So you want to use that elevator? I’ve got some news for you.

Len Epp
6 min readApr 2, 2019

Imagine you get into an elevator, and push the button to go to another floor, and nothing happens.

A janitor walks by and pokes his head in and asks, “Everything ok?”

You’re like, “No, it’s not working.”

He’s like, “Well, have you started it yet?”

“What?”

“Have you turned it on yet?”

“No, what are you talking about?”

The guy does a double-take and asks with some surprise,“Is this your elevator?”

“What do you mean, is this ‘my’ elevator?”

“Well you gotta buy the elevator before you can use it, duh. You can’t just go riding around in other people’s elevators like that!”

“Oh. Huh. Well, I really do need to get where I’m going. How much does an elevator cost?”

He looks the elevator up and down critically. “You mean this elevator?”

“Yeah, I mean this elevator.”

“Well it’s brand new, so I’d guess around like $40,000 or so.”

“What!”

“Yeah, that’s what decent new elevators cost. You might be able to get a deal from the salesperson, though.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah, when you buy an elevator, you got to haggle over the price with a salesperson.”

“Why?”

He blinks and says, “Well, I’ve never thought about it, that’s just the way it works, it’s just always been like that. I guess maybe it’s because next to your house, it’s the most expensive thing you’ll ever buy.”

“That sounds super stressful, I hate negotiating.”

“There’s whole books you can read out there on how to do it.”

“Whole books huh. The thing is, I don’t have $40,000 to spend on an elevator right now.”

“Oh don’t worry about that, there’s all kinds of ways you can go into debt to borrow money to buy an elevator.”

“And so, when I’ve bought it, I just turn the key and press the button, and I’ll get where I’m going, right?”

The janitor looks at you like you’re crazy. “You kidding, buddy? No man. There’s all kinds of pedals and a controls and information displays you’re going to have to learn to use to operate the elevator yourself.”

“That sounds pretty daunting.”

“Don’t worry, you can’t get your licence until you’ve studied and practiced enough to pass a test, so you’re guaranteed qualified to operate the elevator.”

“Licence? This whole thing sounds like a lot of work - I mean, not just operating the thing in itself, but just going through all that training in the first place...”

“Oh don’t worry about that, for a few hundred bucks you can take a course on how to do it, and you’ll be ready to take the licence test after just a few weeks of effort.”

“Well, I guess I’d better get on it then, thanks. This is all getting a bit expensive, but I think I can budget for all that.”

He raises an eyebrow. “Have you made room in your budget for the fuel?”

“What?”

“The fuel. This elevator has a tank attached to it that you gotta fill with fuel.”

“What kind of fuel?”

“Oh, a highly flammable liquid, like, you know, gas.”

“How much does that cost?”

“Well, no one really knows ahead of time. It’s always changing.”

“Why?”

“Look man, investment banks literally hire rocket scientists to try to figure this stuff out, and no one can really predict it. Well — “

“What?”

“Well, there is an organization mostly made up of countries like, say, Libya, that can dramatically change the price by adjusting their output, which they can do any time, for any reason, with a snap of their fingers. So, given their total control of the price if they choose to exert themselves, I guess you could say they do have some capability to predict what the price will be.”

“Huh. Ok, so let’s say I fill up this tank, I’m done then, right?

The janitor’s jaw drops open. “Man you seriously don’t get it! The elevator will burn the fuel up while you’re operating it, and eventually the fuel will run out, and you’ll have to fill the tank again.”

“Oh, so I’ve got to put a regularly recurring, but unpredictable cost, into my family’s budget?”

“Yeah.”

“Huh. Well, I guess we’ll have to make some adjustments.”

“Yeah, you got to keep parking in mind too.”

“What?”

“Parking? You know what an amusement park is, or a theme park is, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, when you’re not using your elevator, which is going to be like 95% of the time, you’re going to have put it somewhere, everywhere you go in it. A big space dedicated to that used to be called an ‘elevator park,’ but now we just call it a ‘park’ and generally call anywhere you can legally leave an elevator, a ‘parking space.’”

“Wait, what do you mean ‘legally’?”

“Don’t get me started on that one, man. There’s tons of rules around using elevators, and they change all the time and from place to place, and if you break ’em, you can get a ticket that you got to pay off.”

“How much does it cost to pay off these ‘tickets’?”

“Well, that changes all the time and from place to place too. It can cost hundreds of dollars just if you get caught speeding.”

“Huh, that’s actually quite a lot to be constantly at risk of getting charged with. What’s this ‘speeding’?”

“You don’t know that even? Ok, well, there are limits to how fast you can go in your elevator. Those are also changing all the time, and they change from place to place. And since whoever’s giving out the tickets gets money every time they issue one, they’ve got a huge incentive to give out as many tickets as they can. It’s sometimes a huge part of like a city’s budget.”

“Wow, this whole ticket situation sound super stressful and expensive.”

“On that note, I mean I wouldn’t ask a normal person about this ’cause of course they already would have thought of it, but, you thought about your insurance yet?”

“What? What do I need insurance for?”

He shakes his head and tsk-tsks. “Wow, you really are ignorant.”

Inside, you’re like, “Harsh,” but you still want to know what he’s talking about. “Seriously, why do I need to get insurance, after paying all that money for all the stuff you’re talking about?”

“Well, first of all, this elevator’s got a ton of parts, and it’s also an explosion-based technology, using all that fuel the way it does. That means stuff’s going to be wearing out and breaking on you all the time. So if you get the right kind of insurance, you can protect yourself against sudden money shocks if an expensive part breaks or whatever.”

“Why do I have to pay if a part breaks? Shouldn’t the company that built it pay if a part breaks?”

He shakes his head again and asks, this time just rhetorically, “You really want me to believe you don’t understand what it means to own something?!”

And you’re like, “Huh, of course, I guess I honestly just hadn’t thought of elevators as things you could own before, so it’s going to take me a bit to get used to the idea.”

“And don’t forget insurance is really important for protecting you if you get into an accident, too.”

“Say what?”

“Oh yeah, you see the thing is, with everybody out there randomly operating these elevators all over the place, they’re crashing into each other and suchlike all the time.”

“Uh…”

“Yeah, to start with, I mean, even something like a mild scratch or a bump can make your elevator look like crap, and be expensive to fix.”

“But who cares what my elevator looks like?”

“Sonny, don’t you know that everybody’s going to totally judge you based on what kind of elevator you have?”

“Thought never occurred to me, to be honest.”

“Well just you wait man. It’s basically the number one thing people will judge you on, like whether you’re a success in life generally.”

“Wow. Wait — what was that you said about crashes?”

“Yeah, people are crashing their elevators into each other all the time, for sure.”

“Uh -”

“Like, literally over a million people die in elevator crashes around the world every year. Tens of millions more are injured.”

“You mean, I could kill somebody if I run into their elevator with mine?”

“Not just that. Not everybody who gets killed by an elevator is in an elevator when they get hit. You can just be walking around and like, blammo, elevator, you’re dead.”

“Children too?”

“The elevator doesn’t care who it hits or how. You get distracted operating these things for one second and blammo, you just killed someone. Or say you forget to look for one coming at you when you’re out walking around, along comes an elevator and that’s it, lights out for good, no time to say goodbye to grandma.”

“Why on earth is any of this a thing?”

“Haven’t you heard? Freedom.”

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Len Epp

Startup cofounder. I like to write about tech, publishing, the interwebs, politics, and such.