About three years ago, I had the opportunity to present at the Sigma Tau Delta Annual Conference. Sigma Tau Delta is the international honors fraternity for English Majors. The 2010 conference just so happened to fall over Spring Break AND be in St. Louis (a mere three hours away), making it almost a crime to pass up the opportunity. I submitted my work, I was scheduled to present, and suddenly the other presenter from my school and I were on our way.  I don’t think the conference would have been half so fun without her.

However, my most distinct memory of that week was a night I spent alone, in an elevator. My fellow presenter was on the phone and I felt my friend deserved privacy. So I grabbed the book I was reading and headed to the nearest elevator, fully intending to go to the lounge area and read for a bit. As it happens, the elevator was empty. Now, I LOVE the feel of elevators.  The contrast between the mechanics being clearly translated through the chassis to the feet of the passenger and the floating feeling from acceleration and deceleration is fantastic. I also am a nester, especially when I read. I like my reading experience to be cozy, warm, and small. So, when no one joined me between my sixteenth floor start and ground floor finish (skipping, of course, the unlucky 13th floor), I merely let the doors close, curled up in the corner of the elevator, and enjoyed the ride. I reveled in the mechanical purr I felt into my bones and the lift my stomach experienced as the elevator slowed down to let on the first passenger I would encounter that night.

Over the course of the next hour, I rode up and down and up and down, in between floors and friendships. Some passengers responded to my greeting, then turned back toward the doors of the elevator, calmly ignoring me as I ignored them. Others clearly noted me as an attendee of the conference and asked which school I was from, or if I was presenting, or which workshops sounded interesting to me. Some people, looking for a friend’s room, talked to me two or three times that night as they investigated different floors, hoping to find the right room. Other people, who had no idea what a college student in her Dr. Seuss pajama pants was doing in a Hilton Hotel elevator, fumbled through a thirty-second conversation by asking me what I was reading. It was an Anne McCaffrey book. Some people knew her, others didn’t. I made a whole host of friends that night over a love of books and a love of elevator rides. I happily engaged in conversation and I read–maybe–three pages of my book.

If I learned anything from that night, it’s that the strange or unexpected doesn’t have to be revolting, it’s can be a relief to see it reflected in others.* Reading in an elevator was an unintentional, but beautiful, confirmation of this fact. By staking that small corner of the elevator as my reading spot for an hour in my xkcd sweatshirt and my One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish pajama pants, I claimed the right to just be me. As it turned out, a lot of people decided to join me. There was the frat boy who asked about my book, then stayed on an extra floor to talk about the missing 13th floor in his dorm, since it used to be a hotel. A supervisor who just needed a little space from his passel of kids and I reveled in the quiet of the elevator. A fellow conference attendee, who first noticed my book, saw my sweatshirt, which lead to a  great discussion about science and math at a convention full of English majors.  All I did was love books and elevators. Somehow, that turned into a night full of people and stories, a night I still treasure.

It’s three years later. I’ve been a graduate for nearly all that time. I’ve had fun collecting stories in other ways, but for some reason, perhaps no other reason than the fact that I’m wearing the same sweatshirt as I did that night, today I want to find an elevator. I want to grab a book. And more than anything, I want to ride up and down in between floors and friendships, inviting people to share what they will: stories, book recommendations, silence, or nothing. All are welcome.

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*Also: reading a book in a public space will always be an invitation to talk. Not that minded, but I find it funny that I never have people start conversations with me the way they do when I’m reading.

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