Just another Saturday night out in New York: cocktails at a friend’s apartment, followed by a happening party in an Upper East Side townhouse.
It’s almost midnight and the three of us decide to leave the party. The elevator doors are open with two gentlemen waiting for us to join them in the tiny three-foot-by-three-foot cab. It’s hard to believe the limit is six people. We’re like sardines at only five.
I close the antiquated iron grates and begin to giggle. As the elevator is moving, I realize that Andrew, the bartender, is the only sober one of the bunch. We continue to make small talk when in a New York minute the elevator comes to a screeching halt. The cab rattles and thrusts into what seems like park with the emergency brake on high. What’s happening?
We wait for a moment. Tamir, a local real estate agent originally from Israel, is pressing the buttons. “Open” doesn’t work. None of the buttons work.
“Oh my God, we’re stuck in the middle of two floors.” I remove my Angora stole.
“Let’s not panic,” my husband responds.
Meanwhile, Tamir keeps pressing buttons and nothing is changing. After about five minutes, Michael pushes the red emergency button and we hear a voice.
Tamir takes control. “We are trapped in an elevator at Fifth Avenue and East 82nd Street. There are five of us in here, and it’s less than 10 square feet. Can someone come and get us out?”
Apparently, the elevator dispatcher is located in Texas.
“TEXAS!” I’m now raising my voice. “WTF are they doing in Texas?”
“What’s that burning smell? Is there a fire?” Heather is trying to remain calm like the rest of us, but expresses her concern for the fumes.
My mind wanders, “Oh my God. What if there is a fire?”
Tamir sets us all straight. “That odor is nothing, just burned rubber from the emergency brake. When I was in the Israeli Army, we would sit for days in bunkers with thick black smoke. Don’t be a wussy. You are stronger than you know.”
We should feel better after that comment, but we don’t. The horrible odor is getting thicker. It’s getting tougher to breathe. At this point, we’ve been stranded for about ten minutes.
My imagination begins to run wild. We have no way out of here. The elevator won’t move, and the doors won’t open. Then I stop for a moment. There is no way that Heather and I are going up in flames together. This isn’t our destiny. We’re holding hands. Of course, all I can think of is my teeny tiny bladder. “I’m so glad that I went to the bathroom right before we got into this damned elevator!”
“I’m not doing so hot in that department.” Heather didn’t. Her apartment is less than ten minutes by taxi from 82nd and Fifth. She didn’t think it was necessary. Let this be a lesson for everyone. If your bladder is full, empty it.
I try to comfort her. “Oh babe, we’ll be out of here in no time. They have to be on their way.”
All of the gentleman begin to reassure us us. Chivalry is not dead.
“My feet are killing me! These Fendi shoes are off.” I remove my six-inch stilettos, carefully place them in their shoe bag, and stand in bare feet instead. “Aaah, much better.”
As the minutes tick by, we’re trying to keep our minds off the fact that we’re caught somewhere between the second and third floors in a 90-year-old elevator with the smell of smoke billowing into the car. Andrew reaches up and removes the access panel on the ceiling. It helps. It’s now a little easier to breathe.
Tamir is on the phone again calling the elevator company. It’s been twenty minutes, and nothing. Mike is on the phone with Pia, the hostess of the party. She assures us that someone is on the way. From where? Texas??? At this point, none of us can comprehend why there would be an emergency elevator contact in Texas, when we are smack dab in the middle of New York City.
We continue to wait. It’s about 12:20.
I can’t help but look at my watch every three minutes.
Trying to make small talk, I ask Andrew, “Where do you live?”
Heather and I look at each other. “Oh. How did you end up there?”
“I got deported from London.”
“Hmmm.” We didn’t get the rest of that story.
Andrew has been in a broken elevator before. “I called 911, and they came right away. I think you’re supposed to call 911 if you’re trapped in any elevator. The fire department gets you out.”
My husband responds, “But this isn’t an emergency.”
We all shout back, “YES IT IS!!!”
I look at Heather. I’ve never seen this look of distress on her face before. I’m worried. The burning smell continues. It’s now getting hotter in the car too. If the rescue doesn’t arrive soon, it won’t be a pretty sight with five people standing in skivvies while fanning each other.
As we approach the 30-minute mark, we’re bitching and moaning about the fact that no one is here yet. We could be in serious danger. At this point, everyone at the party and in the building knows that we’re stuck. We hear loads of chatter, but can’t decipher any words.
I realize something. When the elevator repair people arrive, they’ve got to fix the elevator before we can get out. This could take time, even hours. We don’t have hours.
“Okay, I’m waiting ten more minutes. If they’re not here, I’m calling 911. This is ridiculous.”
My claustrophobic companions all agree. This wait is too long. It’s late, but it’s a Saturday night, and this is Manhattan for God’s sake. It’s labeled The City That Never Sleeps for a reason. Where are the elevator repairmen — snoozing?
I look at my watch again. It’s 12:35. “Okay. That’s it. I’m calling now.”
Tamir comments, “You’re one strong woman.”
My husband shakes his head as if to say, “You’re telling me? I’ve lived with her for 13 years.”
“Yes, I’m at 82nd Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. I’m trapped in a 3X3 elevator with four other people. We’ve been in here for about 45 minutes and there’s an awful burning smell. The elevator company hasn’t shown. Can someone get us out of here?”
“Repeat your location please.”
“191 East 82nd Street at the corner of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.”
“Did you say that you smell smoke ma’am?”
“Yes, I smell smoke.”
“Okay, I’ve dispatched. They’re on their way.”
Minutes later, we begin to hear loud voices. We can see activity through the tiny crack above us. It’s the FDNY. Opening up the wall, I can now see their faces. Two firefighters stand staring at us. “We’re here to get you out. Can you climb up?”
It may sound exciting to be rescued by a couple of handsome firemen. I’d say that might be under other circumstances, like I’m not the one being rescued. But in this case, reeking of smoke with make-up running down my face from the hour-long elevator captivity, it was less than exciting or idyllic. Honestly it was a huge relief to just get out, no matter how it was happening.
I’m wearing a dress, a red cocktail dress to be exact. For the past 45 minutes, all I can think of is strange men catching a glimpse of my bare fanny in a thong while climbing approximately eight feet up to the next floor in order to escape the elevator. But what choice do I have? None. I should be wearing tights like Heather. Let this be a lesson for all women. Don’t ever wear a thong with a dress.
On his hands and knees, Michael is ready. “Come on. Get on my back and climb up.”
With two strange men below me, and the two firefighters plus people from neighboring apartments above me, I step up onto my husband’s back, still grasping my Fendi’s. My right arm reaches up about four feet to the next floor, and I place my shoe bag on the side, “Please be careful of the shoes. These are expensive, and I’ve only worn them twice.” The firefighters chuckle and shake their heads.
Then all at once, I extend my arms up and jump from the parallel sixth position just like I’m back in dance class, with toes pointing and thighs together. The two, outfitted burly men hoist me the eight feet while grabbing my arms. My body rubs. I skin my knee and dirty my dress, but I’m up and out in seconds.
Next, Heather, then the gentlemen, one by one land on solid ground. We’re all safe.
The party is over. It’s been over. We thank the FDNY, gather our belongings, and walk down the stairs. We reach the street, take a breath of fresh air and it feels good.
I’m still in bare feet, and I’m not cold at all. My Fendi shoes are in hand, and it’s time to go home. It’s just another night out in New York.
I’d like to thank the gentlemen from Engine 22 / Ladder 13 / Battalion 10 in Yorkville, and all firefighters from the FDNY for their selfless work and dedication. They put their lives on the line every day for the people of the City of New York. They are all heroes.