Late to my 10:10 class once again, the cranky morning elevator routine is well worn—push the down button and agonize in annoyance over why it isn’t coming to me faster. My pettiness is abruptly snuffed out after the doors shut and I hear a beep. Nothing moves. I look up at the red-lit “13” above, unconsciously planning to hold my breath until it changes. It doesn’t. I press the button to open the doors. I press it again and again. FUCK I am stuck up here.
The metal around me starts skidding down the shaft as it plunges several inches and then several feet. I jerk to hit the CALL button, I hear the sound of a phone dialing. I hit the red lacquered Fire Department buttons, no sounds. The floor numbers, in garish alarm clock font, keep going down as the elevator makes rapid and irregularly distanced dips. I hear a voice Is everyone is okay? He keeps repeating himself and doesn’t seem to hear my responses of NO and I DON’T KNOW and IT KEEPS FALLING.
The elevator finally halts. I have not stopped looking up but there are no more red numbers, only multicolored lines. I keep pressing the OPEN button. The doors calmly creep apart like they weren’t just sealing me in a descending metal horror. I leap out and down the stairs in what feels like one stride, not bothering to see what floor I’ve landed on.
The university says it cares about my safety. Public Safety is prompt when disseminating blurry security camera footage of hooded youth and crimes on 120th. They provide us glowing blue phones, shuttles, walking escorts and tell businesses in the neighborhood to barricade us in when we feel like we are in danger. What about when it comes to unexpectedly careening several levels down an elevator shaft, trapped in metal box?
The one-man Office of Vertical Transportation, which The Blue and White first investigated for our October issue, has yet to get back to me about why the third Schapiro elevator stalled and dropped, with me in it. I also have yet to discover what was done to fix it or why it was put back in service that same day or why the doors keep making a strange clanging sound when they pull shut or wrench apart.
I tracked down the NYC Department of Buildings violations for 605 West 115th. Schapiro is cited with three active elevator violations, all issued on November 4th of last year. That is also when the last routine inspection seems to have happened, and the entry is marked with “DEFECT FOUND.” There is no corresponding “AFFIRMATION OF CORRECTION” for this entry because, I assume, none have been made.
Why can’t institutions that insist on calling themselves the greatest of the great seem to maintain their moving parts? Will America fix its bridges and highways? Will Columbia repair its elevators? Maybe humanity can’t handle building its way so many stories into the sky? Maybe the 13th floor really is unlucky?
All I know is, I’ll be taking the stairs.