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July 27, 2007

Elevator Adventures

Three days ago I suffered a minor misadventure that brought to the forefront the following thought-provoking and previously rhetorical question: If you had to be stuck in an elevator with one person, who would you choose?

But of course you don’t get to choose.  I got to share a few square feet with an Argentine mom while suspended somewhere around the 6th floor in a building last updated during the Nixon administration. 

Now, I’m not the most outgoing person when it comes to strangers. It’s not my best quality, I know, but I prefer to politely ignore my seatmate on the airplane unless I really, really have to use the facilities, and when I was younger I even used to bargin with my sister, begging her to answer the door for the pizza deliveries.  But let’s face it, when you’re stuck in an elevator with someone, there’s no staring at your cell phone and pretending the other person isn’t there. 

My newfound buddy luckily seemed to share my unease, trying to find something to do with her hands while I text messaged my dinner date to inform her of the somehow hilarious situation. But thank goodness she was there to answer the distant fuzzy voice that returned our distress call.  My Portuguese is more than sufficient, but occasionally a really important word fails me, in this case “stuck.” I knew “stopped” but it wasn’t quite specific enough and “glued” was wrong in so many ways. Plus, you could barely hear the fellow over the whirling of the fan, and the quality of the transmission sounded like it was coming from the North Pole. 

I suppose that I had a great partner in distress as we were of the same mind.  She wasn't threatening or smelly or annoying or chatty. She negotiated our way out of the elevator with the dopey bozo at the other end of the line with insistent but patient tact.

Over the span of 15 minutes, as the two of us exchanged a few strained pleasantries, Dopey managed to find the elevator manual and restart the sucker, letting us out all in one piece.  I wish I'd gotten the Argentine's name, so I could thank her for being such a pleasant stranger to be trapped with and for silently agreeing to politely ignore me even when she really couldn't.  

A note about the text messaging: texting caught on in Brazil before it became the obsession it is now in the United States.  My ancient Brazilian cell phone lists a dozen preprogrammed “quick messages,” presumably the most useful and common phrases you would want to send someone.  To get an idea about the Brazilian sense of time and timeliness, consider the fact that four of these are some variation on “sorry running late.”  Another is “Merry Christmas.”

Mollie Bailey

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