Not everyone loves elevators. Most folks don't think about these mechanical lifts until they find themselves in a tall building needing to go up a few floors.
Most middle school students don't care to discuss how well an elevator levels. Or when crammed inside an elevator, they don't seek to find out the carrying capacity, the certificate, the brand name. They don't listen to the sound of the motor. They can't tell whether its an Otis Series One or Five by the shape of the buttons, the sound of the ding.
My son Elias is not like most people.
Ever since he could speak and move on his own, he has been fascinated by elevators. Perhaps, in part, because he couldn't walk without assistance; and stairs were not possible for his first ambulatory years, as Elias rolled with a walker, usually the destiny of aging seniors, not pre-schoolers.
People couldn't help but stare as this curly-haired blonde kid cruised past, with his shiny wheels, saying in his gravelly voice: "Abater, abater!" Elevator, elevator! As he be-lined for the silver doors that open and close with the push of a button.
We have spent countless hours in malls, airports, and hotels riding elevators to every floor. Whoever travelled with us, couldn't help but smile at our boy's enthusiasm for the ride. Up and down, up and down.
Even as a pre-teen, his fascination never dwindled. In the past year, Elias has discovered YouTube videos about elevators. He especially likes a channel hosted by a young man who, I would guess, is also on the autism spectrum. The host holds a rule not to film people, but rather all the mechanical aspects of the elevators he rides. And he seems to have a small following because he speaks directly to commenters when sharing facts about the counter weight or whether or not the elevator has been modernized.
Elias has finally found his tribe. But they live in a screen and Elias can't actually talk to them.
So a friend reached out to Otis, the only American elevator company left that builds, installs, and maintains elevators. And for Elias's 13th birthday, we drove up to Anchorage and met four folks from Otis at the airport for an insider's tour of the mechanics of various elevators-- glass, freight, we even saw the underbelly of an escalator.
We met in the big atrium of the airport by the halibut case. I told Mike Liebing, the Manger from Otis who set up the visit with me, to look for a blonde boy walking with canes; but I saw them first, three men standing side by side in their green Otis shirts, one of them holding a big paper roll that I would soon learn contained the inner workings of all things elevator.
I could hardly keep up with Elias, as his canes barely touched the floor, his body pulsing with excitement: "I'm gonna get to talk to people who know more than me about elevators!!"
As we introduced ourselves, Elias shook hands with Mike and the two other men in attendance, Mike Floyd and Dave Morris, the two mechanics for the airport. Too jazzed to even attempt eye contact, Elias announced: "We just rode the glass elevator!"
"Well, I thought we would check out the glass elevator first," Mike said.
"Yes!" Elias practically ran in that direction.
As Elias and the Otis elevator professionals talked about the mechanics of the elevator, I caught eyes with an older passenger sitting on a nearby bench with his rolling suitcase. The man smiled and nodded. A few minutes later he asked Elias's Grandma Kathy, "How does he know so much about elevators?"
And thousands upon thousands of rides.
Along with the three men, Joy Sparrow, the Account Manager joined us. We shared smiles at Elias's elevator knowledge.
Mike Floyd put up yellow barricades around the glass elevator and dialed Dave (who rode down ahead of us) to call the lift down where a regular passenger can't send it, so Elias could see the top of the elevator.
The Otis crew blocked everyone else from riding the elevator just so my boy could better understand it. This in itself brought tears to my eyes.
The Otis folks led us down to floor zero, the under-workings of the airport, where you need a pass to get through the door, where workers ride cargo bikes around the rambling hallways, where the "governor" of the elevator lives, a speed monitoring devise that Elias learned about for the first time. Who knew an elevator needed a governor?
We all rode the freight elevator, saw the mechanical room, the circuit boards, and the different operating systems for hydraulic verse traction elevators, we smelled the big vat of oil, and for once, elevator experts could actually answer Elias's questions, ones that I often defer with: "I don't know, what do you think?"
Elias knew that Elijah Graves Otis invented the elevator and that the original passenger elevator he installed in NYC still works today. He knows the names for different working parts and all the different manufacterers--Otis, Kone, Schindler, ThyssenKrupp-- but he's never been able to share this knowledge with folks who really appreciate it.
"It's not every day we get to talk to a kid who knows so much about elevators, " Mike said. "I'm learning things today too."
What a gift, what a perfect way to celebrate our quirky boy; other thirteen-year-old kids may want to have sleepovers or sports-themed parties, bar mitzvahs or trips, for Elias, its nothing but Otis and the Elevator Constructors Union.
After our tour, that ended in the train station with a torn apart escalator Mike and Dave were working on, Mike Liebing said, "So we hear you just had a birthday,"
"I turned thirteen yesterday."
"Well, the guys got together and got you a few things."
A few things, is an understatement-- Elias is now the proud owner of his own Elevator Constructors Union card, a union sweatshirt with his name embroidered on the front, t-shirt, hat, and stickers, as well as an Otis hat, water-bottle, cup, small duffel bag, flashlight, pens, case, lip balm and I'm sure, I'm forgetting something.
And best of all, his very own "elevator expert" certificate.
Not only has Elias worn his Otis hat every day since, but he takes it off and holds it out to everyone he comes across, like a trophy, like gold, like the secret of happiness: "Look, look at this!!"
Now if only everyone appreciated Otis as much as him, my elevator boy, fascinated by mechanical boxes that rise.
But at least his tribe has grown.
I am forever indebted to the kind folks from Otis's Anchorage office and Chapter 19 of the Elevator Constructors Union for sending Elias home with so many gifts; and to Mike Liebing, Mike Floyd, Dave Morris, and Joy Sparrow for taking time out of your work day to give my son Elias an experience he will talk about for years to come. You are proof of the good in the world, proof that compassion exists, thank you, thank you, thank you!