Horizontal travel is a daily part of New Yorkers' lives. We walk and bike on city sidewalks and streets. We take cabs and buses or speed under congested avenues on silver subway rails.
But vertical travel is also common. Elevators play an important role in every New Yorker's life.
I grew up living on the 16th floor of an apartment house on the Upper East Side. On occasion, the elevator men in our building would go on strike. This was hard on Mother and other older people in the building, but the superintendent was a kind man, and he would sneak them up on the back elevator. During strikes, my dog and I walked 16 flights down and 16 flights up. We found the whole thing a hoot.
My first job as a lawyer was on the 21st floor at 20 Exchange Place, just off Wall Street. The small law firm where I worked shared a bank of elevators with one of the biggest and wealthiest law firms in the city.
As I took these elevators every day with young lawyers from this other firm. I fantasized that the law firm's comptroller would mistakenly hand me a salary check, since the pay there was much higher. It never happened.
Early on, I learned not to discuss sensitive matters - business or personal - while riding elevators. Everyone listens while pretending not to.
"A slip of the lip can sink a ship," warned the World War II poster.
Once I was in an elevator in TriBeCa that got stuck. To pass the time, I read aloud the Department of Buildings Passenger Elevator Certificate: "13 maximum no. of persons. 2,000 maximum no. of pounds."
We were less than 13. That was easy to determine, but what about our weight? I took out the pencil and notebook I carry and questioned each passenger as to poundage. Some passengers were amused; others not.
I belong to the New York Society Library on East 79th Street. The library has temperamental elevators. The gates snap shut, threatening a passenger's nose and glasses. Here are comments from library members:
"The elevators are terrifying."
"The elevators are amusing."
"About the elevators, how can you rate a museum piece?"
"I love the elevator!"
At my office in SoHo, the elevator frequently breaks down. Since I'm on the second floor, the inconvenience for me is not great. But an upstairs neighbor is a child photographer, and she had a shoot on the day of a recent elevator breakdown.
On the sidewalk outside the building, rows of children's strollers were parked, watched over by the photographer's assistant. Parents, with child models in tow, climbed the steep wooden stairs to the fourth floor. (The stairs in this cast-iron building date to 1870. I think of 19th century St. Petersburg when I go up and down them. Only the smell of cabbage soup is missing for this to be a scene from a Dostoevsky novel.)
In my apartment house elevator on East 73rd I encountered Calle. He is an Australian Shepherd. He growled at me. I found this surprising since my relations with dogs tend to be good. His owner said that Calle may have thought I was planning to steal one of his sheep. Calle had a sixth sense, for I do think a lot about lamb chops, my favorite meat dish.
Without elevators, how dull life would be.