Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Seven Ways of Looking at an Elevator

The assignment for each member of the feature writing class was to take a campus elevator and remain inside for 30 minutes. I told the students: 1) to look closely at the physical environment, that is, really study that elevator and its occupants and to use all of their senses in doing so; 2) to be alert for stray bits of dialogue overheard, such dialogue sometimes being better than anything we could make up.

As for identifying themselves a journalism students on assignment, that was up to them. One of the unexpressed aims of this exercise was to make them uncomfortable and to see how they handled it.

Below are the stories. They were not written to be graded. They were written fast, and in some instances the spelling and grammar suggest as much. But overall I was pleased by the way the students managed to capture something about the USF experience through these seven windows.

The posting of these vignettes is part of a second assignment. Each student is responsible for writing a “round up” lead that could serve as an introduction for a package called ….

Seven Ways of Looking at an Elevator (Intro still needs to be posted)

Malloy Hall

The number two elevator in Malloy Hall is a place, though not heavily traveled, that ends up seeing many different faces throughout the day. It’s a clean elevator, with modern styled lighting, brushedmetal paneled walls, and a clean, almost new smell to it that all reflect the building it is in. The electric hum of the lights added to the sterile feel of the elevator. Malloy Hall is home to the USF School of Business where students study hard to enter into the world of business.
I was about to spend 30 minutes in the number two elevator.

I stepped into the elevator on the first floor with a book in hand as my cover for being in the elevator and hopefully to keep people from noticing me. One cannot underestimate the curiosity of those who use Malloy Hall.

For the first 10 minutes in elevator number two the only activity that went on was the sporadic going up and down of the carriage but with no one at the door when it opened. Finally the door opened and in came a box scooting across the floor. A man dressed in a brown Hawaiian shirt was kicking the box. The box seemed to be empty or near empty so it would sometimes hop as the man kicked it. Brown Hawaiian shirt man pressed the button to his floor looking straight ahead at the door until his stop came. He stepped out as he kicked the box into the hall.

At times, people would congregate outside the doors of the elevator only to talk, nothing more. During one of these times a roar of laughter came over the group just as the elevator was being pulled away from the floor they were on. The elevator stopped and in walked a girl that seemed intrigued by what I was doing in the elevator but did not say anything. She pressed herself to the opposite end of the elevator while holding the large legal sized envelope she was carrying close to her chest. As the door opened she quickly stepped out of the elevator, seeming disturbed by the fact that I did not have a floor to go to.

Just a few minutes later a man wearing a blue and gray sweat suit walked into the elevator and the smell of curry took over the space of the carriage. He was holding a box from the school cafeteria as he chomped into an apple, making a loud noise. He stayed as close to the door as possible so that he could exit the elevator quickly.

Some time went by with no movement in the elevator at all when the door suddenly opened and in walked envelope girl. Envelope girl walked in with a quizzical look on her face. I couldn’t help but laugh and I felt the tension in the room completely dissipate as that happened. She immediately asked me in a thick eastern European accent, “Do you just like reading in the elevator?” I explained to her what I was doing in there and she told me that if I had not laughed she was going to come up really close to me to try to make me feel awkward and uncomfortable. We laughed about that for a moment as she even forgot to step out of the elevator at her stop. She pressed the door open button and told me she might be coming back in a little to head back downstairs as she walked out. I laughed.

The elevator pulled up and opened up to a man in a blue suit and a gold tie. He looked like a professor and after he opened his mouth he sounded like one too; he had a British accent. Immediately after stepping in he asked me if I was going anywhere in particular and I told him that I was observing activity that went on in the elevator, to which he replied attempting to be humorous, “Well you just saw me coming and going.” As the elevator door closed I wished him a good day.

Literally a second after gold tie guy stepped out of the elevator, elevator number two was beckoned once again. In walked blue Oxford shirt-file folder guy, whose name should basically let you know all there was to know about him. He smelled strongly of aftershave and he had that stressed out 40-something look to him. He didn’t say anything but was obviously going out of his way to ignore my presence there. He made a few clicking noises with his tongue before stepping out at his stop. As it turns out though, he works in the business school office as I found out after leaving my post in the elevator.

Brown Hawaiian shirt guy returned and immediately after walking in he asked me, “Haven’t I seen you here before?” I tell him yes and he instantly assumed that it was a sociology experiment. He also gave me some free advice and suggested that I find another elevator that is more heavily populated.

He then stepped out, never to be seen again. -- A. Johnson

Cowell Hall

The round pock marks on the deep brown floor of the elevator in Cowell are worn into oblivion directly inside the door, and in front of the black numbered buttons. This is where students and faculty members like to stand until the clunky silver doors release them onto the floor of their choice.

Once inside the dim, brown, moving box it is hard to miss the neon green piece of paper advising students to go through the process of ALCOHOLEDU online. It is taped on all four sides by scotch tape, with its bottom left corner torn off. The power of its color dominates that of the long rectangular light that feebly glows from the ceiling. A white gnat resembling a flying speck of dust rests on the bald spots where the brown paint is peeling along the light’s sides.

The door opens on the fourth floor where a tall student slowly waddles in, wearing a backwards baseball cap and too much cologne. The door slides to the left with a soft, affirmative pound at its closing. The student leans on the wood pattern walls. He gnaws a piece of gum, watching the numbers above the door turn orange. For each floor that it passes, the elevator lets out a short polite beep. Sporadic creakings rub up against the outside of the moving vehicle.

The doors open on the first floor and the chewing fades, replaced by the sound of giggling and talking as people pile out of a large classroom. The smell of popcorn becomes trapped inside. A new visitor stands in front of the numbers and bows her head to her cell phone, text messaging, and chewing gum. On the fourth floor she wanders out of the dimness away from the confusing scent of perfume tainted popcorn. A slight breath from outside of the doors pushes a small piece of neon green paper inside a metal protrusion on the right wall. It is the missing corner of the ALCOHOLEDU paper and it’s wrapped around a wad of green gum. Run your fingers over the insides of the three metal bars that are welded to the walls and you will find 6 fossilized balls of different colors. -- A. Anderson

Gleeson Library

I push the button to see where the Gleeson Library elevator will go. A mouse-like squeak tells me the door is open, ready for me to walk in. I can’t decide which floor to go to, (there are only three) so I just look around instead as the door closes. On the back light wooden panel, there’s a sign directing you to the Modern Language and Theology Department up on the third floor. The only light is coming from nine perfectly spaced circle lights on the ceiling and the whole area smells like a stale doctor’s office.

I’m starting to get a little too warm, so I pray that someone will open the door to let a draft of cool air in. My eye glances at the emergency telephone used for fires and disasters. I wonder if it works. I am suddenly so tempted to try it. But the guy at the front desk gave me a scary look, so I decide not to push the limits. The elevator sounds like the inside of an air conditioner and the air tastes like foil.

My boredom is by this point totally unbearable. I’m slouching against the wall, wanting to sit down. I push the “2” button, but it’s uneventful as well. I notice it takes many, many seconds to get down one floor. It would take just as long to walk up or down the stairs. What kind of lazy person would even bother taking this thing anywhere? My mind begins to wander to questions like, “Who has the little mini key for the fan speed in here?” “Who has the special silver key to the fire alarm?” I wish I had those keys. Then it’d get really interesting in here…

I’m bored! I start whistling to myself until the elevator jerks back down to the first floor. A guy listening to music gets in, and nearly screams “OH!” when he sees me. It was hilarious. I really scared him! He gets off on the second floor then I move back down to the first. Another girl gets on who proceeds to look at me like I’m totally crazy. She gets off on the second floor then turns right to walk down the stairs! Maybe she just wanted to ride the elevator, too.

Suddenly I remember the other elevator in the back of the library! The lower level! I get off the main elevator and walk to the one in the back. I walk through the yellow copy room that smells like carbon and into the tiny beige carpeted box. I notice a little “*dgaf*” graffiti on the wall and a fan on the ceiling. It sounds like a CAT scan in here. Clearly, no one uses this elevator and I start to feel bad for it. Its whole purpose in life is to take people up and down, but it probably rarely gets to do so. Then I stop caring and walk out of the elevator, because really, it can’t offer me too much. -- B. Moore

University Center Main Elevator

The UC building that is centered in the heart of USF’s campus is buzzing with students, faculty and employees who are rushing off to various destinations within the five story complex. The main elevator that is located on the third floor helps many different people navigate around from floor to floor. The elevator itself is small, outdated and in many ways in need of a renovation. The three inside walls are made of imitation wood that bares years of ware and tear. Words and names such as ‘Natasha’, ‘water’ and ‘fear’ have been etched into the material, along with countless other scrapes, chips and marks. The sliding metal doors have been branded with the statement “Impeach Bush,” which leaves one with a little reminder of San Francisco’s liberal qualities.

Because the elevator is such a compact space, the smell changes with every person who walks in and out of it. At first, it smelled of stale Nacho Cheese Dorito chips, but after five minutes of quiet, three people walked in. Two middle aged ladies strolled in with Crossroads coffee cups complaining about the weakness and sour taste of their beverages, along with a young man carrying a FedEx package who reeked of cigarettes. He asked what floor I was going to and I responded with “No floor thank you.”

Seconds after the elevator had cleared it was filled again, this time with a student and a Bon Apetit manager. As they rode down from the fourth floor to the first, they discussed the girls schedule and time restrictions. Before they stepped out, the manager exclaimed “Welcome to the team,” and just like that, she was hired and walking off to fill out her employment papers. As they stepped out, 2 more Bon Apetit workers stepped in complaining about the job and the current management. “The old management was different,” one said to the other “things are less organized now.” After they stepped out on the second floor, the doors closed and the elevator stood still. The bright fluorescent lights beamed down on me and a humming sound filled my ears. It didn’t last long however before a student entered smelling of a bad mixture of cheap cologne and bar soap. He was plugged into his ipod which was playing so loud that it was easy to make out the song – “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day. He motioned to me what floor I wanted and I quietly responded again with “No floor thank you.” He got off on the fourth floor and looked back at me as he walked. Seconds later the doors closed and down, down it went.

A girl in a black and white stripped shirt stepped in on the second floor. She looked nervous and awkward. She got off on the fifth floor where a nicely dressed man stepped in. He got off on the third floor where three more Bon Apetit workers stepped in. They too were complaining about the job. This time it was about scheduling and work conflicts. They stepped out on the first floor, and as the doors closed, the humming noise appeared once again. This time it sounded much louder. After another five minutes of confinement, the elevator started to move again. It stopped on the fifth floor and the girl with the black and white striped shirt got back in. She looked less nervous now, but once she realized that I was still in there, her facial expression changed and she looked confused. She awkwardly asked me what floor I wanted, and because I knew that this was the last time I had to answer the question, I said “No floor thank you, I’m doing this for fun.” -- C. Dickson

Harney Science Building

Four walls, two silver, two a dismal shade of puke gray and a smell that reminds one of expired cleaning supplies; the elevator in Harney looks like a cage. Upon examining the walls details jump out: the scratches made by keys, the deep gashes on the sides of the walls perhaps carved while enduring the boredom of riding floor to floor and the occasional smudged handprint how it got there I will not dare to imagine. Let it be noted that this reporter is both Closter phobic and afraid of elevators so her senses were running wild. The bright sterile light makes this steel box anything but homey and with the shortage of riders on my long trip the ambience or lack there of made it that much more uncomfortable.

With each thrust of the elevator both up and down I anticipated the interaction that would follow. Elevator etiquette is the strangest thing; enter, turn forward and look up…or look at your shoes which ever is individually satisfying. Most ignored my presence but found it odd that I was standing quietly in the corner not pushing any buttons; the most interesting interactions were from those that actually inquired about my actions. “I hope no one calls the security guards and says there’s someone lurking in the elevator,” Responded a man when for the second time we rode the elevator together. The most common response to my creative assignment was, ‘Have fun!’ The most colorful was a young woman who got on the elevator pushed the wrong button then exclaimed, “Oh Fuck!” When I told her I was doing a journalism assignment her reaction was, “Oh great your paper will say and there was this girl who said ‘Oh Fuck!’” She was right.

My head felt like it was being pounded by a basketball as I stood for my last few minutes in the elevator. The lack of oxygen coupled with my inability to visualize my happy place forced me out into the real world with actual colors and fresh air blowing on my face. -- K. Johnson

University Center/Freight Elevator

“Going down?”
“Going up?”

Today, not just any direction could suffice, it took no direction at all to land such an unpredictable experience. As the door opened, the smell was of relish and stale garbage, accented with breezes of cafeteria food. Walking through the entrance, my feet stuck to the floor as my arm grazed the wall, caressing a substance I would rather not have been exposed to. I could imagine if I had touched my tongue to the wall, would it have caused a Christmas Story-esc shenanigan that only the San Francisco Fire Department could save me from?

One dim fluorescent bulb lit the grimy rectangular box and the door closed behind me, I was now the prisoner of one of the most horrific elevators in USF history. Looking up, the ceiling had scratches in it reminiscent of a horror movie and the walls were broken and damaged as if a Velociraptor were once trapped inside.

Moving up and down, the elevator grimaced as mostly Bon Appetite cooks traveled between the first and second floor. The capacity warning stated that myself and 2350 extra pounds could fit, but I was hardly convinced. Bon Appetite employees, as I discovered, travel in packs and their conversations are based around “working too many hours” and griping about a certain arch-enemy that someone shouldn’t have “high-fived.”

The only relief I had inside was in the friends I made onboard. The first was the emergency telephone bolted to the left side; I knew I could depend on it for rescue if suddenly I had to call someone warning them I was hurling helplessly from the fifth floor to the first. My other friends came in the form of buttons: one read, “push in case of emergency,” and the other, “push in case of fire.” God save the poor soul who ever gets trapped inside that wretched box during a fire.

Judging by the mustard colored walls that fade into a tope ceiling, one can tell Adolf Loos had no part in its interior design, but still, the rusted metal floor made of six uneven panels gave a sense of home– that is if home was San Quentin. Two USF event staff entered next– puzzled looks and odd stares were exchanged– then out of no where the shorter of the two spoke up, “You are just hanging out in this thing.” She had figured me out in less than three looks so I half-heartedly agreed. Apparently the USF event staff stipend their wages with odd jobs as psychics. She then said, “You should get a job at Rasputin's. They have a guy there who just rides up and down, but he has a stool.” Laughter ensued and they stepped off no later than they could.

This was to be my last encounter with human life before the elevator idled at the second floor, the Bon Appetite kitchen, for fifteen solitary minutes. As time passed, the increasing loneliness brought about a certain insanity and I concluded my worst fear would be realized if someone stole my shoes, leaving my bare feet without defense on the soiled floor. On the other side of the dingy silver door, I could hear a strange buzzing mixed with the hybrid language of Spanish and Chinese used by the cooks. The only other noise was an out of tune whistle, which I soon tried to match.

In a brief moment of sanity, I decided I needed to return to the real world, outside this mind trap. Pushing the third floor button, the elevator lurched up one floor and the doors slid open. As I retreated from this travesty and looked back, I saw a green sign printed with white lettering. I could only wonder– if I called 422-6464, would the permits for this elevator really be on file? -- J. Marx

Harney Redux

Is it odd to reveal that I have spent somewhat ample time in elevators before? Okay, making elevators plural may be a stretch, but I have dedicated countless evenings over the years to the enjoyment received from being enclosed in the Westin St. Francis glass elevators. Granted, I am always accompanied by my best friend and he, regrettably, gets as much entertainment as I do from riding up and down the thirty plus floored hotel, but maybe my experience in Harney’s elevator would be of equal amusement. It does not boast a view of Union Square--or any view at all, for that matter--but it does attract the various San Francisco college student which, depending upon their character, could possibly make up for a lack of aesthetic appeal. At least, that’s what I was hoping.

Approaching the corner where the Harney elevator resides I was pleased to see that the doors were already opening. A male student wearing glasses and a nylon jacket was waiting outside. Grasping a somewhat suitcase-looking backpack on wheels, I knew that he would be my first travel companion. Politely, he let me enter first, where I made my way to the back corner of the elevator. Not making any attempt to push a button, I patiently waited as he wheeled in his belongings and looked at me before pushing the button for level four. I smiled at him. Level four seemed just great to me.

As the elevator slowly began its ascend, I took in my surroundings. All four steel walls were visibly scratched and nicked from years worth of students with apparently nothing better to do than make their car keys unusually useful. The floor was scuffed and dirty as if revealing its age and the dim light above me seemed to let out a rattling sound that resembled that of white noise that can occasionally be present in doctors’ offices. I anxiously awaited the arrival of a horrid smell, which seemed appropriate considering the setting, but none appeared. So far, I couldn’t complain.

When the elevator reached level four my suitcase-toting friend started towards the door. After a slight head nod, he exited.

Five seconds later, he reappeared.

The doors barely had time to close before he realized that, in fact, he was on the wrong floor. Noticing that I had yet to push a button towards any destination, I offered him up the fact that I actually didn’t have one. Explaining that my plan was to hang out for a while longer, he laughed and said, “I might as well make it worth your while!” Before I could inquire what he meant, the boy with the glasses and backpack on wheels jumped in front of me and quickly pushed the button for every floor of the building. Immediately, floors 1-5 were lit up and anticipating our arrival. I let out a surprised laugh and we were on our way.

Eventually reaching level three he waved goodbye as he wheeled his backpack out the door and left me by myself with at least three more floors of stops to fulfill.

The next ten minutes were quite uneventful. I had a slight feeling that a stomach ache was developing, partly due to the fact that the elevator circus ride my friend in glasses had left me with did not travel in order, and partly due to the lack of fresh air.

As if reading my thoughts, the elevator doors opened and in stepped an older man with a pencil behind his ear. He avoided conversation during our encounter with one another, and when the door opened he gave me a peculiar glance when I told him I wouldn’t be getting off. He exited, and again I was left alone in the dismal box.

A few more minutes passed and the doors reopened. It was the same man I had just seen, pencil still lodged between his ear and receding hairline.

Apparently, this was an elevator full of repeat customers.

“Well, my lady, we meet again,” he smiled. I graciously acknowledged his presence and exchanged pleasantries, which mostly consisted of him laughing at his own jokes upon hearing my purposes for riding the elevator.

As my Harney elevator experience came to a close I craved both hand soap and sunlight. Exiting the elevator I realized that although amusing, my afternoon’s event did not ignite the desire for a repeat performance. I think I’ll stick to the Westin St. Francis. -- K. Crozier


Blogger B. Lundigan said...

Some of these young people are quite talented. I hope they are encouraged to continue writing for pleasure as well as for grades.

2:58 PM  
Blogger TJ Jackson said...

I think my favorite part of the Robertson experience is the shameless manner in which our fair professor enjoys putting his students in uncomfortable situations. A few years ago I had to write a story about the new waste receptacles at the Public Safety department ... the chief was quite impressed with our decision to cover such hard news on campus. Anyway, I love the elevator stories and the different "views" of the experience.

6:23 AM  
Blogger Patrick Lagreid said...

Fun reading -- takes me back to campus, which good writing is supposed to do.

5:01 PM  

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