This fear is not based on a hypothetical, imagined stuck elevator. I've been there. "I was stuck once, too," I told Turkish Mama as we safely approached the ground floor of our building. "With a pregnant woman, even. I thought I was going to lose my mind."
I worked for the Front Street Brewery in Wilmington, North Carolina for a few years between graduate school and moving to Boston. The Brewery was -- and in it's under-new-management form, still is -- in an old building in downtown Wilmington. The elevator was an old-style Otis, with a door you close yourself, and a lever you turn this way and that to line up with the floor. It was all wood and such, and the safety features it had were simple -- the elevator wouldn't move with the inner door open, and it wouldn't move with any of the four outer doors open (one for each of the four floors of the building). The elevator had to be lined up with the floor, more or less, to open the doors, and that was about it. Push forward to go up, center to brake, back to go down. Easy, right?
I was not well-liked by the owners of the Brewery. I was too much of a smart-ass. I was too open about my desires to do more than wait tables for a living. But, I was a hell of a good server. My customers were almost without fail happy when they left. I didn't screw things up often, and I tended to make reasonably good money. I also had bartending experience, and I had worked as a floor manager of a restaurant previously. I got how the floor should run, I knew how to hostess, I knew how to cook. Hell, I was even a pretty fucking great at washing dishes, and I never minded doing any of those jobs. While I knew I didn't and couldn't work in restaurants forever, I wasn't ashamed of the work I did, and I was willing to bust my ass to make sure the customers were happy and the restaurant running smoothly.
As a result, while I was never promoted to bartender (and was assured that I never would be), I was given special events jobs. Our top floor was set up for catering. It had a small bar station, a small kitchen, single-stall bathrooms, and even a small walk-in cooler (I used that cooler as a prop in the one National Novel Writing Month novel I wrote, as an excellent place to stash a body, since it was so rarely used). These catering jobs were actually pretty great, though. I made an extra dollar an hour, and I got the built-in gratuity at the least, plus people typically tipped the bartender. Sometimes. At least a few bucks. It was certainly better than a night with a usual station, even on the weekends.
This particular night was not going all that well, though. These were the people I refer to as redneck yuppies -- new money who still clung to their redneck values. They didn't need to tip because, well, who the fuck knows why. Rednecks don't tip. They were pushy about what they wanted because they had this new money they thought gave them privilege over someone like me -- the "help," even if they'd been the "help" just a generation before. And they got drunker and drunker on the beer that was the closest to Bud Light we made -- the Lumina Lager. Yet another man with a florid complexion and a bright-green Izod polo shirt stretched over his beer gut asked for another beer, and the keg kicked.
"Keg's empty," I told him. "I'll have to go get another -- you guys have already been through the back-up we had!" I smiled reassuringly at him, and left the bar in the hands of the my co-bartender and server. I found Kristen, an assistant manager, and had her help with a few other supplies we needed, and got her to hold the elevator so no one else would use it for such things as transporting racks of silverware or dirty dishes. I grabbed two small kegs of the Lumina and loaded up the elevator. Kristen rode with me to check things out and give me a hand with hooking up the keg -- it was always tricky on this particular bar -- the hoses were old and stiff and never quite wanted to fit properly. I'd been sprayed by this contraption more times than I could count, and I could feel the rising tension in the room as the people were unable to get their beer. Kristen grabbed the controls and we were off to the top floor with the beer. We were so close, almost there, when we heard a tremendous bang and scrape and crunch.
"What the fuck?" I heard a deep, Southern voice say from above me.
We were stuck. We opened the inner door and looked through the six inches or so of gap at the top of the elevator. I could see the shined dress shoes mixed with scuffed boots throughout the room. "Hello?" I said.
"What?" I heard a voice say, and a face appeared in the gap.
"We're stuck. Could you ask the other bartender to get over here?"
"You're stuck?" I could smell his boozy breath.
"Yes, we're stuck," Kristen said, exasperated. She rubbed her belly, and I could imagine her thoughts of having the kid in this elevator. She was only 7 months along, though, and the chances were small that she'd actually go into labor at this very moment.
"Go get the other bartender," I repeated slowly, as if to a small and stupid child.
The face vanished, and I could hear the laughter of the other people as the drunk fucker told everyone but the other bartender what had happened. Finally, I saw Christina's face appear in the crack at our ceiling. "What happened?" I asked. She explained that the jackass had been leaning on the elevator door as we approached, and the top of the elevator had caught the bottom of the door, and wrenched it up, breaking it in the process. Now. because the door was "open," the elevator would not move. We couldn't go down. We couldn't go up.
"I've called John and Will," she said, referring to the owner and the head manager. "John's calling the elevator company to come get you out. In the meantime, just chill!" She smiled reassuringly at us.
"I"m calling the fire department," called out a shrill happy voice. "We have to get them out of there!"
"Yeah," said a deeper voice. "We got to get the beer!"
"Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me, fuck me," I muttered to myself. I tried taking deep breaths. I tried to relax. I tried to pace in the tiny room, around the cart full of bar back-up materials and the two kegs and the assistant manager.
"You okay?" asked Kristen, who had taken the opportunity to sit down and relieve some of the pressure on her back and feet.
"I hate being trapped," I said. "I get really anxious. And I can't even smoke!"
"Sure you can," she said. "Just blow it out the top there, so it doesn't build up in here. I don't mind. It'll be fine."
"Are you sure?" I asked, incredulously, but I was already reaching for my pack of Camel Lights and my disposable lighter. I balanced on one of the kegs and held the cigarette at the very top of the car, and I watched with pleasure as the smoke curled out, swirling around the legs of the people who'd put me here. After a while, I heard Will's voice, as he tried to reassure the people in the party.
"Where's our beer?" one asked, and it was no longer a good-natured, joking voice. "We expect a certain kinda service when we spend this much money."
"It's in the elevator. There's no other way to get a keg up here, so you'll just have to be patient," he told the man in his I'm-not-going-to-put-up-with-your-bullshit voice. I took a last drag on my cigarette and put it out on my Doc Marten sole.
"Thanks," I said to Kristen, who smiled sweetly through her bad teeth and lank bangs. A firefighter helmet appeared in the gap at the ceiling.
"You folks okay in there?"
"Yeah, we're fine," I said.
"We don't know how to get you out, but the elevator company is on its way."
"Yes," I said. "Christina said so."
I heard Will asking why the hell the fire department had arrived, and I could feel Christina's shrug. "One of the customers called 911."
"Why the fuck would they do that?" asked Will. He had lost his diplomatic edge as he tried to keep the crowd from rioting over the lack of beer.
All in all, I spent nearly 2 and a half hours in the elevator. A representative from the elevator company eventually arrived and began to winch the car down until the outer doors could be freed and realigned. Then, slowly, painfully, he winched us up to the floor. When the doors finally opened, there was a cheer.
"We have beer!" said someone in the crowd, and the cheer grew louder.
"Yes," I said, only half under my breath. "You've got your motherfucking beer."
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