I work in an office building on the 17th floor. From my desk, I can see out in two different directions: East and North. Thankfully, there are no other buildings in the way, so I get a clear view of the surrounding areas and way off into the distance for miles. I get to see the ships wending their way up and down the Delaware River; thunderstorms coming and going; and even just the other day a wide, beautiful rainbow arced across the river, ending in the shipping docks. Funny… I always thought there was a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow; turns out it’s just a rusty ship.

But one of the major issues about working on an upper floor of an office building – as many will attest who work on anything higher than a second floor – is the need to rely on the elevators. And we do rely on them to get us where we need to be (and hopefully on time). There are times I press the button and wait … and wait … and wait … only to be greeted by a miniature room packed with wall to wall people. Sometimes, when coming into the office in the morning with everyone else, I’ll let an elevator go with a group of people (five or more) and wait for the next one. One time I let one of those elevators go without me (walking ever slower to make sure they weren’t waiting for me, they surely must have thought I was doing a slow-motion scene), even knowing one of my colleagues was in that one. I took the next elevator, reached the 17th floor, got to my desk and clocked in before my colleague even stepped off the elevator.

“Good morning!” I said to her as she walked past my desk. “I tried to run, but the elevator doors just closed to quickly for me!”

Why do we jam ourselves into elevators with so many other people? Are we afraid the next one might never come along? Perhaps it’s the camaraderie, the way we feel with each other cooped up in the small box on tethers, making frequent stops on different floors as if they took the local instead of the express, and making small talk all along the way.

Awful hot out there, isn’t it?
Oh, come on in; we can squeeze another one on here.
Everybody take a deep breath!
You gonna eat that?
I guess you’re all wondering why I called you here…

I remember a time before smartphones, texting, sexting, and email when people, standing in an elevator, would stare at the lighted numbers in dead, uncomfortable silence. Now that was entertainment! Filled with action and adventure! You never really knew where the numbers would stop – it was almost like playing roulette. But now the whole psychology of the elevator presence has changed. There is either the uncomfortable chit-chat between strangers – or strangers listening in on colleagues’ discussions – or the clicking of tiny keyboards while people text or check their emails in a ride that (for most) lasts no more than 2 minutes.

It forever amazes me how our minds work – and I include myself in this. We stand amongst fellow humans in a small enclosure, and rather than interacting with them, we retreat within ourselves. But tell me – have you ever just put earbuds in your ears without any music on while sitting on a bus or trolley or train just so no one would talk to you?

Yup. I thought so.