Saturday, December 10, 2011

Stuck In the Elevator With 7th Graders

The delicate octogenarian who greeted us at the door of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library was gentle and sweet. I was relieved as some trips there in past years had partnered my middle schoolers and I with docents who didn't like young teenagers.

"How much time do you have here, darlin'?" she asked me. I told her we had about an hour.

"Come on in, boys and girls. We have a lot to see about this fine president. You know, my father and LBJ once worked on a road crew together when they were 18, paving some roads north of Austin."

We continued on the tour as she continued the story.

We stopped at the next exhibit. "Students, let me tell you about how my father and LBJ worked on a road crew together when they were 18..." After the fourth time she told this story, several girls walked with me at the back of our group to the next exhibit.

"I think she has Alzheimer's," one girl whispered in my ear. I put my finger up to my mouth as I didn't want our lovely guide to think anything was amiss.

Another girl caught up with me. "Do you think it's Alzheimer's?" she asked quietly.

Again, I put my finger up to my mouth even as the docent caught my eye and again asked, "How much time do you all have here today?"

I answered her as she led us to the elevators.

"We won't all be able to fit on the same elevator, so we will go up in groups," she informed us. An elevator opened in front of me. Another teacher (who is also my friend) and I stepped in. Students streamed in while we held the doors open until we could fit no more. As the doors closed, I could hear the sweet docent telling our other teacher and students, "While we're waiting for this elevator, let me tell you about how my father and LBJ once worked on a road crew together..."

I pushed the button for the 10th floor, our next stop. The students chattered, mainly about how repetitive our guide was being. I told them they were not to let on that they had already heard it, but to be polite. The elevator started to rise and then abruptly shuddered to a stop.

"Oooh- that felt weird!" one boy said.

My friend caught my eye and raised her eyebrows. I was closest to the control panel, so I pushed 10 again. The elevator shook briefly and then stopped, dead in the air. No amount of button pushing produced any movement. The lights for 3 and 4 were blinking, so I assumed we were between those two floors.

"We're stuck!" one of the girls loudly announced.

"No, we're not," my friend said. "It will start to work in a minute. Be calm and you'll see."

"I have to go to the bathroom!" one boy said, his voice an octave higher than usual. "Really, really bad!"

"You didn't have to go when we stopped at the bathrooms 10 minutes ago," I reminded him.

"It just came on! What am I going to do?" he panicked.

"You will be fine. It will start up in a minute," my friend said.

"Who's got food? What if we have to stay here for a long time?" a chubby boy asked.

"You will not be needing food for the few minutes we will be in here," I assured him.

One girl, eyes wide, announced loudly, "I'm claustrophobic! I need to get out of here! I throw up when I can't get enough air!"

Before I could even answer, her friend dramatically chimed in, "I can't see people throw up because then I throw up, too! I feel really queasy right now." She put her head into her hands.

Things were escalating. Without using words to further inflame the kids, I tried to signal to my friend whether we should use the phone to summon for help. She shook her head intensely back and forth, knowing that we would have a full scale panic in a very small space if they heard us trying to use the phone.

I pushed the 10 button again. Nothing.

The chubby boy looked at his classmates. "You know, I read about a soccer team that was in a plane crash and they were stranded and they had to eat their friends to stay alive."

"You'd be the one we'd have to eat, " another boy shot back at him. "You've got the most meat on you!"

"No one's going to eat anyone," my friend said. 'Stop and be patient."

I continued to work the buttons.

The boy with the full bladder said, "Maybe I could go right here in the corner. You'd all have to close your eyes, but I don't think I can hold it any longer!"

At that moment, the elevator whirred back to life and we moved upwards to the 10th floor. The doors slid open and our guide was there to greet us with the rest of our group. "There you are," she said. "Sometimes we have trouble with these elevators. Now, how long do you all have here?"

I found my full bladder boy and pointed him in the direction of the restrooms. "Hurry!" I encouraged him.

"I guess it was a false alarm. I don't have to go anymore," he replied as we followed the group.

As we caught up, the docent waited for us to reach them and said, "I want to tell you the story of how my dad and LBJ worked together on a road crew when they were 18..."


  1. Damn! I was hoping to read all about how that docent's dad and LBJ worked together on a road crew! (LOL) Maybe that story can become a separate post (or 10-part series of posts). Hee hee.

    Fear of being confined in small spaces, stuck, trapped, etc. is common and, like most phobias, can be treated and cured. In our NLP seminars we worked with people who had such a profound fear of elevators that they had never ridden one. They were willing to walk up a dozen flights of stairs to avoid getting into that dreaded box. With only a few minutes of therapy we had those people riding elevators up and down a tall building and enjoying the experience.

    Although I never hesitate to ride an elevator I have a lifelong fear of being trapped in small spaces, trapped being the operative word. Around age 7 a neighborhood friend and I had an argument and he locked me inside a wooden storage box at a deserted playground. The only air available to me came in through the keyhole. I peered through that tiny hole and watched in sheer terror as he walked up the hill apparently on his way home. I don't know if it was my screams that finally got to him or if it was divine intervention, but just when he was about to disappear off in the distance he suddenly stopped, turned around, came back and set me free.

  2. HA! what an experience!! Elevators are all good until they get stuck Ahhhh!!! Sounds like you had some good entertainment though!

  3. Gosh, Shady, that experience is something that would terrify me, as well. I don't have any difficulties with elevators, but I don't think I could handle what you went through at all. thank the Lord he went back!

    It is wonderful how your therapy helps people with those severe phobias. It's amazing to me how quickly it happens, too!

    And yes, if you ever need a story about how an 18 year old worked on a road crew with Lyndon, I've got it, full and unabridged...

  4. Saimi: Melodrama has no limits with middle schoolers!

  5. LOL with the boy having to go to the bathroom. That is my first thought whenever I'm somewhere without one, even though I had just gone moments before. What a field trip! Got to give the lady credit for at least wanting to go out and volunteer her time. Makes you hope she doesn't drive...

    I think it would be neat to see a presidential library. We used to live about 1/2 hour from Nixon's; we never went and saw it, wished we had (not that I was a big fan of his, but just to see a presidential library). I'd also like to see Billy Graham's some day.

    cute story!


  6. betty: It was really funny how he didn't have to go anymore once we got off. I've only seen this one, but they are impressive and I'd like to see more of them.

  7. It just occurred to me, Shelly, that your elevator adventure would have been even more fun if that lady shoplifter from your previous post had been stuck in there with you and committed a "code brown." (LOL)

    AND a couple of those gassy horses from San Antonio, too! The more the merrier! (LOL)

    I want to take this opportunity to tell you that house guests are arriving from out of state this Tuesday and staying at my home through the holidays and into early January. Please understand, dear friend, that I will do everything in my power to break free, read your blog and comment on your posts. However, if I'm late or miss a post or two please know it's because I'm tied up with family matters. I'll be publishing on a reduced schedule and might not be able to reply to every comment left on my blog either. It's that time of the year! Thanks for your understanding, Shelly.

  8. Shady: Ha! That would be one elevator I would absolutely NOT get on!!!

    And, please, don't worry at all about responding to my comments or my posts. It will be a busy time for all, I'm sure, and I would never take offense. Please, enjoy your family and guests!

  9. Loved your story Shelly. The trials of a teacher! Have I told you I admire teachers? I also admired LBJ for some of the great things he did for the country.

  10. Funny what the mind does in a short amount of very strained time....which makes it feel like a much longer amount of time!! Fun story.

    Probably one of those "Gosh, am I really here?" moments for you!

  11. Belle: Thank you! I too, admire some of the things LBJ did, but I really admire his wife. She was an amazing woman.

  12. Jamie Jo: These are the most dramatic kids I've had in a long time, so seeing all the overreacting was almost funny at the time, and funnier when we did get out. It was definitely one of those moments- kind of like I fell through the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland!

  13. Izdiher: They really are funny kids sometimes- thanks!

  14. I was really amused at all the thoughts that were conjured up in the minds of those kids. Amazing how people always fear the worst and also have no patience for people like the guide. Very good post.

  15. Odie: It is always interesting to see what comes out of a person, even a 7th grader, when the pressure is on a little. Hope your hand is healing!

  16. Oh my gosh! I smiled throughout this whole post! I loved it.

  17. What a super little story for us today, Shelly! It's amazing how quickly mass hysteria can set in, isn't it, especially where teenagers are involved. Thank goodness the lift moved when it did though. Eeek! I'm sure you are a wonderful and inspiring teacher.

  18. Bossy Betty: Teens- you just gotta love 'em!

  19. Thisisme: They really set me to laughing with how very dramatic they are. We will probably get some actors out of that group!

  20. Ick. Nightmare experience. You are truly a saint for doing the job you do so very well. I might very easily lose my mind. Well done!

  21. Crystal: Thank you! I will say I was VERY VERY glad when we finally got home that night. A long day, to be sure.

  22. Yikes, I might have freaked out in the stuck elevator! I have a little phobia about being in confined spaces. It has not helped that once I was locked in a restaurant cooler if only for a few seconds. I had brief thoughts that I would end up looking like Lucille Ball in the episode where she was stuck in a freezer. Another great post, Shelly!

  23. Cindy: I really hate them, too. It was getting very claustrophobic in that elevator for me, but the kids kept me distracted with their dramatics. I love that episode of Lucy, but like you, I would NEVER want to be stuck in one!

  24. I work on the 48th floor and am very grateful for the fact that the odds of me being trapped in an elevator with a group of 7th graders are negligible!


  25. Pearl: I kinda have a bad feeling about elevators now- 7th graders or not!

  26. That is so funny!! Hahaha!! I love the image of it all. She probably did have a few screws loose. Loved this!

  27. Kelley: It was really surreal in so many ways, as it usually is with 7th graders!


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