Anecdotally Speaking

The superfluous, a very necessary thing. --voltaire

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

 

The Peruvian Elevator

Intrepid adventurers, experienced, seasoned, weary from explorations in the sultry depths of the Amazon jungles and atop the rarefied heights of the ancient Mayan ruins of Machu Picchu, six American travelers were finally heading for home. They were happy, satisfied, brimming with tales to tell kith and kin upon their return. It was a good trip.

I was among that cadre as we checked into our hotel in Lima on the last day we would be spending in Peru before flying back home to Omaha that evening. It was all but over. We had braved danger together, excitement, the unknown. Ours was a once in a lifetime experience of the exotic kind. Now there was nothing left of it but to rest for a while, board a plane and show up back home.

We gathered in the lobby, clustered together with our bags, our fearless leader hovering. We were getting good at working together as a single unit. Now we needed to move up the elevator to the third floor where two rooms and hot showers awaited us. One of us pulled open the hinged metal door of an unusual elevator. As the exterior door swung outward, a more typical inside door slid away sideways. We moved our bags and ourselves inside the elevator, until we were tucked away inside, comfortably snug.

The elevator door closed and the number three button was pushed. The elevator began its upward ascent. There was no thought in anyone's mind that this journey would be anything but a short one. However, that was not the case. Shortly before arriving at the third floor, there was a strange sound, a gentle shudder and the elevator came to a standstill. We were stuck between floors.

There was an odd moment of silence, an imperceptible instant of corporate disbelief, followed by realization. Then, of coarse, someone stated the obvious. "The elevator stopped." What followed then was a flurry of activity. This group is nothing if it is not industrious and innovative. Unfortunately, no one had any actual being-stuck-on-an-elevator experience. Nonetheless, there were all kinds of ideas and suggestions on what should be done.

We ruled out climbing through the hole in the ceiling. Likewise, jumping up and down to lighten the load was too screwy and too scary. The best idea was to press the button that made a distant bell ring. So, that is what we did. We could hear it ringing off somewhere in the distance, so we kept pushing it.

We were not quite sure what the best button pushing method was to use in a situation like this. Should we hold the button down continuously, do Morse code or do a kind of irregular pattern? We tried all of the methods. We pushed it for what seemed like a long time before we got any kind of a response at all. You would think that they would eventually miss their elevator and go looking for it.

In time, they did find us. We had a window in the door, something else that was a bit odd about this elevator. I was standing near the front of the elevator, pushing the button with a kind of irregular pattern, when I started to hear a commotion below us. Looking down through the window, I could see a human face peering back up at me from the floor below. Ah, good, I thought, the rescue has begun. Now we can all relax, help is on the way.

Spirits seem high, everyone was still in a good mood. They were kind of looking at this as a new experience and that is a good attitude to take. What a great bunch to be stuck on an elevator with, what sports. The commotion below us continues. There is lots of Spanish talking. They must be trying to decide what to do. That is when the lights go out.

It is now pitch black inside the elevator. It is now silent in the crowded little elevator. I offer a little joke. "It sure is a good thing that none of us has claustrophobia." There is dead silence. Then a little voice answers back. "I'll talk with you about that when this is over Dr. David." We start to speculate as to what might be going on when the elevator moves! Not much, just and inch, but it did move down one inch. We were all generally very encouraged by this progress.

There seemed to be a big pause, then we dropped another inch! Then another and another. We were stuttering and jerking our way down excruciating slow, as if someone was cranking us down by hand. Yes, soon, we could see an opening. There it was! The second floor was coming into view and, yes, we can see people there!

An inch at a time and the floor of the elevator finally came down level with the opening of the second floor. We started to grab our luggage and prepared to exit when the elevator did not stop, it kept dropping! The people on the outside said, "Hurry, you must get off, quickly!"

No one needed to be told twice. That elevator was evacuated posthaste. As I turned to look back, I noticed that it continued to drop down. Now that is just strange. I then turned to greet our rescuers. We were grateful indeed, joyful smiles all around.

There was the hotel staff, the manager, and then there was this older gentleman. He was obviously the one in charge. He seemed to be directing the rescue operation. I was thinking that he must be the engineer, the operations person or maybe even the guy from the elevator company, I don't know.

What a relief, we were all cheerfully saying thank-you to them all, when this older guy, he says, "A story to tell," and he walks down stairs and is gone. That's all he said, "A story to tell." I busted out laughing. "A story to tell? Yeah, it sure was that!" I expected an explanation as to what happened, what went wrong, or an apology, but no, just a statement of fact. "A story to tell." No harm, no foul, I guess. What a hoot.

So, we finished our grand exotic adventure stuck in an elevator. And that left us with "a story to tell." Priceless.

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