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Danny Wallace explains why it’s each man for himself when a lift goes rogue

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Danny Wallace
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Danny Wallace explains why it's each man for himself when a lift goes rogue

“The sense of absolute relief is palpable. But all this is about to be ruined”

I have been stuck on the 19th floor of a hotel waiting for the lift to arrive for nearly 10 minutes. I’m not really a complainer. I find complainers very tiring. People who complain about lifts are particularly tedious. That said, while 10 minutes is fine to wait for a taxi or a lovely hot bowl of soup,

I agree with you lift-botherers that it’s too long to wait for a lift.

Only one of the two lifts is working, so you have to feel sorry for the one that works. It’s doing literally all the heavy lifting. But I still find myself getting annoyed at it, as if it is some kind of lazy lift, or a lift that doesn’t quite respect me.

When it does arrive, it’s full of people who have clearly been trapped for ages. They don’t want me. But in I squeeze, my backpack scraping the wall as I struggle to take it off and make myself fit.

“This is actually going up?” says a woman, passive-aggressively, as if in my boredom I pressed the ‘up’ button and made them stop at my floor unnecessarily, which is exactly what I did.

“No worries,” I say, instead of apologising, because I made it, and even though this lift is going in the most opposite possible direction to the one I want, I’m in.

“We didn’t want to go up,” says a man. “We were nearly at the bottom and it just went up.”

They are blaming me for something. Like I broke the lift’s concentration and summoned it. But it is still going up, so it means that someone else did it too. That guy’s about to get it in the neck.

But none of this is good news for any of us. This lift sounds like a maverick. Tellingly, if people have started talking to each other, it means something has been wrong for a while. There are things occurring in this lift that have made British people feel that speaking to strangers in a confined space is somehow necessary.

Then I notice something else that makes my blood run cold.

When I took off my backpack, I must have hit some buttons. Because lots of them are suddenly lit up. I didn’t hear any bleeps – this is a bleepless lift. These lights now represent future stops we’ll be making. Bad stops. On what should be a simple journey down. Right now they seem unaware, but as soon as we get to the top…

DING. The man who called the lift seems surprised that it’s packed.

“Hi!” I say, shuffling around, trying to get away from the panel of buttons. “I’m sure there’s room.”

The man gets in and says he was waiting ages. Someone snorts dismissively, as if to say it is they who have been waiting ages and he hasn’t helped.

“It just does what it wants,”

I say, and I think I can get away with this because he’s now standing where the buttons are.

But a feeling of dread hits me. Only I seem to know we’ll be stopping at almost every floor between 17 and nine because of my brutish backpack removal technique. The sense of absolute relief that we have gone all the way to the top and now there is no option but to go downwards is palpable. People have relaxed. But all this is about to be ruined when we start randomly stopping at empty floors, extending our time together by another two days.

“Just act normal,” I tell myself, my backpack between my feet. It can’t be seen. The crime is hidden.

DING. Floor 17. A sigh. Doors open. No one there. Everyone waits for the doors to close. I’m going to go in hard here.

“Unbelievable,” I say. “This lift is insane.”

But it was me. I did this. So why would I say that? Because I must be innocent!

DING. Floor 16. Doors open. No one there. I squeeze a hand behind the guy from the top floor and impatiently press the ‘door close’ button. I am taking control of the situation and everyone is grateful.

DING. Floor 15. Doors open. There’s someone waiting there!

“I’d take the stairs if I were you,” I say, sympathetically, as she glances at our packed lift.

“It just does whatever it wants!”

DING. Floor 14. Doors open.

No one there.

The thing is, even if people moved the top-floor man and tried to get a glance at the buttons, they would now simply assume he leaned on them. I swear, they must hate this guy. But me? I’m a team player! And the mood has changed as everyone now just expects the doors to open at every floor. People are almost enjoying the sense of anticipation. As we move through floors 13, 12, 11, 10 and nine there is giddiness in the air. Not long until freedom! Then, a glorious, clear run from nine. One man does that noise people do when a footballer takes a penalty – his pitch rising as we go past four, three, two…

THE LOBBY! We all laugh together. I really want to have a drink with these guys!

My joy is spoiled, however, when I catch one woman’s eye. She knows. Oh, she knows alright. We spill out of the lift, and I realise I still have one card left to play. 

I make sure she sees me go to reception. Someone really has to complain about this lift.

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