Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I'm afraid of elevators. Not in any phobic sense--I use them nearly every day, no time to be phobic--but that's the problem. Statistically, I will probably get stuck in one someday. I use them statistically more than most people. Also, I have a tendency to use them in places where most people wouldn't. It's one thing to get caught in a car with seven people in a well-staffed building in Manhattan, You've Got Mail style. It's another to listen to the slow groaning of the lift in my apartment building reluctantly taking me and my bag of books to the second floor.

Recently, my roommate and I had a close encounter of the elevator kind. We went to see The Potter Puppet Pals at a venue in Central Square, and the bouncer asked if I'd like to use the elevator.

"Sure," I said.

He opened a door behind him, leading to a tiny room with a button panel on the wall and a big red button next to it.

"All right," he said. "It goes slow, but it goes. I'll control it from out here--Oh! Don't touch that button."

Kathleen leapt way from the big red button, and I began to reconsider this whole idea. We'd both been watching a lot of Buffy lately, we did not think this would end well.

"Okay! Oh. It's not. Here--," the bouncer reached in and fiddled with the red button we'd been instructed not to touch.

"Stairs! We'll take the stairs!"

"Are you sure? It's--"

"Sure, very sure!" To cement this assertion I exited the elevator before his red-button pushing sent us plummeting to our dooms.

I had the choice. The same way I usually avoided the similarly terrifying elevator in my undergrad academic building. The way most able-bodied people do when faced with a climb of less than a few stories.

Many people don't. For many people with disabilities--myself usually included--elevators aren't a convenience. They're essential. And having a horror-movie-esque room that descends is not enough. Having a creaking car with a phone I'm not entirely sure would contact anyone isn't enough. Not having an alternate route to downstairs seating because you have seating upstairs isn't acceptable--I'll go to a Panera with an elevator (granted, you have to go to an adjoining building, but still) before I'll go to a coffeeshop where I'd have to carry a drink, my cane and myself upstairs.

At least, though, humanity didn't readily adapt these. Paternoster elevators are a concept I discovered this week reading A.S. Byatt's Possession. Aside from simply being a terrifying idea (video below) they are a prime example of elevator as convenience as opposed to necessity.

What things that are convenient for others are essential for you?


  1. Are they called "Paternosters" because they inspire fervent praying by terrified passengers?

  2. That was my roommate's theory.

  3. Whoa. I have never heard of those elevators. Absinthe and Paternosters, yay Eastern Europe. I avoid elevators like the plague, but I'm lucky to have no physical disabilities...