Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Apparently There is No Clinical Term for the Fear of Elevators.

I’m not terribly claustrophobic, but I do get a bit uncomfortable in small spaces. Like elevators. The size of my anxiety depends on the size of the elevator and the amount of people inside it. If it’s a small elevator, I’m good riding with a couple of people, or several people if they’re small. I don’t usually notice the amount of people in a big fancy elevator, or if the walls of said fancy elevator happen to be transparent. But a small elevator packed with people will get me doing an impression of a naughty child: nose in the corner.

The worst elevators in the world exist on city campus at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. They all share the same cramped “made to carry only three people at once” aspect, no matter which building or how old the building happens to be. I was once trapped in one for an hour and a half at Kaufman Hall, which was brand new at the time. Strangely enough, there were only three of us. Maybe the additional weight of the thirteen inch gaming television, the Dreamcast, the N64, and the PS2 put us over the limit.

In general, I don’t mind elevators. I can usually take a deep breath, remind myself that it’s only a short ride and I don’t have long to wait, and in really crowded instances, I close my eyes until the door opens again.

Of all the terrible elevators on city campus at UNL, the worst of all is located in Oldfather Hall, smack dab in the middle of campus. I guess I should say, “the worst three of all,” because there are three elevators in a row in Oldfather Hall, and they are all equally terrifying. Oldfather is probably the busiest building on campus. The reason for this is that the fourth through twelfth floors are offices for the administrators and professors of various programs (history is on six and foreign languages on nine).

There aren’t many hours of the day that the wide hallway in front of the elevators on the ground floor doesn’t look like the skinny enclosed space between shelves in the stacks at Love Library. Oldfather’s hallways have lots of space, and the ceiling on the ground floor is higher than you’d expect in a stuffy old college building. It’s spacious. But right in front of the elevators, it gets so clogged with people that even if you’re not a bit claustrophobic, you almost consider taking the small, confined staircase to the ninth floor. But a professor’s office hours last only so long, and it’s harder to talk to them about the grade on your quiz when you’re trying to get your breath back from lugging your backpack all that way. So more often than I wanted, I would find myself waiting with the horde for one of the rattly elevators.

The elevators in Oldfather didn't stop on the
2nd and 3rd floors. There were classrooms
 there, and as far as the administration was
 concerned, students could brave the stairs
to go up one or two floors.
Even alone on one of the elevators in Oldfather Hall, I was nervous. Not because I could stand in the middle with my arms stretched out and touch the front and the back of the tiny box at the same time, or even because it was bound to stop at least three times on the way to wherever I was going, which meant that one to four more people would be joining the upward journey each time the doors opened. It was because I could hear every sound it made. Maybe it needed more sound proofing in the walls and ceiling. Maybe it needed some kind of elevator grease on the rail brackets. Or maybe it needed various parts of it to be updated so the people inside it couldn’t hear every single working of the elevator on the outside. I knew that if something was wrong, the elevator would be shut down for maintenance, but it didn’t keep me from irrationally wondering if we were going to plummet at any moment.

My least favorite part about the Oldfather elevator experience was a culmination of everything I hate about elevators: standing in the already small space, closing my eyes as it stuffed with people, listening to it rattle as it ascended, peeking hopefully at the door every time it stopped to open, scrunching my eyes shut again as more people pushed their way on. The only way to deal with the increasing pressure was to try to stop wondering if it was at my floor yet, and to breathe deeply while pretending to be looking out at the pasture on the west side of 310th Street after having ridden my bike as fast as I could all the way down 2nd street to the edge of Murdock. There are no smelly college students there, no chance of plummeting to my death, and my heart rate was about the same in both situations.

The last time I was in Oldfather Hall, I snapped a picture of my name on the Dean’s List, which was hanging on the wall across from the elevators. That wasn’t the best part of the visit. It was knowing that since I was a graduate, I’d never have to set foot on one of those elevators ever again. Maybe it was all part of the college experience. Study hard, enjoy your classes, and be blindingly terrified at the thought of the elevators.

To this day, elevators are not my favorite. The stairs are usually less crowded, and unless I’m in a huge hurry or carrying something heavy, I usually head that way. I don’t mind getting in an elevator with others, but I prefer if they’re people that I’m sure won’t mind spending the better part of three hours with me if we happen to get stuck.

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