From the Desk of Garrison Keillor
A prolific writer, Garrison Keillor is a frequent contributor to newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and abroad. To the right, you find a selection of articles published since 1989, and a few unpublished pieces.

Elevator Tales

On an elevator, I stand and watch the numerals over the door as they light up or I examine the footwear of other passengers. If the elevator license is posted, I read that, and try to estimate how close we are to the posted weight limit. If we are packed in tight, I imagine what it would be like to spend the next few hours together.

An elevator is a delicate mechanism, a box on a string. Some of them are ancient, and they clank, and you wonder, "If it plunged twenty stories to the basement, would I stand a better chance of survival if I jumped up in the air just before it hit bottom?" This makes sense, doesn't it?

Elevators don't come with guarantees entitled "Our Pledge To You, The Passenger". Some come with telephones for emergency use, not a reassuring thought to those of us with extensive telephone experience. Chances are good you could dialing the emergency number and get a guy who says, "Stuck where? Where's that? I donno. You betta talk to Benny about that. He ain't here now. I'll have him call you. What's your number?" Yes, chances of that are pretty good, I would say.

Oftentimes, riding elderly elevators grinding and whining up the mineshafts of New York, I have asked myself, "Is it perhaps more common than one might think that in this city an elevator stops without warning between floors and hangs there for two or three or six or ten hours while the occupants sit like rats in a coffee can and try to keep panic at bay?" Yes, probably it is. New York journalists have more to do than record small disasters --- "6 Passengers Sweat Profusely for 2 Hrs. in Trapped Elevator; "I Was Afraid This Might Happen," Says Man, 51 --- and so, yes, probably it happens all the time.

For the trappee, it would not be a small disaster though. It would be big, perhaps the sort that makes a guy quit his job and move to Vermont and raise purebred goats and dip candles for a living.

The elevator suddenly lurches, stops, the lights go out, there is a faint odor of burning electronics, and each one of us thinks, "I am not here and this is not happening to me." But we are here --- me, the messenger, the ladies in tweed suits, the three hairy brutes with the briefcases, the sensitive guy in sneakers, the girl with the big rhinestone hair clip, and the mouth breather behind me. It is pitch-black. Someone says, "Everybody just stay calm," in a weird little voice. Oh boy. We perspire, we start to smell bad. You hope your entrapment will be an experience in which strangers are brought together in a powerful reaffirmation of their common humanity, a Reader's Digest story, but wasn't there an article in the paper a couple weeks ago that said one out of eight Americans is mentally unbalanced? Assuming all of these folks are Americans, which one is going to snap?

I stand quietly in the dark and retrace those fateful steps that led me to take this exact elevator --- why didn't I duck into the coffeeshop as I was just about to do and grab a buttered bagel? I was going to but then I thought, "Nope, I'm two minutes late for the meeting," so I dashed for this elevator and now I am huddled here with eight panicky people listening to acetylene torches cutting through steel beams a few inches away, and when the rescuers finally tear a hole in the door with crowbars and we crawl to safety, dusty and smelling like old camels, do you think they'll write out a slip for me, saying, "Please excuse Mr. Keillor for being tardy, he was trapped in an elevator." No, I'll have to tell everyone myself, and though they say, "Oh, that must have been terrible for you," secretly they don't believe me. "By the way," they say, "we decided at the meeting that you're not the right guy. We decided to go with Dave instead."

And in a couple months, when I sell my apartment, shave my head, move to Salt Lake City and embrace Scientology, my friends will never connect all that to the terrible stress of the elevator experience. They will say, "Well, men his age do that sometimes." In the city of New York, you go out the door in the morning, you take your life in your hands. You may not get off an elevator the same person you got on as. Choose your elevator wisely. If it feels unsteady, get right off and wait for the next one.

Past Articles
  • Phil Keillor Benefit for the Tenney Park Shelter (04/17/09)
  • Bill Holm, 1943–2009 (02/26/09)
  • Happy New Year, Friends (12/29/08)
  • Talk of the Stacks (11/17/08)
  • What Makes St. Paul So Great? (09/03/08)
  • GK On Historic Preservation (10/05/07)
  • Welcome to St. Paul (09/23/06)
  • "Homegrown Democrat," Chapters 1-4 (08/10/04)
  • Sing the National Anthem—and Try it in the Key of G (07/02/04)
  • Holiday Greetings from Garrison Keillor (12/23/03)
  • Remembering Plimpton (10/01/03)
  • Crankiness in Decline, Says the Old Guy (04/19/02)
  • A Governor Works in Mysterious Ways (10/19/01)
  • In Praise of Laziness (09/10/01)
  • I Just Needed a Valve Job (09/13/01)
  • A Eulogy for Chet Atkins (07/03/01)
  • A Foot Soldier in God's Floating Orchestra (04/01)
  • Exile on Main Street (10/02/00)
  • Walking Down the Canyon (07/31/00)
  • The Mysteries of Prom Night (05/15/00)
  • How I Write (12/04/99)
  • The Christmas of the Great Flu (12/99)
  • Let Jesse Be Jesse (10/10/99)
  • The Rice, the Bat, the Baby (09/06/99)
  • Faith at the Speed of Life (06/14/99)
  • The Republicans Were Right, But (02/15/99)
  • Minnesota's Excellent Ventura (11/16/98)
  • The Dangers of Christmas (04/06/98)
  • Gasgate (11/10/97)
  • Talk Radio (10/97)
  • The Seven Principles of a Successful Christmas (09/08/97)
  • The Seven Deadly Sins—Envy (04/97)
  • You Say Potato (04/04/96)
  • The Poetry Judge (02/96)
  • With All the Trimmings (11/27/95)
  • In Autumn We Get Older (11/06/95)
  • Minnesota's Sensible Plan (09/11/95)
  • The Art of the Embrace (02/95)
  • The Voters are Angry (08/94)
  • Word Play (05/18/90)
  • We Are Still Married (12/18/89)
  • Elevator Tales
  • A Graduation Speech

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