Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Doomed Budapest Elevator Ride.

Hungarian elevators are small.
Hungarian elevators are very small.

For anyone that’s travelled to Europe, you may be familiar with these outdated things they call elevators that seem to fit two people (uncomfortably).  These are a far cry from the Texas-sized, let’s play hide-and-go-seek inside, elevator.  Typically, the elevators in Hungary are leftover from the Communist-era (and look just as you would imagine) but we are always assured they have "frequent inspections".

The architecture in Hungary has been intriguing.  We have a lot to learn, but it appears that the majority of the buildings in the city center were built over a 100 years ago and many have received limited or no updates to the exteriors.  While the interior may have received a full renovation, the exterior will still have a decayed, and let’s just use correct adjectives…ugly, crumbling, ‘I think that's going to fall down’ exteriors.

On day three of our home search we planned to meet up with a contact from Fancy’s school, a lovely local employee from the school, Szuszi.  After really enjoying our other agents, for some reason, both of us were planning to meet a typical Hungarian woman, large, brash, loud and large (that's a double large).  Instead, we were greeted by yet another skinny, friendly, cheerful lady.

“Let’s go look at this next flat” Szuszi instructs us.  As we approach the building, we are greeted by the epitome of the Hungarian-woman (large, brash, loud and large). "Finally!" I think to myself with a small inward cheer.

As we enter the building we are greeted by a friendly old man.  He makes six in our group, which I hasten to add this important detail.

The Hungarian salesmen are in full charming mode as he explains the charming, renovated lobby.  We could park our bikes over there, do something else with that space over here, etc. "And over here is a brand, new, elevator."  It’s almost a right of passage for Fancy and I to ride in the building's elevator as it allows them to show it off, like their favorite toy.

We pile into the elevator.  One, two, three, four, five … and then just before the door closes, the friendly older gentleman squeezes into the last remaining semi-spot.  It seemed a bit snug for my liking, but we’ve used multiple sketchy elevators before without problem.

I kid you not, as the door shuts our guide Szuszi says with a smile, there’s a saying in Hungary: "you can fit a lot of friendly people into a small space.”  I think to myself, 'thanks to Old Man H. we’ve definitely done that'.

The last thing I remember before the story truly begins is looking at a sign in the corner that says 6 people / 450 kg.  I’m confident we didn’t surpass either of those limits, but that surely didn't seem to matter.

It’a about 1.2 seconds after the elevator begins to climb that we hear a screeching noise and elevator comes to halt.  Now, we’ve heard some weird noises in elevators, but nothing beyond that.  Now, it's important to remember how small this elevator actually is — very small.  I would guess approximately 3ft x 5ft (about 1m x 1.5m for any Euros reading this, of which there are probably one).  This metal box is now more relatable (and will henceforth be referred to) as a vertical deathbox.

As the elevator grinds to a halt, everyone of course looks around at each other…Is this normal?

(Stage One: Recognition)
We wait for two seconds, hoping that it will simply restart.  No one speaks.
Ten seconds.
Twenty seconds.
We are definitely stuck.

(Stage Two: Acceptance)
Our situation is concerning. We are six full-sized adults crammed into this sardine box, and it is t-i-g-h-t. You really have to go out of your way not to touch another person.

I swear at myself for being chubby.

Stage Three: Options
Of course, the three Hungarian’s start to speak to one another and the three Americans have absolutely no idea what is going on.
There are three buttons:  One is for the Thyssen Krupp Company (wtf?). Two is to the ‘open door’ button (don’t you dare even ask if we tried it).  Three is the ‘alarm’ which gets pushed…and nothing.  Pushed again…nothing.  Finally, Old Man H. holds the button down and we hear a faint response over the speak.  Someone is speaking back.  We’ve never been so happy to hear the sweet Hungarian, impossible to decipher, language.  Of course, we have no idea what is communicated.

All of sudden, we all become very conscious of the heat.  Six adults stuck in a metal box gets warm.  I notice the condensation on the walls begin to accumulate.  About the same time a bead of sweat falls from the back of the head of Old Man H.  For me, a nice round sweat spot forms on my stomach.  Well, that didn't take long.  I make a note to get in better shape, but first, let's escape this death trap.

Now, for anyone that hasn’t found themselves in a similar situation, it’s difficult to empathize with the passing of time, with each cruel second, into minute after minute.  By the end of this experience, I was fully convinced there are more than 60 seconds in every minute.

I will try to be as forthright as possible with the reactions of each person but it was difficult to remember and see other’s actions due to my own mental anguish and the sweat falling into my eyes.  Fortunately, no one had a full-on panic attack.  Ain’t nobody got time for that and seriously, there was no room for that, anyways.

Nancy remained calm and quiet (but later explained she was in full prayer mode).  The calmest person in the elvator makes a joke that the heat reminded her of the her time in Singapore.  I hope I survive to find out for myself.

Szuszi looks at me and then looks at the transparent plexi-glass (or some other impenetrable material) and then returns her eyes to me and asks, “well, we could always break this if we became desperate.  Right Todd?"

Always the people-pleaser I respond with a typically American, over-confident “yeah.......probably”.  But it came out a lot like a whimper.  The back wall of the elevator was made of some plexiglass material that she and I both knew I wouldn’t be able to be break.  But, given the desperate situation, we pretended I'd be capable of some super-human feat, if needed.

Taking action, I see a little light in the top corner of the door and think that maybe we can pry the door open.  I stick my impossibly large fingers into the corner and not only achieve no result, I received a visual hand-slap from Old Man H. and he goes on to explain that if we try to open the door, it can literally slice our hand in half.  I seriously contemplate the validity of his statement for about 2 seconds and decide it’s not worth the risk.

I don’t mean to overemphasize it here, but the elevator continued to get hot ... really, really hot.

Old Man H’s wife (remember her dimensions) is sweating — a lot.  I think we all tried to avoid eye contact.  She seems to be slumped over now.  I’m not sure if she’s more annoyed with being stuck in an elevator, sweating profusely, or the fact that she’s almost certainly lost this prospective sale.

The condensation continues to build on the walls and beads of perspiration actually begin to drip down the wall.

I had two more thoughts at this point.  One, as the sweat continues to show through my shirt, I realize the color light grey is a poor choice for hiding perspiration (I’m really sweating).  Two, I think about playing some music on my iPhone to relax the tension in the room (vertical deathbox) but I can’t decide which song to play with three Americans and three Hungarians so I simply put the phone back in my pocket.
The sad face of our final minutes together.

Now, the one taking control is Old Man H…sort of.  He’s spoken briefly with the the alarm speaker but the three American’s have no idea what was said.  Somehow this guy seems to have a smile on his face, which I’m in no mood for smiles at the moment.  He’s quick to remind us all (in broken English) “the very importance of remaining…not panic”.  Fair enough.  

He makes a quick joke about how nice it is that no one is hungry.  Speak for yourself, buddy. 

Obviously, I’m writing this note from not inside the elevator so (spoiler alert) we got out, but it’s funny to think back about the thoughts that race through your head.
-Oh my gosh, is it actually possible for six people to die in an elevator?
-Is there enough oxygen to last until the end of this ordeal?
-Does this happen often?
-Why did Old Man H. have to get on the elevator?
-How can we punish him?

I wouldn’t be as dramatic to say my ‘life flashed before my eyes’ but you do have some interesting introspective thoughts that I would like to avoid in the near future.

Things started to get a little heated (pun intended) when Old Man H. appears to have a friendly, convivial conversation with someone on his cell phone without letting us know what the hell is going on.  

Thankfully, I had read our “Welcome to Budapest” packet the previous night.  This packet informed us that by dialing “112” anywhere in Europe you receive an English-speaking emergency operator.  By this point, we’ve been inside this elevator for way longer than we care to remember and we want out.  Old Man H. doesn’t seem to be treating this as the emergency that others, including myself, seem to feel it warrants.

He reminds us again that “to panic does nobodies any good”.
His broken English doesn't help the situation.

It’s difficult to describe the dense coat of condensation that has begun to build up along on the walls.  In a moment of levity, thinking “If we survive, this will be a great blog post” I draw the word “Stuck” on the metal door which everybody seems to think is funny, except the Hungarian lady and Old Man H.

This distraction ends and I’m back to contemplating the end of our lives.

Now, there are presumably building tenants that try to get on the elevator and I loudly bang on the door to let them know we are stuck but quickly realize I have no idea what Hungarian words to use, so I lower my hands and stare.  The Hungarians yell something.

At this point, it seems like hours have passed and instead of messing around with ‘Maintenance’ or some dude’s buddy in the building the probability of us not surviving is increasing by the minute in my mind.  I don’t understand why we haven’t at least called the emergency phone number and it finally appears that Szuszi our Hungarian friend agrees with me that things are escalating.  Old Man H.’s reassurances that “maintenance is coming” aren’t doing us any good.

Meanwhile, my light gray shirt and has transformed itself into a dark charcoal — more sweat.

Szuszi finally whips out her phone and calls the emergency number.  She begins to tell the Hungarian Fire Department that it is really hot…very hot…so very hot.  I actually remember thinking how impressive it was that no one (very much including myself) has had a full-blown meltdown inside the elevator.

“All I want is that we treat this as the emergency that it is…yes, I agree not to panic but let’s get the hell out of this godforsaken elevator.”

We finally pry out of this old man that maintenance is “on their way”...

That’s it.  I’m about to lose it.
What does this even mean?
How far away are they?
When will they arrive?
All of these questions I expect answered but instead I just look at Fancy and decide I’m going to smile and take a selfie.  At least if we are going down, there will be a photo timeline.  It seemed natural at the time.

We learn that the "help" is 5km away.  It seems that this could be quick, or it could be quite telling in Hungary.  It’s definitely not getting any cooler in this place.

We finally hear something outside the door.  My hand instinctively smacks the door for no good reason, at all.  Metal noises and the door opens.

I consider myself to be a thankful person, but I’ve reached a new level of mind and body and soul thankfulness with this angelic repairman.  I kid you not, he actually looks at us with disgust when he opens the door as if “what were you thinking?”  It phases me not.  I want to run outside and cheer, maybe a fist pump but instead have to gather myself and exit calmly.  

Each person slowly jumps down the approximate 2 feet we traveled off the ground.  The 2 foot leap, lacking danger, felt somewhat anticlimactic in it’s ending but alas we were free.

Old Man H. chimes in, “The sauna was free of charge”.

I'm not amused.
But those Hungarians sure love their sauna humor.

Ironically, this is the newest elevator we've been inside so far. Never again. Never. Again.

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