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Trapped in an elevator for 40 hours

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Trapped in an elevator for 40 hours

Old 04-21-08, 08:32 PM
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Trapped in an elevator for 40 hours

Wow.



Up and Down Again

The longest smoke break of Nicholas White’s life began at around eleven o’clock on a Friday night in October, 1999. White, a thirty-four-year-old production manager at Business Week, working late on a special supplement, had just watched the Braves beat the Mets on a television in the office pantry. Now he wanted a cigarette. He told a colleague he’d be right back and, leaving behind his jacket, headed downstairs.

The magazine’s offices were on the forty-third floor of the McGraw-Hill Building, an unadorned tower added to Rockefeller Center in 1972. When White finished his cigarette, he returned to the lobby and, waved along by a janitor buffing the terrazzo floors, got into Car No. 30 and pressed the button marked 43. The car accelerated. It was an express elevator, with no stops below the thirty-ninth floor, and the building was deserted. But after a moment White felt a jolt. The lights went out and immediately flashed on again. And then the elevator stopped.

The control panel made a beep, and White waited a moment, expecting a voice to offer information or instructions. None came. He pressed the intercom button, but there was no response. He hit it again, and then began pacing around the elevator. After a time, he pressed the emergency button, setting off an alarm bell, mounted on the roof of the elevator car, but he could tell that its range was limited. Still, he rang it a few more times and eventually pulled the button out, so that the alarm was continuous. Some time passed, although he was not sure how much, because he had no watch or cell phone. He occupied himself with thoughts of remaining calm and decided that he’d better not do anything drastic, because, whatever the malfunction, he thought it unwise to jostle the car, and because he wanted to be (as he thought, chuckling to himself) a model trapped employee. He hoped, once someone came to get him, to appear calm and collected. He did not want to be scolded for endangering himself or harming company property. Nor did he want to be caught smoking, should the doors suddenly open, so he didn’t touch his cigarettes. He still had three, plus two Rolaids, which he worried might dehydrate him, so he left them alone. As the emergency bell rang and rang, he began to fear that it might somehow—electricity? friction? heat?—start a fire. Recently, there had been a small fire in the building, rendering the elevators unusable. The Business Week staff had walked down forty-three stories. He also began hearing unlikely oscillations in the ringing: aural hallucinations. Before long, he began to contemplate death.

Nicholas White wasn’t phobic, but he wasn’t exactly fond of elevators. When he was a boy, he and some other kids were trapped in one on their way down from a birthday party in an apartment building on Riverside Drive. After about twenty minutes, the Fire Department pulled the kids out, one at a time. In his recollection, he was the only person to ask the firemen whether the cables might snap.

After a while, White decided to smoke a cigarette. It was conceivable to him that, owing to construction work in the lobby, the building staff had taken his car out of service and would leave it that way not only through the weekend but all through the week. That they could leave him here as long as they had suggested that anything was possible. He imagined them opening the doors, ten days later, and finding him dead on his back, like a cockroach. Within hours, he had smoked all his cigarettes.

At a certain point, he decided to open the doors. He pried them apart and held them open with his foot. He was presented with a cinder-block wall on which, perfectly centered, were scrawled three “13”s—one in chalk, one in red paint, one in black. It was a dispiriting sight. He concluded that he must be on the thirteenth floor, and that, this being an express elevator, there was no egress from the shaft anywhere for many stories up or down. (Such a shaft is known as a blind hoistway.) He peered down through the crack between the wall and the sill of the elevator and saw that it was very dark. He could make out some light at the bottom. It looked far away. A breeze blew up the shaft.

He started to call out. “Hello?” He tried cupping his hand to his mouth and yelled out some more. “Help! Is there anybody there? I’m stuck in an elevator!” He kept at it for a while.

Nicholas White opened the doors to urinate. As he did so, he hoped, in vain, that a trace of this violation might get the attention of someone in the lobby. He considered lighting matches and dropping them down the shaft, to attract notice, but still had the presence of mind to suspect that this might not be wise. The alarm bell kept ringing. He paced and waved at the overhead camera. He couldn’t tell whether it was night or day. To pass the time, he opened his wallet and compared an old twenty-dollar bill with a new one, and read the fine print on the back of a pair of tickets to a Jets game on Sunday afternoon, which he would never get to use. He imagined himself as Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape,” throwing the baseball against the wall. Eventually, he lay down on the floor, intent on sleep. The carpet was like coarse AstroTurf, and was lousy with nail trimmings and other detritus. It was amazing to him how much people could shed in such a short trip. He used his shoes for a pillow and laid his wallet, unfolded, over his eyes to keep out the light. It wasn’t hot, yet he was sweating. His wallet was damp. Maybe a day had passed. He drifted in and out of sleep, awakening each time to the grim recognition that his elevator confinement had not been a dream. His thirst was overpowering. The alarm was playing more aural tricks on him, so he decided to turn it off. Then he tried doing some Morse code with it. He yelled some more. He tried to pick away at the cinder-block wall.

At a certain point, he decided to go for the escape hatch in the ceiling. He thought of Bruce Willis in “Die Hard,” climbing up and down the shaft. He knew it was a dangerous and desperate thing to do, but he didn’t care. He had to get out of the elevator. The height of the handrail in the car made it hard for him to get a leg up. It took him a while to figure out and then execute the maneuver that would allow him to spring up to the escape hatch. Finally, he swung himself up. The hatch was locked.

At a certain point, Nicholas White ran out of ideas. Anger and vindictiveness took root. He began to think, They, whoever they were, shouldn’t be able to get away with this, that he deserved some compensation for the ordeal. He cast about for blame. He wondered where his colleague was, why she hadn’t been alarmed enough by his failure to return, jacketless, from smoking a cigarette to call security. Whose fault is this? he wondered. Who’s going to pay? He decided that there was no way he was going to work the following week.

And then he gave up. The time passed in a kind of degraded fever dream. On the videotape, he lies motionless for hours at a time, face down on the floor.

A voice woke him up: “Is there someone in there?”

“Yes.”

“What are you doing in there?”

White tried to explain; the voice in the intercom seemed to assume that he was an intruder. “Get me the fuck out of here!” White shrieked. Duly persuaded, the guard asked him if he wanted anything. White, who had been planning to join a few friends at a bar on Friday evening, asked for a beer.

Before long, an elevator-maintenance team arrived and, over the intercom, coached him through a set of maneuvers with the buttons. White asked what day it was, and, when they told him it was Sunday at 4 P.M., he was shocked. He had been trapped for forty-one hours. He felt a change in the breeze, which suggested that the elevator was moving. When he felt it slow again, he wrenched the door open, and there was the lobby. In his memory, he had to climb up onto the landing, but the video does not corroborate this. When he emerged from the elevator, he saw his friends, with a couple of security guards, and a maintenance man, waiting, with an empty chair. His friends turned to see him and were appalled at the sight; he looked like a ghost, one of them said later. The security guard handed him an open Heineken. He took one sip but found the beer repellent, like Hans Castorp with his Maria Mancini cigar. White told a guard, “Somebody could’ve died in there.”

“I know,” the guard said.

White had to go upstairs to get his jacket. He demanded that the guards come with him, and so they rode together on the service elevator, with the elevator operator. The presence of others with radios put him at ease. In his office he found that his co-worker, in a fit of pique over his disappearance, had written an angry screed, and taped it to his computer screen, for all their colleagues to see. He went home, and then headed to a bar. He woke up to a reel of phone messages and a horde of reporters colonizing his stoop. He barely left his apartment in the ensuing days, deputizing his friends to talk to reporters through a crack in the door.

White has the security-camera videotape of his time in the McGraw-Hill elevator. He has watched it twice—it was recorded at forty times regular speed, which makes him look like a bug in a box. The most striking thing to him about the tape is that it includes split-screen footage from three other elevators, on which you can see men intermittently performing maintenance work. Apparently, they never wondered about the one he was in. (Eight McGraw-Hill security guards came and went while he was stranded there; nobody seems to have noticed him on the monitor.)

White never went back to work at the magazine. Caught up in media attention (which he shunned but thrilled to), prodded by friends, and perhaps provoked by overly solicitous overtures from McGraw-Hill, White fell under the sway of renown and grievance, and then that of the legal establishment. He got a lawyer, and came to believe that returning to work might signal a degree of mental fitness detrimental to litigation. Instead, he spent eight weeks in Anguilla. Eventually, Business Week had to let him go. The lawsuit he filed, for twenty-five million dollars, against the building’s management and the elevator-maintenance company, took four years. They settled for an amount that White is not allowed to disclose, but he will not contest that it was a low number, hardly six figures. He never learned why the elevator stopped; there was talk of a power dip, but nothing definite. Meanwhile, White no longer had his job, which he’d held for fifteen years, and lost all contact with his former colleagues. He lost his apartment, spent all his money, and searched, mostly in vain, for paying work. He is currently unemployed.

Looking back on the experience now, with a peculiarly melancholic kind of bewilderment, he recognizes that he walked onto an elevator one night, with his life in one kind of shape, and emerged from it with his life in another. Still, he now sees that it wasn’t so much the elevator that changed him as his reaction to it. He has come to terms with the trauma of the experience but not with his decision to pursue a lawsuit instead of returning to work. If anything, it prolonged the entrapment. He won’t blame the elevator.

Last edited by Flay; 04-21-08 at 08:41 PM.
Old 04-21-08, 08:35 PM
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Source the story, sir:

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2...urrentPage=all
Old 04-21-08, 09:03 PM
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That would suck!
Old 04-21-08, 09:24 PM
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I heard about that.....wow. I am not claustrophobic per se, but that would have really tried my patience. I'm surprised on the settlement amount, considering there are 8 security guards who failed to notice him, etc.
Old 04-21-08, 09:30 PM
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god damn.
Old 04-21-08, 09:34 PM
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He was basically paid around $1,000 an hour to be in an elevator. Not bad.
Old 04-21-08, 09:41 PM
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Well who is he supposed to sue? The 8 security guards? I'm sure they don't have any assets. It wasn't any one person or entity's fault, it was the collective incompetence of those at the bottom of the totem pole that kept him in his predicament.

If you ask me, he got what he deserved. $25 million? Come on.
Old 04-21-08, 10:08 PM
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Almost as much fun watching Time Code.... almost.
Old 04-21-08, 10:54 PM
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Amazing story. After 5 minutes, I'd have ripped up the ceiling escape hatch and climbed up, 30 floors or not.
Old 04-22-08, 05:00 AM
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anyone have any clue what piano song they used?
Old 04-22-08, 07:37 AM
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Originally Posted by Mole177
anyone have any clue what piano song they used?

R Kelly's Trapped in the Closet.
Old 04-22-08, 09:17 AM
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That's what he gets for being a smoker and taking smoke breaks.
Old 04-22-08, 09:51 AM
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No fucking way would I have stayed in there for that long. I would have done something to try to escape, even if it was a stupid decision. I'm not dying in an elevator.
Old 04-22-08, 09:57 AM
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Originally Posted by dieinafire
I'm not dying in an elevator.

...unless, of course, it was on fire.
Old 04-22-08, 09:58 AM
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They should have tased him on his way out.
Old 04-22-08, 10:17 AM
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Wow, trapped like a rat in a box. That sucks. At least he finally got out.
Old 04-22-08, 10:19 AM
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Looking back on the experience now, with a peculiarly melancholic kind of bewilderment, he recognizes that he walked onto an elevator one night, with his life in one kind of shape, and emerged from it with his life in another. Still, he now sees that it wasn’t so much the elevator that changed him as his reaction to it. He has come to terms with the trauma of the experience but not with his decision to pursue a lawsuit instead of returning to work. If anything, it prolonged the entrapment. He won’t blame the elevator.
He will blame THE TWILIGHT ZONE!!!
Old 04-22-08, 03:14 PM
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Originally Posted by superdeluxe
god damn.
Exactly.
Old 04-22-08, 03:57 PM
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Originally Posted by shaun3000
Well who is he supposed to sue? The 8 security guards? I'm sure they don't have any assets. It wasn't any one person or entity's fault, it was the collective incompetence of those at the bottom of the totem pole that kept him in his predicament.

If you ask me, he got what he deserved. $25 million? Come on.

Gee - I don't know - how about the owners of the building and/or the management/maintenance company running the building. Those at the bottom of the totem pole are agents of the owners/management co, which would make the owner/management co liable for any negligence, which certainly seems to be the case here.
Old 04-22-08, 04:04 PM
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I love the music they threw on the video.


Like a science experiment.

And they put the out of order sign at the end. LOL. Classic.

Last edited by Matthew Ackerly; 04-22-08 at 04:07 PM.
Old 04-22-08, 05:14 PM
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this was on TV over the last day or so... saw that guy talking about it with some morning show bimbo, i mean journalist...

i guess because of The New Yorker article?...
Old 04-22-08, 05:34 PM
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Holy crap that would suck.
Old 04-23-08, 03:29 AM
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The McGraw-Hill I interviewed at only had two floors....but thank God I didn't take the elevator.

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