September 2009

Stuck in the Middle

No matter what goes awry, our fair city is able to even the field


elevator, interior, panic Hansen Smith

A good argument for always carrying a cell phone is the thought of getting stuck in a tiny elevator. A better argument is the thought of getting stuck in a tiny elevator with an emergency call-button hooked up to a disconnected number. This actually happened to me, and I can tell you it ranks right up there on a claustrophobe’s list of worst-case scenarios. Yet it’s my belief that if you have to deal with a worst-case scenario, there’s no better place to do it than L.A. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On that particular morning, I was in a rush to make a meeting with my writing partner. I quickly gathered up my stuff: keys, BlackBerry, sunglasses, lipstick, powder, pills (aspirin, allergy meds and the like), Altoids, bottle of water, Filofax (I’m not one to trust key info to an electronic device), wallet, cash, a Balance bar (in case I don’t have time to stop for lunch) and a can of Evian face spray...always good to spritz on before walking into a meeting.

On any given day, there’s a 50 percent chance I’ll forget something. Sometimes I think one of the biggest advantages of youth is being able to walk out the door with nothing more than a key and cash. Life without luggage—the good old days.

Usually I take the stairs, but the elevator was there, and I had a heavy bag to toss in the outside trash bin, so I stepped in. The door closed slowly as always. This antiquated elevator was the price I paid for living in a charming old West Hollywood building. (Why are so many of us enchanted by brick, especially the East Coast transplants?)

I reached the main floor and waited for the door to open. Nothing. I banged the door out of frustration, not panic. That came a second later, when I tried the emergency button, and, well, you already know where that led. I emptied my purse, frantically searching for the cell phone I hoped I hadn’t left behind. Never was that flashing green light on my BlackBerry a more welcome sight. Still, a green light doesn’t always mean go. I punched in the number for the building manager and held my breath to see if I’d be connected. I prayed Veri­zon wasn’t lying when they bragged about “no dead zones.” Yes! The call went through, and I made a mental note to buy stock in the company.

The building manager was surprisingly calm when he heard my problem. Maybe it was intentional. Hearing the panic in my voice, he may have figured calm was the way to go. He told me to hang on while he picked up another phone and called the elevator company. They were annoyingly calm, promising to send someone out in a half hour. A half hour? What? I hung up and called 911. They were professionally calm.

While I waited, I felt the walls closing in on me. I searched through my bag for Xanax. Nope, but I guess it’s reassuring to know I carry Tamiflu in case a pandemic should break out while I’m running errands. Not having Xanax, I went for my backup plan: I called my writing partner. I knew he’d be entertainingly calm. I told him I was running late because I was stuck in an elevator. “No, really, where are you?” he said, as if implying I’d hightailed it to Palm Springs for some scintillating sex­capade. He made me laugh and kept making me laugh, so by the time the Beverly Hills Fire Department arrived, I was doing better than if I’d actually taken my half milli­gram of calming meds.

Still, a few tense minutes passed before my rescue team sprung me loose. They held the door open to let me pass as if it were an act of politeness, not salvation. They were the closest thing to Zen I’d ever experienced, which could have something to do with the fact that on their scale of emergencies, I was just one small step up from a cat stuck in a tree.

Now it was my turn to be calm—astonishingly calm. In spite of the sweat on my forehead and my shallow breathing (got to get that deviated septum fixed), I got in my car and cruised down Wilshire. A Seinfeld episode came to mind—the one where Jerry realizes everything evens out. He loses $20, he finds $20. His good friend George is up, his good friend Elaine is down. A bad thing happens, a good thing happens.

That’s the way I felt. Getting stuck in the elevator...a bad thing. Having a cell phone that worked…a good thing. Not having Xanax…a bad thing. Having a smart, witty friend to call…a good thing. Feeling like I was stuck in a coffin...a bad thing. Being rescued by four firemen, all cute enough to star in a TV series…a good thing.

By the time I got to La Cienega, it was as if the whole thing hadn’t happened. That’s when I decided that L.A. is the home of the Big Even. Bad stuff (unless it’s truly tragic) doesn’t have the same shelf life here as it does other places. I know. I lived in Boston, where bad sticks with you like the chill of a cold, wet winter day.

It’s different in L.A. I remember five hours after the 1994 earthquake hit, driving down Beverly Boulevard and seeing people outside Swingers, relaxing in the brilliant sunlight, drinking beers with their cold cereal.

This is why I’m hooked on this place. I like the quick turnaround. It’s like the city is saying, “I’m doing my part—I’m giving you these golden days, so snap out of it.” So I did. And I have to add that while the elevator was out of service for a week, walking up four flights proved great for my legs.

The Big Even—I can’t complain.