How to ride an elevator

Working for the United States House of Representatives can make one an expert in any number of areas. Save the jokes about being an expert in spending money that isn’t yours, I’ve heard them all before. Har har.

At this point in my career I would like to consider myself an expert observer and if I can’t be the Word Police, I’ll settle for waxing eloquent about how to conduct oneself in an elevator. My keen powers of observation, sharpened to a fine point while working on the Hill, have taught me most people don’t know how to do this.

Here, I’ll help.

1. Don’t (try to) get on the elevator before everyone in it has exited.

Sometimes when an elevator opens there are people inside. In fact, expect people to be inside. Don’t charge into an opening elevator before anyone in it has had the chance to exit. Just wait. Just wait for .2 seconds and if there are people in the elevator, stand aside and let them leave before you try to stuff yourself in. Just. Wait. I’m shocked at the range of people who don’t observe this basic courtesy. There will come a day when I carry a TASER and hold it in front of me as a greeting to those who don’t allow riders to exit before plowing into an opening elevator as if the bulls of Pamplona are in pursuit. And when that day comes, and you walk into my rage and my TASER, you’ll wish it had only been the bulls behind you.

 2. Make like a gas and fill the space.

This is not an invitation to cram 15 people on an elevator built for 7 (real life story—if my arms weren’t pinned to my sides, I would shake a fist at you, tourists). What I mean is when you and your fellow riders are packed in to allow everyone to fit and then someone exits, move into the space now available. Not doing so is bad manners. And awkward. Make like a gas and fill the space. Now, speaking of gas…

 3. Don’t.

This should be a given, but sad experience has taught me that it is not. Hold it, either end. A silent burp is as offensive as a silent anything-else. Elevators are small, enclosed spaces with very little air flow. And while you think no one can tell where that pungent secondhand odor of food truck falafel is coming from, the rest of us know it’s you. Oh, we know.

4. Don’t talk about other elevator riders once they get out.

Last week I got on the elevator on the 5th floor. Others followed me in. We stopped on the 1st floor to let all but two of us out. Before the doors could close, two young ladies wearing flip flops (personal pet peeve, flip flops in Congress, even after hours) hemmed and hawed about whether this was the right elevator, literally stepping on and off twice before finally getting in, blathering all the while. The elevator stopped at the next floor down and the other rider from the 5th floor left. As soon as the doors closed, these two talked about how it’s “so dumb when people take the elevator for only one floor” and neither one of them ever wants to be the person who does that because “OMG how embarrassing, just take the stairs.” Part of me wants to feel bad for such clueless ninnies but that’s for another day. Besides the fact that there ARE no stairs between those two floors, that other girl had been on for many floors (I, as you’ll remember, have been on the elevator for 100 years at this point) and what’s it to you anyway? Now you’ve displayed in public that you’re indecisive and inconsiderate. Where’s my TASER when I need it?

5. Don’t repeatedly and frantically push the Door Close button.

Allow me to use another example from my own life. Today I got on the elevator in the basement. Five other people got on, too. I pressed 5. Others pressed 1, 2, and 4. As we stopped at those floors to let these people out, the other rider going to 5 pressed the Door Close button frantically each time. As the floor 4 riders left, he announced to me that “no riding the elevator if you’re going to the fourth floor or lower” was his “new rule.” Want to hear my new rule? “No spastically pounding on the Door Close button because it doesn’t do anything except annoy your fellow riders and also, your fly is down.”

6. No jokes.

Oh come on, redwhiteandnew, who tells jokes in an elevator? Tourists and old man lobbyists who think they’re funny and are the first person ever to look at a full elevator and say, “We’re skinny, we’ll fit, hahaha” when really it’s the fifteenth time I and any other staffer crammed in the back of the lift has heard that “joke” today and, by the way, if you have to wonder if you’ll fit and then make a skinny joke about it, newsflash: You can’t fit. And you’re not funny. Now go away. That’s who.

The old “Haha, I’ll just hold my breath!” is a close second. Shut it.

To summarize:

Let people exit the elevator before you try to get on it. Once on it, maintain your integrity and that of those around you by respecting personal space, riding quietly, and not passing gas of any sort. If you have to wonder if you’ll fit, you won’t. Press the button to your floor only once. You’ll get there, I promise.

Helpful tips:

When to hold the door: If someone is running or reaching toward the elevator and you make eye contact. I saw a friendly looking man lunge not-too-gracefully toward the closing elevator a few weeks ago and my arm shot out of its own volition to keep the door open. I tend to err on the side of every-man-for-himself when it comes to getting to one’s office but I held the door because he made eye contact. Turns out he’s a Congressman.

When to talk: To strangers, almost never. A friendly “Have a good day!” as you leave often catches people pleasantly by surprise but discussion beyond that isn’t usually appreciated. If you’re riding with Hill staffers, an elevator ride is usually the only time they don’t have to make nice with others so please allow us 18 seconds of quiet respite.

When to press the button to your floor: When it hasn’t been pressed. If the little light in or around your floor button is lit, then someone else is already going to that floor. You don’t need to register your presence with the elevator gods by pressing 5 again. I kid you not, three men followed me into the elevator the other day and each. one. pressed the button that was already highlighted. Hey, maybe that’s what’s wrong with Congress.

By employing some simple powers of observation you, too, can ride an elevator with confidence and panache while avoiding an anonymous appearance on my blog.


2 thoughts on “How to ride an elevator

  1. LOVE THIS!!! Ha. One of my biggest annoyances as a mom who has to frequently take elevators (due to the stroller) is people trying to get on before everyone can get off. Or rude people who shove in front of me to get on and I almost miss it because it’s so important that they take the elevator but not me WITH MY STROLLER AND SMALL CHILD. And the pushing the door closed button, also annoying. FWIW, due to widespread handicapped accessibility laws, that button doesn’t actually work on most elevators.

    Why are people so stupid? Oh yeah, so you can write about them :).

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