by Glen Draeger
“After you,” a tall man in a dark suit said as he nodded his head and motioned with his hand toward the elevator.
For a moment a stout man in a uniform hesitated, but then said, “No, you go ahead,” as he tilted his head toward the opening.
The elevator doors had just slid open in the lobby at One America Plaza in downtown San Diego. If it had been half past noon the men would not be standing alone, but it was a few minutes before 10 a.m. and both middle-aged men stood a little awkwardly, one holding a briefcase and the other a slim package and a clipboard.
“No, after you, please,” the suited man said politely as the elevator doors began to close.
“Thanks,” the man in blue shorts said hiding his irritation. He darted through the shrinking opening triggering a sensor that sent the closing doors gliding back to their open position. The other man followed as he pulled a silver digital phone from his pocket.
Once in the elevator the delivery man methodically pushed the button for floor thirty-two.
“Twenty-seven, please,” the suited man said nonchalantly as if his request would be fulfilled as certainly as the sun’s eventual burnout.
He did not show it, but the other man pushed the button grudgingly. This had happened to him many times during his 19 years of delivering packages for Cheetah Express, an overnight mail service, and though he was used to the subtle ways in which these men asserted their superiority, it still bothered him.
I should have known, he thought to himself. These suits are always making sure I get on the elevator first. It’s supposed to be a courtesy, but it’s really just a way of patronizing me. They wouldn’t stoop so low as to let me allow them to get on the elevator first. And what, he continued thinking, would he have done if I had said to him, “Twenty-seven, please”? He’d have ignored me–like they all do. Maybe I should have refused? Nah, he thought with resignation. It’s just not worth it.
What the delivery man would not admit to himself is that he truly thought it would be worth it, but he was afraid to say anything. The truth was these men intimidated him, they made him feel inferior, as if there was something in them that made them men in some categorical way that he was not. If he had said something these men would have had an answer with a vocabulary that might confuse or baffle him. He might end up embarrassing himself and that was definitely not worth it.
At floor seventeen the elevator glided to a stop and a short, heavy-set woman with dark-hair maneuvered a mailcart through the opening. She pushed the button for floor eighteen.
In a normal voice, almost as if he were on the elevator alone, the suited man began talking into his phone.
“Dan, it’s Eric. I’m here. I expect the meeting will last a couple of hours and then I’ll give you a call. Don’t worry about a thing, okay? I have a good feeling about this. I’ll talk to you later, bye.” He turned the phone off and let it slide into his suit pocket.
I hate these guys, the delivery man thought. He thinks I’m a loser because I’m his age and do this kind of work. I hate that. He doesn’t even know me. If I was wearing a suit he wouldn’t have asked me to push the button for his floor. Why is that? What does that mean? Does he think that he’s more important than I am? I wish I had just politely asked him, “Why are you asking me to do that?” I wonder what he’d say? What if I asked him now?
A wave of nervous warmth flushed the delivery man’s body as if he’d just been asked to say something in front of a large group of people. Even the contemplation of confronting this man made him anxious.
The elevator doors opened and the woman pushed her heavy cart out into the lobby.
“Excuse me,” the man in the suit said after the doors closed.
The delivery driver turned warily toward him. What was he going to say?
“I’m sorry,” the businessman began, “but I just realized I asked you to push the button for my floor. I’m from New York and both the building I work in and the building I live in have an elevator attendant and it’s simply habit for me to ask. Though it might not look like it, I am capable of pushing elevator buttons by myself,” he said pointing to his chest and nodding his head with a small smile.
The courier laughed.
“Anyway, I hope I didn’t offend you–I didn’t mean to if I did.”
“Don’t worry about it,” the courier replied. “I didn’t even think about it.”
“Well, it would have pissed me off. I worked for a delivery company when I was in college and I know how people can be.”
“Yeah,” the driver said knowingly, “but most are not so bad.”
“I’m still sorry–it was rude.”
“Like I said, don’t worry about it.”
“Well, you’re generous, thanks.”
“If that’s the worst thing that happens to me today, I’ll be doing okay.”
The man in the suit laughed. “You’re right about that,” he replied thoughtfully. After a pause he said, “Well, thanks for being understanding. I guess this is my floor.” The elevator doors slid open. He nodded and said, “Have a good day.”
“You too,” the courier replied.