Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cliff's KV Notes, Part 4: Ups And Downs

I guess most boys at a young age are attracted to motors and machinery. I know I was. But there wasn’t much in the way of grown-up machinery an average city kid, maybe 6 years old, could get his hands into, unless maybe his father was an auto mechanic or something. We never had a car until I was 18, my father would have none of that. And while I was always fascinated by cars, trucks and buses—things that had motors that you could control--it was basically stay away from anything mechanical that could conceivable harm you. There was one exception, though—the KV elevators.
While adults saw the elevators simply as a convenience to avoid walking stairs, I looked at the elevators from a different perspective. First there was the color. The bluish green interior of the cars in the 10 court was much more pleasing to my eye than the red cars in the 30 court. The original buttons inside the cars were beautiful—metal numerals flush inside the black phenolic were art to my eye. I was just learning to write numerals (and some letters) in P.S. 177, and the KV numerals, also painted on the inside of the outer elevator doors, and the wall when you opened the door, were different from the ones we created in school—especially the “2” and the “9” which had a curved tail instead of a straight back.
Then there was the “feel” of the buttons--inside the car and the ones outside that you pushed to call the elevator. A light, just the right spring tension—especially the outside buttons. And that soft, flat “click” when the button bottomed out in its travel. The buttons protruded out maybe a half-inch, and since there was no vandalism (or graffiti for that matter) at the time, no one busted the buttons so they would be replaced with those awful flush-mount models. You could grab the button and wiggle it around a bit in the housing. It was all so pleasantly tactile—like the switches and controls inside an Acura NSX sports car.
But the big deal, to me, was the elevator itself. Here was a piece of machinery that I could control—as if I were piloting a plane or a rocket or (fill in the blank). The problem was, when I was first given permission to wander out on my own, I could only reach maybe the third floor button on the panel. That was OK for going down to “1,” but it presented a problem when returning, as we lived on the 9th floor. So I had to wait in the lobby for someone taller than I was (not very difficult) to get on the elevator and push “9” for me. After a while, I think I got a stick or something to push the higher floors myself, and I was able to take as many “long trips—“PH” to “1” and back (as long as no one else got on in between) as I liked. After a year or so, I was able to reach all of the buttons, and eventually learned what the Alarm button and Emergency Stop switch did.
So, just when you’d think I’d be all elevatored out, I came up with a new twist. I was curious about the sliding door inside the elevator. Like, just how much power did it really have? I put it to the test, by sneaking an empty milk quart bottle (real heavy glass) out of the apartment. Then, with no one around, I innocently rang for the elevator (here kitty, kitty…) When the unsuspecting elevator arrived at our floor, expecting no doubt an uneventful cruise to the first floor, I laid the milk bottle flat on the door track up against the front of the car. Then I pushed “1,” closed the door, and stepped waay back to see what would happen.
I was half-expecting a glorious crash of shattering glass. Instead, the moving door hit the bottle with a loud bang and stopped in its tracks, but I could here the machinery still working. Then the door would retreat all the way back and come forward again. Bang! I opened the outer door, and the moving door stopped. The bottle was unscathed. I was afraid to pick it up, thinking that the moving door would exact its revenge on me and lunge forward to take my arm off when I bent down. So I closed the door, and slunk back inside HG9. But I could still here the Bang! Bang! repeating endlessly.
My next elevator experiment (everything I did came under the heading of “experiment” which sort of justified my actions as it was all in the interest and advancement of science), was a Cliff vs. the elevator strength test. Part A of the experiment was, if a milk bottle could beat Otis’ best, what about a 97 lb. weakling? So I planted myself at the front of the elevator, facing the moving door, pushed “1,” and held my arms out. Part of the excitement was wondering if I’d get my fingers or my arm chopped off. The door connected with my hands, and (shades of Superman) I was able to hold it back. The machinery recycled the door, and it retreated with its tail between its legs. Three or four more rounds convinced me it was no fluke. It was Cliff 4, Otis 0.
Part B of the experiment was to see if I could force the door back open after it had closed. Of course, the car started moving after the door closed, and it took a little time and effort, but I managed to push back the door. I didn’t have to push it back much, and the elevator would come to an abrupt stop. The door would remain open at the point where I had pushed it, and then nothing would happen. The machinery would not recycle the door open and closed as it had done in the past—very disconcerting. Panicky, in fact. With the adrenaline flowing, I pushed the door closed, and the elevator started moving again. Whew! I used to do this regularly, and sometimes the car would come to rest at a floor, sometimes between floors, which was a lot more interesting.
That was all I could think of at the time as far as elevator amusement. After all, there was a whole world of experiments just waiting out there for me. Needless to say, the Otis Elevator mechanics spent more than the usual normal maintenance time, in the H building. (Wonder why?)
Ahead to the next chapter
Read the previous chapter in Cliff's KV Notes

1 comment:

Susanne Spitzer said...

I got stuck in the elevator of the F building during the great power blackout. It was not at all scary, even though I was alone, because I had just been at Dave's grocery store. I simply sat down on the floor, and fed myself with meunster cheese, meat, you name it. I was quite happy and quite stuffed when the guard finally rescued me, since the elevator had stopped between floors. In fact, I was kind of sorry to get out. My dad had a similarly interesting experience. When Thrift Drug lost its power, he started walking home. The next thing he knew, he was standing in the middle of an intersection, directing traffic with a handkerchief. He eventually made it home, without being run over.