Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Elevator... of DOOM!

Over the last month or so I have been giving Elli a new bit of freedom.  When we are using the elevator together I let her ride it by herself and then take the next available one.  She is absolutely thrilled by the idea of going by herself and very much enjoys the game of hiding from Daddy at the other end.  Prior to sending her I taught her how to use the elevator properly of course, including using the phone button to talk to the concierge downstairs in the case of some emergency.  On Monday this week the concierge stopped me when I got home with her and informed me that I could no longer do this as children are banned from using the elevator unaccompanied.  Due to my experience with 'government regulations' and 'rules' during my barefoot experiment I immediately decided to find out exactly who made this rule and what the penalties were for breaking it.  The trouble is that the concierge's English is not great so sorting out the exact details of the rule wasn't particularly feasible; this wasn't helped by the fact that he was obviously trying to be evasive.  I tried to get details on the exact nature of the rule and was told that children under the age of 12 were not allowed to use the elevator unaccompanied.

Let's get this straight...  the concierge is telling me than an 11 year old is not capable of riding the elevator safely? My 4 year old, who is nothing special one way or the other as far as elevator operation goes, is quite capable of riding the elevator by herself and has been doing so regularly.  How is it exactly that an 11 year old is not able to accomplish this?  I persisted in questioning the necessity of the rule and he told me that it was in place because of the safety concern that children would get scared if the elevator got stuck.  I have been riding elevators a long time and have never been stuck.  Hell, I don't think I even know anyone who has been stuck for any length of time and I know a lot of people who ride elevators constantly.  So somehow there is a rule in place to prevent the extremely unlikely circumstance of an elevator being stuck between floors because that might cause a child to become scared for a little while?

Let us do a little thought experiment.  Imagine that a child has a 1% chance of becoming stuck in an elevator while riding between the ages of 4 and 10 and that this would last a couple hours.  As such we can imagine that we are trading off 2 minutes of being scared against the option to let the child use the elevator on her own.  Would I trade 2 minutes of being scared for increased independence, training in self reliance and a truckload of fun?  Yes!!  Clearly we don't weight unlikely events that are really bad as actually being the product of probability*badness in most of our lives but this isn't a bad thing like being killed, or maimed, or losing a job... it is being scared for a little while.

I ended up giving up on the conversation and talking to the chief concierge later that day.  He told me that this rule was something he was taught in his security training course and he had to enforce it.  He also told me that the cutoff age was 8, not 12.  He directed me to take it up with the property manager if I had a problem with it.  I certainly don't want to be yelling at people who can't actually make decisions anyway so I agreed with that course.

Note # 1:  People don't even know what the rule is.

On Tuesday I went to see the property manager who had already heard of the problem from the concierges.  She spoke to me with great concern telling me that as a mother and grandmother she had to advise me that letting my child use the elevator was very dangerous.  After all, there is a chance that she could be very scared for a long time!  Moreover "it is better to be safe than sorry" she said.

I HATE "it is better to be safe than sorry".  What a useless waste of air that expression is... of course it is better to be safe than sorry, but what about safe vs. not sorry?  There is a cost to safety and being sorry is not guaranteed so that ridiculous, useless little statement is as tautological as it is meaningless.

I pried and tried to get details as to who exactly created this rule, who enforces it and why it exists and could get absolutely nothing out of the property manager aside from worthless platitudes and advice that amounted to nothing more than "I am a grandmother so obviously you have to raise your child the way I tell you".  When pressed about her decision making power she insisted that the chief concierge made all security decisions and she deferred to his judgement on the matter.  Great.  So now I have two people who are both referring me to the other as the decision maker and absolutely zero information on the actual rule or its enforcement.

Note # 2:  People don't agree on who decides what the rule is and substitute platitudes for details.

Conclusion:  There is no rule.  At least, no rule I actually have to follow.  Rules are things that are written down, are defined, and information about which must be supplied.  This 'rule' is a nothing more than a vague preference on the part of security and management and it turns out that since I am an owner in the building they have no recourse aside from making my life really difficult when I have to interact with them.

I went back to the chief concierge and confronted him with the fact that his superior refused to take ownership of the situation and that it was up to him one way or the other.  He got very frustrated at this because now he was stuck enforcing a rule that he had no real interest in and no control over.  This was made even worse because there isn't anything he can do to enforce it aside from be really irritating on moving day or perhaps refuse to buzz me in, forcing me to find my keys myself.  Thankfully, being a resourceful fellow, he said that if I could supply him with a letter indicating that I take responsibility for the safety and happiness of my daughter on her unsupervised trips on the elevator he would file it and consider the matter dealt with.  I have no reason to think that a letter written by me about taking responsibility for my daughter in the elevator has any legal weight whatsoever but of course he isn't looking for legally binding documents but rather just plausible deniability.

All he has to do is make sure that if his superior notices a 4 year old alone in the elevator he can point to the document and say "Look, this guy said he was responsible, I was not derelict in my duty".  It matters not at all to him what happens after that point as the only thing he can salvage from this mess is job security.  He can't stop me doing whatever I want and he doesn't have any control over what happens if something does go wrong anyhow.  Since I do want to preserve good relations with the building management I will supply them with a piece of paper saying I take responsibility for Elli riding the elevator and then go back to doing exactly what I was doing before.

Plausible Deniability - reminds me of the cigarette smoking man from the Xfiles.


  1. You *do* know someone who was stuck in an elevator for a length of time. Of course if I'd known how elevators work better I would not have been stuck. It turns out than in a power outage, the doors to the elevator "unlock" and you can just slide them open with your hands. If you are halfway between floors then it is dangerous to get out (you could actually be very seriously injured if the elevator starts up again while you are crawling out on your belly) but if you near a floor and can step out then just do so. It's a good tip if you are ever in an elevator during a power outage, since - from experience - it will take a long time before anyone can get there and help (or before you can even talk to someone who can tell you that you can just leave on your own).

  2. People are constantly getting stuck in elevators at my work. And I seem to remember an incident where several of our friends were stuck in an elevator for absolutely ages on their way out of a movie.

    Still, it isn't as if Elli would be stuck on an elevator with no one knowing where she'd gone. And I'm not aware of anyone having been stuck in our building elevators.

  3. The elevators at your work are a little bit of a different beast... they break down absolutely constantly. If the elevators at our building broke down that much there would be a riot!