Elevators and Airports

Elevator Number

I suppose I think too much about human behavior.  Maybe such a tendency was birthed in those psychology classes at Washington University.  Maybe analytical gymnastics reign supreme in my DNA.

Or maybe, as my brother frequently points out, it’s because I’m just, well, weird.

Perhaps nowhere is human behavior more fun to watch than in the world’s only two completely unique ecosystems – elevators and airports.  Think about it.  These distinctive places have their own rules – conventions that are not transferable, hardly observed or even allowed in any other setting, thus producing unique expectations of the humans placed within.  To say these unduplicated environments are fascinating to observe is a major understatement.

For example, consider the elevator.  When’s the last time you carried on a comfortable, free-flowing conversation in an elevator?  Granted, the opportunity to be stuffed into a 7’x7’ conveyance with several other individuals and then go up or down isn’t anyone’s definition of nirvana, but what is it about elevators that short circuits even the most verbose sanguine personality?  And does one’s obligatory inquiry, upon entry into the elevator, of another’s state of well being ever come across as completely sincere?  Observe next time.  It seems with few exceptions that elevator conversation with strangers is relegated to one of three topics: the weather, one’s place of origin, or in the unlikely event an occupant has carried food into the elevator, weak attempts at humor about the food also making its way up or down.

Then of course there is the universal law of elevator physics.  When crowded into an elevator with strangers, every head will invariably do the exact same thing.  It’s as sure as Newton’s law of gravity.  Every elevator occupant will eventually watch the progress of the floor numbers near the top of the elevator car.  It’s like a silent, warped version of watching the ball fall in Times Square.

And then there are airports.  Think of all the things you can do that are frequently observed in airports but are deemed, at the best unusual and at the worst inappropriate, in nearly every other public setting:

  • You can run in an airport.  Certainly reaching the need to run in an airport is not desirable, but nonetheless, sprinting down the terminal hallways with the skill and dexterity of an alpine skier is OK.
  • Public displays of affection are perfectly fine.  While crying, kissing, hugging, and waving are typically reserved for cheap romance novels and Oscar wanna-be films, such behavior is fairly normal anywhere between passenger drop-off and five-minute waiting.
  • And where else would a person jockey for position in line to walk down a long jet way in order to have a quicker opportunity to sit, in some cases for hours, inches away from the person beside, in front and behind their seat?

I suppose the bottom line is this – even though each is very different, learn to enjoy unique environments.  As we periodically observe and dwell in each of these unique settings, don’t forget to actually attempt to get to know the other passengers, or inhabitants, of unusual ecosystems. 

So go ahead.  Strike up a real conversation between floors.  Offer a Kleenex to the person crying at the security checkpoint.  Remember, in either place you’re surrounded by people a lot like you, so reach out to them a bit more.  A little real-life residue might even help make these one-of-a-kind places even more interesting.

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