I was in a crowded elevator in Chicago last weekend. It kept filling with more and more people. We all moved toward the back as we violated the personal space of those around us. The only time we stand that close to people we don’t know is in an elevator.
And it makes everyone uncomfortable.
“Can we squeeze one more in?” a woman asked, as she squeezed herself in and everyone moved back again. A 10-year-old boy was completely lost beneath the crowd as we each looked at the elevator maximum load capacity and wondered how much that guy at that front actually weighed.
We get close to people on elevators. But in another sense, we don’t get close to them. When the doors open we all rush out and go our separate ways without so much as a goodbye, never to see each other again.
I actually made a short elevator friendship five years ago this summer, in 2006. It took place at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. My wife and I had a wonderful time. We went up to a cupola of the hotel to enjoy the view and took an elevator down.
We were the only ones in the large elevator, but just as the doors were closing a man rushed sideways inside. There was plenty of room for the three of us. He stood as far away from us as he could, looking toward the floor. He was dressed in a dark Spandex running suit and running shoes. I looked at him closely.
“You look remarkably like the Governor of Illinois,” I said. He looked uncomfortable.
“Why do you say that? Are you from Illinois?” he asked.
“No. We’re from Indiana. But we’re Chicago natives, we have lots of family in Chicago, and you look a lot like the governor of Illinois.”
He held out his right hand. “Rod Blagojevich.” He WAS the governor of Illinois.
We talked for awhile, so much that we all forgot to push the elevator button for the lobby. I told him I had read, seen and heard a lot about him through the Chicago media.
“Don’t pay any attention to what you hear,” he said. I laughed. I didn’t tell him we were former news reporters. He told us he worked hard to get an auto plant to locate in Illinois but lost out to Indiana. “You have a good governor,” he said. “I like him.”
While it appeared he didn’t want to be recognized when he first entered the elevator, he quickly became quite friendly. We finally reached the lobby, shook hands again and he was on his way, out for a run.
“Good luck in the election this fall,” I said.
“We’re going to do great,” he said. “The poll numbers look real good.” And he gave me a thumbs up!
I didn’t see my elevator friend again through the rest of our stay, but I have followed his saga closely ever since.
He was a nice man. But the truth is, I did pay attention to what was being written and said about him.
And he should have, too.