Bob Driver Sig (old)

Do you know how to act in an elevator, especially a crowded one?

You do? Fine. Then perhaps you can tell others what is proper or mannerly.

Although elevators are a blessing, their history has contained various questions and gray areas.

For example, it used to be regarded as good manners for men to remove their hats when they entered an elevator. What a stupid idea that was, especially if there were 18 other humans aboard. As Charlie reaches up for his own hat, he knocks a woman’s purse out of her hand or dislodges the hat of the guy beside him.

Thank goodness for Jack Kennedy. Until he came along men’s hats were fashionable. JFK ended that. He scorned hats, so the rest of us guys stopped wearing them. That took care of the elevator-hat question.

Another old-fashioned idea was the custom of allowing women to depart the elevator before the men did. Many occupants got bruised ribs and toes as the menfolk squeezed together to make a pathway for the women to exit.

Should you continue a conversation when you get aboard an elevator? Herb and Eileen are coming back from lunch. They are talking about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they enter the elevator. Should they keep on jabbering as the elevator rises?

Well, it depends. If the elevator has only one or two other persons aboard, Herb and Eileen may continue talking, in a low tone of voice, of course. But if eight other persons also enter the elevator, Herb and Eileen will probably shut up. But why should they? After all, it was not an intimate conversation, nor offensive to the average person.

Next time you’re feeling wacky, try facing the rear of the elevator instead of the front. Just stand there and see what happens. To liven things up, keep saying, “Will someone please tell me when we reach the 16th floor?”

Experiments such as that have been tried, just to test what other passengers think about the man or woman who is facing the rear of the elevator. Some riders thought the passenger was doing penance. Others felt he may have been trying to hide his identity.

Is it OK to strike up a conversation with a stranger on an elevator? That, too, depends. If the other passenger appears friendly, there’s no harm in saying, “Looks like another hot day coming up” or something else equally brilliant. At least it breaks the awkward silence as both of you ride downward to the lobby.

But what if the passenger is a gorgeous woman with tears in her eyes, and her lips all a-tremble as if she had just been jilted? (“Jilted” is an old-fashioned word whose modern equivalent is “dumped.”)

As you accompany the distraught damsel downward, should you stay silent? Or do you say, “Nice day, isn’t it?” I doubt it. All your knightly instincts may want you to say to the woman, “If I ever meet the guy who dumped you, I’ll turn his face into chopped liver.” But you cannot say that. You must respect the woman’s zone of privacy.

See what I mean about the touchy questions involved in elevator etiquette?

All of this reminds me of an elevator joke I once heard. It’s supposed to be true.

During the great electric blackout of November 1965, when half of the northeastern USA was plunged into darkness, rescue workers were finally able to open the doors of an elevator in which about 20 persons, male and female, had been stranded for two hours.

The first question their rescuers hit them with was “Are there any pregnant women on this elevator?”

After four seconds of silence, a shy voice came from the rear, “I doubt it. After all, we’ve barely met.”

Bob Driver’s email address is tralee71@comcast.net.