I’m not a member of what you might call the elevator class. I trudge up each and every stair to reach my domicile, and no matter how heavy my groceries or books or weary bones are, no fancy mechanism is ever standing by to whisk me to my door. So when I first started walking dogs in Chicago, I didn’t quite have my elevator sea-legs yet. Of course I’d ridden an elevator before, and so I knew the most important information about them: if you time your jumps right, you can either spring as high as you can only to land at the apex of your jump, or you can remain floating in the air for a half-second longer than your inner ear tells you that you should (depending on if you’re going up or down, starting or stopping, alone in the elevator or surrounded by people whose reproachful scowls don’t bother you, etc.). Now, riding up and down hundreds or thousands of feet every day, I consider myself a very skilled rider. But when I started, there was a lot I didn’t know.
These modern high-rise elevators are something special. It makes sense that the luxury home conveyances of the super-rich should be very fast. After all, these are people who are apt to say things like, “time is money,” and feel like they never have enough of either. They’ve worked hard for their skybox homes, and might resent the irony that such work so often keeps them away from its own reward. So it’s not nice to keep them waiting in steel boxes. They need to get to the 35th floor pronto. Makes sense. It also makes sense that such people’s elevators, though very fast, should be extremely smooth and comfortable, much like the luxury cars that they leave on the ground below (and which take separate elevators, accompanied by personal valets). It makes further sense that elevator technology would be remarkably advanced, since the elevator is a relatively old invention, millions of people ride in them every second, and most of these people spend the majority of their vertical trip in contemplation of the form, function and safety of the elevator.
Indeed, elevators may well be one of the most thoroughly considered appliances in history. So yeah, it figures they’d be high-tech, fast and smooth. I hadn’t thought about it before, but as I lay sprawled out on an elevator floor, in hind-sight and on my hiney, I took comfort in the neat logic of why my jump game had so dramatically failed. Because they are sooo smooth, I hadn’t appreciated the great speed (20 floors in less than ten seconds) with which these elevators accelerate. It didn’t occur to me that if you board an elevator with a happy furry friend and then squat down to pet this friend, you will in fact be squatting down at the exact moment that your body mass quadruples. In fact, one doesn’t need to squat down: if you just go soft in the knees, the sudden push downward will make the squat happen automatically. Bend over to pet a dog, and that dog will be delighted by your surprise urge to kiss them. Cooper and Caleb, a Poodle mix and a Jack Russell mix, respectively, love riding in the elevator with me for just this reason. We usually have a large freight elevator to ourselves, and so naturally I do my best to turn it into a floating bounce house. I recently noticed that there is a security camera in the corner of the elevator car. If doormen are watching, I hope they are as amused by our goofy performance as we are. I don’t begrudge them the laughs they get at my expense as I tumble through the atmosphere, because I like having these guys on my side, as I’ll explain.
Dogs can feel tiny shifts in the ground that presage an earthquake, supposedly, so I imagine their paws tell them when we begin to fly up two hundred feet in an instant. I hope so, because otherwise the implications for elevators vis-a-vis their canine passengers are a little unsettling. Do dogs think these are just magic boxes? That the doors are like curtains that close on one scene and open on another?
Dogs have lots of faith in humans to facilitate the satisfaction of their needs and desires, though this must occur by inexplicable means. How come, a dog might wonder, it is the middle of the night, and yet the human can hit that little nob on the wall and suddenly its noon? How come I just peed on that rug, and yet it no longer bares the scent of my carefully-considered mark, even though all the human did was spray some stuff on it? How come you gave me those disgusting treats when I was sick, and now I’m not sick anymore? How come you hold my water bowl under that shiny stick thing and suddenly I have fresh water? How come you put those drops on my neck, and I never get fleas? How come we get into this little room where we play and sometimes get to smell strange people’s legs, and then when we get out we’re in a totally different place? Presumably, dogs are untroubled by such questions. Which is a good thing, because if they were, the answers would strain credibility. Better to skip the bafflement and just go along for the elevator ride.
There are other hazards to elevator living, particularly when your front door is an elevator door. In some of the houses I visit, the elevator opens directly into the apartment. This is really cool, of course, but when you are trying to shepherd three tiny dogs into a small, windowless room that will carry them outside, it is all too easy to leave one behind. Torrey, a Yorkshire Terrier, and Biggie and Rocco, Pomeranian siblings, are collectively about the size of my shoe. They have a way of scampering hither and tither, both coming in to lick my nose and darting away to avoid their harnesses. Sometimes I feel like a planet orbited by small furry satellites with erratic orbits. One day recently, I opened these pup’s front door to take them out to walk (which is to say, I pressed a button shaped like an arrow pointing down) only to realize that I’d left my poop bags sitting by the door. I turned around to get them, and when I turned back there were two dogs staring at me, with a closed elevator door behind them. I paced and fidgeted as the elevator came back up, gnashed my teeth when the door opened to reveal total doglessness, and abused the “L*” button on the way down to the lobby, where Torrey sat waiting, and more than a little confused. I had not, up to that point, picked Torrey up, since she is a little shy and likes her affection on her own terms. But I didn’t hesitate to swoop her up and give her a big kiss on the head.
Another trick to high-rise living is doormen. When I started walking in Chicago, the doormen didn’t know me. Every day, in every building I entered, they greeted me cooly and forced me to sign the guest register. They called for confirmation, and made me stand like a kid outside the principal’s office as they eyed me disapprovingly. Doormen, I figured, are naturally loyal and wary persons who jealously defend the exclusivity of a class to which they do not belong. How pathetic! I resented their grandiose vigilance at first, because I thought they were trying to intimidate me, like a bouncer, for the sake of their own egos. By now, though, I understand that they aren’t so much protecting Ms. Smith in apartment 28B from the likes of a sulky, admittedly grungy potential thief like me; no, they are protecting their own jobs from the complaints of Ms. Smith if I should happen to violate the sanctity of her 3,000 sq. ft. palace in the sky. By now, all the doormen know me. I can walk past the log book and exchange pleasantries and small talk like every other regular mailman, plumber or wealthy resident. I can stroll in to an enormous building, say “Hi Mike how was your trip?” or “James! Good to see you,” and be admitted into the inner-circles of the building’s micro-cosmic world. I can even just flash a thumbs up.
The password to these buildings is whatever I happen to say, and though the rich people in the elevators act like they don’t know why I’m winking at them, deep down they understand that I am one of them: I am a member of the elevator class.