If you ask people to name their top 10 fears I can pretty well guarantee that getting stuck in a lift would be one of them. It’s certainly one of mine.
The idea that you are suddenly confined to a small airless space with a bunch of strangers with no visibility to the outside world is the stuff of nightmares. It’s like being in a slightly larger cube-shaped coffin. Just add fire or water filling the cavity and you have the perfect hideous death.
The other night I got trapped in a lift. I am glad to say that for someone who suffers from claustrophobia and a generalised anxiety that makes me mildly panicky a lot of the time, I handled myself pretty well.
So this is how it happened. I was in Melbourne and had just finished a full day of MCing the CHARGE Association of Australasia conference. It was 5.30 and I had an hour to go back to my room, have a shower and then lie naked looking at the ceiling (my mindlessness practice) before I was required to return downstairs where I was hosting a talent night.
CHARGE, by the way, is an acronym for a genetic disorder that affects the heart, hearing, sight, and digestive system of an individual, resulting in numerous complex conditions. I am in the lift with three people from the conference, a volunteer, a mum and her young adult daughter. We chat pleasantly and wait for that comforting BING noise lifts make when they deliver you to your floor. There was no bing. Instead the lift started hopping downwards in strange dropping movements. It was a bit like the Aussie dollar. It went up, it went down, and then it stalled. After pushing the Open Doors button 20 times it became evident it was time to push the button I have always dreaded. The one with the phone on it. I push it. It rings through the building and echoes in the lift. Nothing. I do it again, but hold it longer. A phone rings and I get a recorded message.
When you push the button you want a person. I’m feeling a little stressed so I push again. Another recorded message. I assume someone is dealing with our situation so we wait. Nothing. So I push the button in for a long time. Finally a voice cuts in: it’s someone from reception.
The first thing he says to me is, ‘Stop pushing the button’. I’m like Fuck you buddy, you only answered because I wouldn’t stop. He then asks my name, my room number, how many people. He doesn’t ask anyone else’s name.
He has a conference in his hotel with people with significant health issues and he doesn’t ask. He’s an idiot. I decide that, but as we need his help I just answer the questions he asks.
He takes my phone number and tells me in a smarmy voice, ‘I have to go now because I am going to ring the lift company’. We wait. He rings back and tells us that he has rung OTIS and they’ll be there in 40 minutes. Are you fucking kidding?
I say, ‘Well I’m pregnant and the baby’s head’s just engaged’. The guy is a humourless dick and says, ‘Well I’ll call the police’. I say I’m joking. He hangs up. We never hear from him again. In the next 70 minutes we are in the lift he doesn’t ring to tell us the ETA of the lift engineer. He doesn’t check into see if we are okay. He doesn’t ask who the other people in the lift are. He’s probably in our rooms going through our bags.
I decide we should lie on the floor. I’ve seen people do that in movies. I am glad there are four of us because if it were a full lift I would have gone postal by now. So we lie down. It’s cooler down there. We exchange names. Kelsey has chocolate. We laugh about having to make it last but I kind of think it mightn’t be that funny. Her daughter Sarah is clearly nervous. Actually I think we were all nervous.
I FaceTime our ordeal. It makes us laugh, telling the story to other people outside helps make if feel like an adventure and frankly it was reassuring having people communicate with us from the other side. If we died in there at least we’d have a story on my timeline. I’d probably finally go viral. If we did die I joked that we would be easy to identify because our conference lanyards acted as ‘toe tags’ for whoever was first on the scene.
Kelsey’s husband called the fire department. We get word from Facebook that there’s a fire truck outside. I’m excited now. I’m going to be rescued by fireman. Talk about ticking the bucket list.
I get the girls to pretend to be unconscious so we get mouth to mouth. But the firies can’t open the door either. There goes my big rescue by a hero-with-an-axe fantasy. They drop us to the basement and then pull it open a crack to let some air in because its so bloody hot in that lift now and the air is stale. The carbon dioxide is making us hysterical.
Our rescuer says, ‘Are you okay in there? We can’t open the lift but the lift mechanic will be here in 15 minutes. We’re trying to save the door.’ I’m like ‘Fuck the door’. I say, ‘We’re hot’. The fireman says, ‘So am I’. Actually he doesn’t. I’m delirious. What he actually says is even more provocative; he says, ‘You can take off your clothes’. Wow. I’m like, ‘You first’.
I have to pee. I’m looking at Kelsey’s handbag: it’s nice and open. Leanne, Kelsey, Sarah and I huddle together on the floor. This is getting ridiculous. I’m worried. I’m running out of jokes. I won’t be able to keep the morale up for much longer. I’ve already laid on my back with my legs spread up against the doors joking that it was the only way I could take in air.
The only thing I’ve got left is getting nude and Sarah’s already stripped down to her undies. Ninety minutes later the fricking lift guy turns up and we stumble into the basement into the arms of two very hunky firemen. Oh I do love a happy ending!