Thursday, November 06, 2008

Fiction: Ground Floor, Please

I talk to elevators, sir.


Yes, sir. I'm perfectly aware that I get a lot of reactions like that, just like the one you're giving me right now. It startles people at first, and then they usually smile for a bit, probably wondering if there's a joke in here somewhere. But I assure you, sir, that there's no joke here. I talk to elevators.

Yes, I am completely and certifiably sane.

One of your employees called to avail of my services. He mentioned that you were the best person to talk to, because I imagine that you're the man who makes the decisions and signs the approval forms. I hope you don't mind if I don't mention his name, sir -- I've found that my profession can be a little... off-putting... at times.

Your employee has taken the liberty of giving me a complete summary of the problem, so I only ask that you give me a few minutes to explain. I guarantee that I won't take up too much of your time today, sir. I will try to put things as gently as possible.

Thank you, sir.

I have been told that your company has been encountering problems with the elevators in this building. This, I imagine, has been very frustrating for you, seeing that your company actually installs and maintains the elevators themselves. The idea of a company not being able to provide support for its own products produces quite a negative image, I have to admit. Although I've been informed that there have been no accidents yet, I fear that it is only a matter of time before one takes place.

I noticed that your building houses a bank of six elevators, sir -- three on the western side and three on the eastern side. The three western elevators are built to access everywhere from the second floor to the twelfth floor, whereas the eastern express elevators service the fourteenth to the twenty-sixth floors. Your building does not officially have a thirteenth floor, but it is actually available as a mezzanine, and accessible via the fire exits.

How do I know that, sir? Your elevators told me. They're curious about why they never get to stop there, after all.


Fair enough, sir. Most of my clients usually don't believe me during our first consultation.

I took one of the eastern elevators up to this office, sir, and the first thing I noted was a marked instability in its movement. This was the one that was farthest left among its bank -- let's call it Elevator One -- and I can infer that its condition has degraded significantly in the last few months. Have your technicians been finding problems with its hydraulics system, sir? That would be the most likely root cause.

I see, sir. I'm glad to find that your teams have noticed the same thing.

No, I imagine that they haven't been able to fix it yet. I believe that this is not a technical error -- I feel that it is more likely due to the fact that your Elevator One is overworked. I'm informed that you have a standing policy of shutting down all but two elevators in the evenings; I would guess that this is the one of the two that is left to work at night.

Yes, sir... that's correct. Your teams can run reasonability checks on the hydraulics as much as they want, but the plain fact is that your Elevator One is overworked. That affects their psychology, in a way. This one feels rather tired at the moment, and a little bitter at the fact that the other elevators get to sleep at night.


That's a good question, sir, and I'm glad to see that you're getting into the spirit of things. Yes, I detected a certain amount of fatigue in the other elevator, the one on the western bank that you leave on overnight. However, because this elevator services only the lower floors, it does not feel the same pressure that Elevator One does. The fact that your western counterpart -- let's call this Elevator Two, for reference -- has certain late-night habits only adds to the situation.

Yes, this is the elevator where the sound system is not working. The explanation is quite simple, sir -- the fact that it stays up late at night has given it the impression that it wants to be very quiet around the other elevators. As a result, it simply cuts out the sound and often forgets to put it back on. That would also explain why your technicians have not been able to find anything wrong with it.


I'm glad to see that you have a sense of humor, sir. I assure you, however, that everything I say is completely serious.

You wouldn't want to pick up that phone, sir. Apart from me, you don't have any other choice. You've been trying to get these problems fixed for the last six months without any effect at all. At any rate... what harm would my advice do? I do not ask for exorbitant fees or expensive repairs, only that certain policies be changed to allow for the welfare of your elevators.

The choice is yours, sir.


Good. Thank you, sir.

Now, I've covered two of your elevators so far -- Elevator One on the eastern bank, and Elevator Two on the western bank. These are the two elevators that you leave on in the late evenings while the others sleep. I've mentioned that one of them feels overworked, while the other one feels an uncertain tendency to be quiet around the others.

The other two express elevators on the eastern side -- let's call them Three and Four -- have their own issues as well. Three is the central elevator, which has been mentioned to me as the most reliable of the six. However, Three has encountered quite a few incidences recently where passengers have reported a slight trembling sensation inside.

Again, the cause of this issue is quite obvious -- Elevator Three is nervous. It has found itself elevated (so to speak) to a certain standard due to the others' performances, and is unsure about its own capabilities. It does its job well, I assume, but I can also see that your technical teams have been able to find the source of the 'wobble'. The good news is that you do not have to resolve this issue directly -- Elevator Three's performance will most likely stabilize once the others are brought into line.

Now, Elevator Four... well, Elevator Four is a unique case. To put it simply, Elevator Four is in love.

Yes, sir... they can certainly feel love, or at least something reasonably close to it. Working in the same quarters as other elevators usually fosters a certain familiarity. In this case, your eastern Elevator Four has become infatuated with the central elevator on the western side -- let's call it Five, to avoid confusion.

Five, unfortunately, is not an express elevator, which means that Elevator Four almost never sees the object of its affections throughout the course of each day. This is why Elevator Four has a tendency to ignore floors -- I can only assume that it constantly wishes to return to the ground floor in order to catch a glimpse of its beloved. I feel that this practice may become a habit with time, so I would suggest that your Elevator Four be given a brief one-hour "break" within the course of each day. It would probably suffice for now, but in the event that the problems persist, I would advise that you call me in to observe further.


Yes, that's right -- I'm aware that Elevator Five has a habit of stopping between floors. However, sir, this is not a psychological problem. My guess is that the pressure pump in the main hydraulic engine is not working properly. Your maintenance team will just need to double-check that, and replace it if necessary.

Now, as for your last elevator, Elevator Six... Elevator Six happens to be a special case. Your employee made specific mention of it, and I've already heard the stories where it falls between floors.


Two people, sir?


I see. I wouldn't be surprised that they would resign, after what they went through with that elevator. At least they were from other companies in the building.

Your Elevator Six has developed a certain mean streak, I'm afraid. I don't think it likes its task. I am almost certain that it remains the most antisocial of the six. Has it ever dropped floors while there are groups of people inside the cab?


I see. Yes, that confirms it. All the incidences involve times when only a single person was inside. This is a very bad indication, sir. Elevator Six basically holds a certain malice now -- it's not going to harm people directly, but it's going to scare someone whenever it gets the chance.

Why? Because it's gotten lazier in the past couple of months. I'm not certain as to why this is the case... there are some things about elevator psychology that cannot be adequately explained.

Yes, I would recommend that you shut it down for a while. That should help give it some form of perspective; give it the impression that it has a job to do, that the job has to be done properly or else... and it will eventually give in. You just have to know how to deal with these machines, sir.

All in all, sir, I would simply advise that you consider rationing the operation times of your elevators. There are a lot of people in the building who work late, is that correct? Yes -- I noticed the call center on the nineteenth floor as well. However, the fact is that most of the changes in your elevators' behavior can be traced to their overuse.

I would suggest that, first of all, you distribute the overnight duties between elevators. This will ensure that Elevator One is able to get some rest, as well as allow Elevator Two to make better use of its time late at night.

In addition, I would recommend that you shut down one or two of the elevators in the middle of the day, perhaps during non-peak hours. This will allow them a second opportunity to rest. Any loss in service may be offset by the use of the stairs, I think.

Finally, I would keep Elevator Six shut down for the meantime. In this case, I would prefer that I maintain regular visits here in order to assess the change in its attitude. I believe that your Elevator Six can be made to run smoothly again, but it is important to know when that time can begin.

Yes, I have a calling card. Let me just write my mobile phone number on the back.

There we are. Thank you, sir.


I am available for consultations during normal work hours -- normally I make my rounds from about one to four in the afternoon, but I will be available for appointments in the morning. I normally only charge clients who wish to retain my services.

For this case, sir... well, let's just call this some free advice. Try my recommendations first, and let me know if they're effective. In any case, I can just pass by during my free time to see how your elevators are faring.

No need to do that, sir. I can show myself out.

Do be careful with your elevators, sir. They do have minds of their own, after all.


kyutbabe said...

What drugs are you on to be writing about the psychology of elevators?! You really should start getting more sleep :p

Sean said...

Kyutbabe: Frankly speaking, I'm surprised that it's taken three years before somebody's asked me what drugs I'm on. :)

And for the record, this really does describe the behavior of the six elevators in my building. Moreover, the elevator company is a couple of floors below my office... yet they never seem to do anything about the problems. I've had more than a few conversations with my officemates about how I was going to turn the situation into a story one day... and the first thing that came to mind on a late night after some hard work was... well... a man who talks to elevators. I make no excuses. :)

kyutbabe said...

He's an elevator-whisperer :)

Anonymous said...

Wah! I actually wrote a similar story to this one, a few months back. I mean, okay, it's completely different, but it's about talking to elevators, too. O_O And your story is way longer. Hehe. :) I really liked it!

Sean said...

Kyutbabe: ...Who doesn't look like Jennifer Love-Hewitt, unfortunately. Otherwise this story would have been perfect.

Ida: Oooo... I should take those drugs more often. :)