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Claustrophobic Costanza

By Tim Hayes

Okay, so we drive up to Rochester, New York, just the two of us, to see our daughter at college.  We purposely chose this particular weekend because it fell in the middle of a slow time of year, no holidays, no heavy traffic on the New York Thruway.  Just an easy up-and-back trip and the chance to spend a couple of days with our college girl.

The hotel room had been booked a couple of months in advance, so we had no idea.  No clue.  No way of knowing that by the time we arrived in Rochester, every room in the city had been reserved.  An entire American metropolis, booked solid.

Traffic into the city crawled along.  Finding a space in the hotel’s garage – one of the last ones available – we entered the lobby.  The crowded lobby.  A sea of humanity with its luggage in tow.

But wait – that wasn’t regular luggage.  Oddly shaped cases, some very small, others enormous.  We looked at each other and, as former members of our respective high school marching bands, realized that the hotel had been overrun by musicians.

When we finally got to the registration desk, I asked what was going on.  “Oh, we’re hosting the national marching band competition!  There are bands from all over the country in Rochester this weekend!”

Oh.

Well, so much for sleeping in, as trumpets tooted in the next room and drum sections practiced in the front of the hotel.  But that was okay.  After all, we had been part of that world as teenagers, too.

As we spent time with our daughter, going in and out of the hotel that weekend, the impression formed that this facility might have passed its prime some years earlier.  They kept the rooms clean and the place functioned well enough.  But you could just tell that a lot of the luster had been worn smooth, if not fallen off completely.

Exhibit A: The elevators.

Not all that spacious, the cars rode at a snail’s pace up and down.  The doors took forever to open at each floor.  The cars bounced and wobbled in space before the mechanism could grab the latch that opened the doors.

All of which represented little slivers of interior terror for a claustrophobic scaredy-cat like me.

Just walking into an elevator – any elevator – requires a focused, conscious effort in my head to not freak out.  Being in an enclosed space, especially a small one, sends my adrenaline shooting skyward.  Those of us dealing with claustrophobia know the feeling, the very real, very powerful sensation.  You realize you’re trapped inside this box, completely dependent on out-of-your-control mechanics for your release into freedom.  Every moment of the ride builds anxiety into a taller, more thunderous wave.  Full panic threatens to engulf you any second.  As the doors open, relief.  You can exhale again.  Heart rates subside back into normal levels.

Until the next elevator ride, anyway.

So, back to Rochester.  We had been lucky, the elevator rides had been relatively manageable, even though we were staying on the top floor – the ninth floor – of the hotel.  Come Sunday, we gathered our bags for the return drive home, hit the call button, and stepped onto an empty ninth-floor elevator.

Floor 8, another couple got on.  Floor 7, same thing.  Starting to get a little crowded in this rolling box of death.  Floors 6 and 5, we sailed right past.  Whew!  Then the doors opened on Floor 4.  And the world ended.

There had to be eight people crushing their way into that elevator car.  But not just regular people – musicians!  The band festival had finished the night before, and now hundreds of musicians were leaving the hotel at the same time as us.  So on came these folks, with their horn cases, their saxophone cases, their flute cases.

Smashed against the back wall, eyes clenched tight, breathing shallow, I kept telling myself, “It’s only three floors to the lobby, and no one else could possibly fit on this elevator.  Hang on, you can do it.”

Then the drummers tried to enter.  I kid you not.  People carrying drums, trying to get onto an overloaded elevator.  By this time, the car is bouncing on its cables with all the weight.  I’m rapidly losing self-control, hot, sweaty, trembling.  And as the second drummer fought to squeeze in, the rubber band in my head snapped.

Summoning the strength of an NFL fullback blocking to make a tough first down, I started knocking people to the side, to the front, to any direction, so that I could get the hell off that thing.  Like George Costanza on “Seinfeld,” at the children’s party where a small grease fire starts, when he knocks over kids, moms, clowns, old ladies with walkers, to get out of that house, self-preservation kicked in.  Eyeglasses, purses, trumpet cases, and especially drums, were sent flying as I bulldozed my way to oxygen.

This meant leaving my poor wife alone, still pressed against the back of that overcrowded deathtrap.  I hope that in less stressful situations, I would be a lot more chivalrous than that.  But there were just no two ways around it.  I had to get off of that freaking elevator.

It had been years since anything like that has happened.  Although, just the other night, we were visiting someone in the hospital.  On the ninth floor, in fact.  And as we slowly made the descent to the lobby, more and more medical staff piled on one of only two elevators running that evening.

Around the fourth floor, as another team of folks in scrubs fought its way onto our overpopulated car…well, you can probably guess what happened next.  Let’s just say a stethoscope or two got swiftly and forcefully separated from its owner, as some nut ran wild-eyed from the rear.

And did he leave his wife on the elevator?  Again?

Yeah, he did.  Again.  Sorry, Hon.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes