phones, you can always do your best to appear mentally distracted. Repeated glances at a watch, and if you are desperate, counting the lights as the elevator ticks off floors, sends a signal to stay clear.

And if everyone has been sensing the awkwardness of the morning ride up, it is confirmed by the frenzied exit. Road rage meets Twister: mangled, yet relieved, everyone manages to break through.

The only thing worse than the morning pack is the midday duo. Here, copy boy and CEO are forced into too-close-for-comfort conversation. In the morning migration, the elevators are full and feigning physical discomfort can acceptably replace fickle chatting. Such tactics become remarkably more difficult when the numbers decline, and the scene begins to resemble a bad blind date. You nod, you smile, you twirl your hair to seem otherwise occupied. And more importantly, you pretend you have somewhere incredibly important to go—and once the door opens, you make fast tracks to get there.

But what goes up must come down. Unlike the floodgate 9 a.m. arrival, the return to the ground floor is a calculated trickle. There are shifts, all clearly executed by expert clock-watchers.

The 5:00 shift is for the early birds, the ones brave enough to leave their desks with everyone watching. They scamper into the elevators and hold the “close door” button to conceal the liberated smile on their faces.

The 5:30-ers follow, with quickened pace not to miss the 5:37 train. Half of them will make it. The others will call home advising the voice on the other end not to wait for dinner.

The 6:00-ers aren’t in a hurry. In fact, they might make an extra stop on another floor to greet a friend. They wait for others to exit first, say goodbye to the security guard and tip the garage attendant before getting into their cars for the ride home.

Predictable, yes, but far from boring, these elevator rides have become part of the grind. The key is knowing the system, keeping to yourself—and above all, praying they don’t break down.

Jessica E. Vascellaro ’05, a Crimson editor, is a history concentrator in Currier House. This summer she is trying to figure out what it takes to get to the top—and how to get back down before dinner.

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