Ever since I was a little boy and would go to 247 Park Avenue to visit my father at work, I've always wondered what it was like to operate one of the old timey elevators run, usually, by a dark man expertly handling a lever to make the elevator stop and go.
There are still a few buildings in New York that haven't been scraped and modernized and which haven't had their old elevators replaced by high-speed machines. I marvel at the men who run these boxes. They start and stop their car exactly on the floor requested. They seem to know exactly where they are in the building. They hardly have to look at the floor numbers as they chug by. They do it by feel.
The building I work in was never nice and by now it's probably 80 or 90 years old. It has three elevators. Two, the ones for passengers, are of the push button variety. There is nothing spectacular to report about these.
However, there's a third elevator, the freight, that is run by the Puerto Rican porter who keeps the building in its present state of architectural deshabille. Over the 27 months I've worked in this building I've come to know the porter. If I'm waiting in the lobby for a passenger elevator, he will often give me a "lift" in the freight.
He did today and I asked him if I could run the machine.
"No,"he said shaking his head.
But then as he shut the gate, he relented.
The lever is of the "dead man's brake" variety, like on the subway. If you stop holding the lever over to the left, the lever will spring to the center and the elevator will stop.
I pushed the lever over and counted up the floors, paying careful attention once I got to 10. (I work on 14 and there's no 13th floor.) I released the lever but was off by a couple of feet. I tried it a smidge. Again I was short.
"Line it up with this bar," he instructed.
I did and fairly well hit the mark.
I thanked him and got off on 14, having to step up only a couple of inches.
Running the elevator was a lot more interesting than the media meeting I was late to.