As stories go this one may be brief but in terms of surprise it seems in my one mind extraordinary enough. I had been living at the place that was unaffectionately called ‘the towers‘ by many of it’s longstanding residents. A hulking dinosaur hailing from a time though not so long ago for my generation many today might consider the dawn of that conundrum as the large scale multiple dwelling building. The qualifying attribute for membership being a capacity of individual units that numbered near to two hundred. A designation that in time could come to be equally defined as a luxury place of residence or an urban project slum. This definition depending of course upon its quality of construction as well as the class of those who collectively resided there. My own situation being in terms of the habitation of a small corner of a steel reinforced concrete slab based creation of some one-hundred and eighty individual apartments and suites. The smallish two-bedroom space having been a legacy of my late parents who had bought into the property some forty years before when after a decade of serving as moderate luxury apartments it had been converted into a condominium building as was part of what was at that time a craze for real estate set. The issues that would later come to haunt being a legacy of the particulars of its construction as ordered by its very shady suburban developer.
The initial plan called for an ten story building of eleven stories in height with four levels of parking, one of them being located underground. Codes in both construction and conduct generally being less than above board within the site of its home to be it were expanded to incorporate an additional nine stories, penthouse included, after the first phase of construction. The building plans for the first structure called for three separate elevators. Two small ones that were designated for common use with a third to serve for hauling freight. But this notion was quickly circumvented for the sake of culling additional revenue by replacing the freight lift with the magic number of thirteen more units. The building trades that existed in the three surrounding municipalities that bordered the major intersection upon which it sat at all were rife with rumors of substandard construction and unthinkable shortcuts that went beyond the winks of insiders that they themselves might casually overlook. The developer in question having mob ties in a bedroom community that was said to be home base for a number of nefarious crime bosses. All this being so, despite many scandalous tales of crisis abounding, the building offered a reasonable level of functionality up until its passing into middle age. Then those anonymous figures who had long stood in the shadows actively using the condo board as an easy vehicle for milking the collective assessment of its owners like a cow began to ‘short sheet’ things. Needed repairs were pushed aside in favor of frequent and unnecessary expenditures that involved vendors and firms that only offered cosmetic solutions to silently festering situations. The apogee of its usefulness now long a faded memory all the essential systems including the main structure itself were falling into ruin.
So many things like cracking concrete, leakage from windows and mechanical heating pipes, outages in heating and air-conditioning as well as stuck elevators became common place occurrences. The board and its group of insider management firms reaping a bountiful living from implementing only temporary quick fixes to this distress. The modes and qualities of modern life of the new generation of ‘millennial’s’ overlapping that of their fading ‘baby boomer‘ predecessors the towers regressed to a haven for low end rental residents. The die off of the original owners seeing the ceding of their individual parcels to indifferent younger family members and small time rent based speculators. The atmosphere of these new times of acceding to the political rhetoric imposing tolerance of so many varied multi-cultural demands putting an added burden of additional musses and wear and tear on everyone. The accumulating costs contradicting major structural issues that only led to more and more unexpected outages. Many like myself who were owners sat upon the knife’s edge of a desire to either sell out for whatever we could get or continue to weather the storm and hope for the best. Unfortunately, this is where things for me went so dramatically awry.
The board of the condominium faced with the imminent collapse had as of the previous year been forced to float a special assessment proposal that while by the fact of state rulings did not require the affirmation of owners was such a dig into the pocketbook that it created great controversy. Monies were borrowed on behalf of the building to replace the elevators and other mechanical features that were far passed their prime. The vagaries of behind the scene politicking by the building’s management leading to a situation of unfathomable delays in the implementation of these repairs.
Now more than a year later the contraction had begun on one of the two elevators leaving the other which was in dubious condition as the only functioning conduit up to the floors above. The margin of safety of statistically having at least the possibility of an alternate functioning lift now removed for the next quarter of a year of more, the residents of the building now impatiently imposed even greater demands on the single one still in operation. It was only a matter of time until the unthinkable would take place. Unfortunately, I would be one of the few unwilling participants.
It was another normal angst filled day where I found myself sequestered in my apartment finding things to do at home that would preclude wasting funds on the outside. Sufficiently funded to keep body and ‘sole’ together but ever aware that sauntering out to the exterior world’s commercially obsessed envisions would potentially drain me dry. It must have been nearly close to early afternoon when I ventured to go down the hall and wait for the single working elevator to take me down the hundred feet equating to ten stores where the mailbox’s were located. I pushed the down button and pondered my chances of getting a prompt response knowing from recent experience that I might find the situation where the load limit of six adults would mean I would have to wait for the car to cycle back to my floor. Hopefully with less people and a lighter load. The recall of an indecent the previous night still fresh in my memory where the door opened up and seven people with a shopping cart were taxing the ability of the elevator to align properly with the floor. The gap of several inches below signaling that an imminent jam was more probable than possible. No one would get out of the car even though I politely recited that as the sign within mentioned they were likely to get stuck. One finally relented and the car was sent off to the upper floors with more buoyancy.
It was I after all who had discovered the peculiar quirks of these mechanisms when occasionally getting stuck by myself at various floors I found that by hitting the button for the floor that one was sequestered upon and then letting the doors open and then return to the point of nearly closing one could trigger the system to work properly again by hopping up and down once and shaking it back into service. The building management was informed and in a few cases it served to aid a few others similarly caught within the car. But there was a mounting number of unexpected bangs and thumps from without that did nothing calm one’s suspicions of possible failures that might leave one permanently caught within and at the mercy of whenever outside personnel might arrive. No one feared that anything catastrophic would occur including myself. Somewhere in the back of my mind lurked some information gleaned years back that some subsystem was forever ready to stop the elevator from free fall and save whichever passengers were found within from broken limbs or fatal injuries. Hollywood for its part could offer a ready catalog of productions that graphically ran counter to this where the villains or sometimes the hero is dashed like a broken toy into a semi-gelatinous blob. Something that was unconsciously conjured when an unexpectedly loud scrape or bump resulted in a demonstrable vibration of the cabin. But one’s eternal complacency in believing that such things would never be possible in their world won out.
Returning from the mental journey engaged while still waiting before the entrance of the elevators on my floor I was interrupted much to my surprise by the doors opening once again and finding only two fellow residents occupying it. I hastily boarded and offered the usual pleasantries to each adding my attempt at a short one-liner about the rotten service to lighten up the collective mood. The door closed with the customary mechanical clap and the car began its descent. The LED indicator above slowly counting off the floors an occasional sliver of light emanating from between the stainless steel doors. The progress uneventful to that point down to the third floor being accompanied by trivial patter between us as occupants. And then it hit us all! The initial sensation of falling several feet and then making a sudden deceleration as if something was trying to catch our fall. And then again an even swifter attack of a lack of gravity the chamber we were all in now in free fall. It is odd how such situations of mortal danger result in a sensation of everything occurring in super slow motion? The looks of dread upon the face of my two companions. One of them instinctively attempting to graze the red button on the panel inferring it’s own legend of ‘Stop‘! But with no success. The collective animal posture of hunching down that we all instinctively adapted everyone’s eyes open wide like those of a giant squid. And then the impact.
As best I could recall the call hit the bottom of the shaft and broke free of its railing. The car itself flipping head over heels with all of us like rag dolls impacting everything and anything multiple times. I could not recall waking up in the conventional sense but seemed for some odd reason above the entire scene like some uninspired objective observer desirous of only the facts. Maybe I was dead and, though not in heaven but given the immediate circumstances its antipode, certainly hovering bare millimeters short of mortal existence. The building manager arrived on the scene and though genuinely moved by the carnage could be seen to be more concerned with himself. I imagine the incident would be a great afternoon filler for the regional news? Possibly generating the high drama of an artifice of concern by news anchors and local city officials over the duration of a month or two accompanied by the requisite of serious faces looking concerned while all involved before the camera sought a way to escape with minimal political damage by sloughing off the blame on their opponents. The situation had drawn blood and in the way things always work in any organized society where the squeakiest wheel always seeks the grease the building received its new elevators in record time. Of course, I along with two others were unable to male the party to enjoy it.