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It's all downhill on an elevator


Sometimes, while churning out the numbing prose that regularly fills this space, I'll take a break from the word processor.

Often I end up riding the elevators in my office building. Other writers drink many cups of strong coffee or take long walks for inspiration; I like to ride up and down in a small, tomb-like cubicle with a bunch of nervous strangers until the muse whispers in my ear.

I'll tell you this: You meet all kinds on the elevator. As I happen to work for a newspaper, the number of nerdy, pallid and badly dressed individuals stepping on and off is incredible.

It is nothing for me to ride next to a reporter staring intently at his Hush Puppies and mumbling about a city council meeting while wearing a sport coat loud enough to double as a tablecloth at an Italian restaurant.

Nor is it uncommon to find myself next to an editor in some kind of Annie Hall-on-Quaaludes get-up, or a neo-hippie prairie skirt that looks like what Calamity Jane wore while skinning buffalo.

But that's OK. As long they don't have wild eyes and camouflage paint smeared on their face and a semi-automatic pistol in their hands, I'm not too particular about who I ride with.

There is one type of elevator passenger that seems to annoy just about everyone, though.

This is the person who rides the elevator for all of one floor. Maybe he gets on at the second floor and rides up to the third. Or maybe she gets on at the sixth floor and rides down to the fifth.

Understand, we're not talking about people with health problems here.

Look, if you're going to keel over and die from walking up a few stairs, please, by all means, take the elevator. Because there's nothing worse than returning from the cafeteria with a couple of Diet Cokes in your hands and having to step over a corpse in the stairwell.

Then, by the time you call security, make a statement to the police and ID the body, half the morning is shot. And you still don't have a column idea.

No, we're talking about lazy people here, people who just don't want to move their big, fat behinds up (or down) even one flight of stairs.

There is one person who works in our building who does this sort of one-floor riding all the time.

There is no point mentioning this person's name or what department he works for, although I think it's Advertising. Or maybe Marketing.

Advertising, Marketing . . . what's the difference? The point is, the man is slowing up the ride for the rest of us -- and we're getting damn sick of it.

(Then again, this sort of reaction cuts both ways. I'm sure he sees me and thinks: Oh, geez, it's that nut who rides the elevators all the time. OK. I have no problem with that.)

This is neither here nor there, but I feel compelled now to relate my favorite elevator story.

One morning I'm stepping into the elevator on the 10th floor of a hotel in Cambridge, Mass., when it suddenly dawns on me that my fellow passenger is Stephen King, the famous horror novelist.

Well. My first instinct, of course, was to genuflect and blurt out: "Would Your Worship permit me to share this elevator? I especially liked 'Cujo!'"

Somehow, though, I played it pretty cool. The two of us rode in silence for several floors, with King staring up at the floor indicator light and me developing a sudden fascination for the tips of my shoes. (Mercifully, neither of us said: "Looks like rain out there," as strangers in an elevator often feel compelled to do.)

At the seventh floor, three or four people got on the elevator. Then more people got on at the fourth floor. What got me, though, was that no one recognized Stephen King! Although maybe that's not so surprising, seeing as how there are only about a dozen people in the world who actually read books anymore.

Happily, Stephen King was not one of these lazy people who rides the elevator just one floor, or I would have been forced to give him a hard time -- which is something I might have to do to that lout in Advertising (or Marketing).

By the time we got down to the lobby, I was determined to say something to King. Except now I was starting to hyperventilate from excitement, and there existed the very real possibility that I might black out in mid-sentence.

So all I said was: "I really enjoy your work."

And he said: "Get away from me, you loathsome vermin."

No, what he really said was: "Thanks."

Then he walked away in the direction of the gift shop.

It was really quite touching.

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