Saturday, October 25, 2008

Stuck in an Elevator

Hoo-whee. Today I got stuck in the elevator at work. Only for about five minutes, but I learned two important facts in the process: the emergency phone line in the elevator isn't working, and I get a little panicky when I find myself trapped in a tiny room with no apparent means of egress and no one to hear me yelping for help.

This elevator is one of the serious irritations of my life as a Congregational Administrator. I'm in charge of a million daily tasks as well as several vision pieces that pertain to our community relationships, our ministries and our arts programs. The elevator, a relatively old car that traverses just three floors, is CONSTANTLY on the fritz. I've had two door motors replaced, the switch box examined countless times, valves and connectors examined and cleaned, and etc ad nauseum. Every other week I'm on the phone with the service techs, and we bought the platinum service contract last year because we KNEW this beast would give us hell. But it's one of the reasons our new congregation chose this building over the other two, post-consolidation of our three former churches. The elevator. The beast of burden that holds us in thrall. An unreliable contraption that mystifies the most learned elevator repairmen. An essential component in our efforts to serve all those for whom stairs pose an insurmountable challenge.

And today, we had a wedding. And the younger brother of the groom was recently paralyzed from the waist down in an auto accident. He's still very much in the painful adjustment period, getting accustomed to life using a wheelchair, and he absolutely does not want people carrying him anywhere -- especially not up the front steps of a church, to his older brother's wedding, wherein he was not a groomsman. He told the groom that if the elevator wasn't working, he would not come to the church, period. And was assured that the elevator would be working fine, because the faulty door motor was just replaced four DAYS ago. So of course this same horrible beast of a contraption broke down again just 90 minutes prior to the ceremony. We pay overtime for weekend service, pretty unfair when you figure we're a church, and the damned thing is BOUND to break down on a weekend.

"Do you know how to reset the elevator?!" My boss the pastor gasps, skidding to a stop before me. Shit. I run down to the lobby, where it always jams up, and the doors are standing open with the floor of the car a few inches below the lobby floor. Now, normally, if this is the problem you can muscle the doors closed on the inside and the car will automatically descend to the basement and stop, opening the basement-side doors for you to exit. I've performed that operation a dozen times, and I'm happy to see it's just this sort of problem and not some other mystery where lights won't light up and etc. SO I jump in and shut the doors. The car dutifully descends. And then -- nothing. No doors open on the basement side. I punch the "Doors open" button. Nothing. The button doesn't even light up.

SHIT. I try prying the doors on the basement side open, to no effect. Then I pick up the emergency phone that all elevators are required to have. Only to find...NO DIAL TONE. SHIT!! This was supposedly working a few weeks ago, but given the trouble we've had with the elevator I feel guilty for not having checked it more regularly, and now it's my ass in the tank. I'm breathing fast. I cross the car and start pulling at the doors opposite the basement side, the ones I'd closed manually before. And they open up. I can see the floor of the lobby above my head, and the metal exterior doors to the elevator shaft. I rap on the metal -- "Hello up there!" I'm hoping my boss is still standing around, but no luck. I'm ready to scream and yell, ready for an all-out panic, when all of a sudden and apropos of nothing, the basement-side doors slide open. Whoosh. Ding!

I jump out, and the doors slide shut again. Given that the interior doors on the opposite side are still pried open, I know this goose is cooked. I enter the elevator room and hit the reset, but it's no good, not surprisingly. So I sprint upstairs again. I call the company, feeling pretty adrenaline-shot and pissed off, and I DEMAND they have someone come out and fix this fucker before the wedding guests arrive. And as I'm hanging up the phone, my boss the pastor comes in and explains the situation with the groom's younger brother and the wheelchair.

In the end, the service tech himself runs the car for us before and after the wedding. He can't recreate the problem, though he has successfully resuscitated the machine. He tactfully hangs around until we're sure the guests have gone.

I had a few moments at my desk once I'd placed the service call and my boss had gone -- I was dizzy, light-headed, shaky and dry-mouthed. Like I'd been in a little fender-bender. Nothing serious, residual panic. But I'm not surprised -- my history with elevators is a tiny bit fraught. And of course, the clock is still ticking -- I have the phone guys coming out on Monday. But I can tell you one thing -- I am NOT jumping in like Rambo to fix those doors ever, ever again. That's what I get for trying to be Jen the Super-Secretary.

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