Last month, I was a guest at the big old sci-fi/fantasy convention Dragon Con. I had a great time doing comedy shows, hanging out with friends, and seeing a human being dressed as a My Little Pony Stormtrooper.
I perform at a lot of conventions, and Dragon Con is uniquely explosive. It’s got a combustible mix of panels, shows, famous people, cosplayers, alcohol, and street performers pandering to nerds with shitty jazz saxophone covers of the theme from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
There are about 60,000 people in attendance but it smells like at least twice that. It’s not because of the stereotype that geeks don’t know how to shower; it’s because half of the people are wearing leather, spandex, Lycra, body paint, and, in the case of the group of Zardoz cosplayers, giant red diaper things. I’m not sure what the red diapers were made out of but I would guess a poly-cotton/hubris blend. Dragon Con smells primordial.
Dashing ten feet from one panel room to another panel room feels like you are swimming through a literal sea of humanity. If you’re not careful you will smash into people and pick up bits and pieces of their costume on your own body. It’s possible the My Little Pony Stormtrooper person didn’t make that costume but just accidentally pulled the component pieces off other people’s bodies while trying to make it to the bathroom.
It’s not for everyone, but I love Dragon Con. With one small, tiny, cramped exception.
The motherfucking elevators.
It’s not Dragon Con’s problem, and it’s certainly not unique to Dragon Con. There’s just a lot of opportunity to experience the elevator horrors.
Like at most conventions, you have to wait a long time for the elevators. I don’t mind that too much. All good social events make you wait a little. A convention with no waiting is like a Star Wars movie with just the lightsaber fights.
It’s not my main complaint, but I am very bothered by the spontaneous stand-up comedy sets that happen in the elevators. My opinion as a comedian is that nothing clever or witty is ever said in an elevator. Elevators are like the anti-Algonquin Round Table.
I have witnessed incredibly bright, brilliant human beings instantly become purveyors of horrific dad jokes in elevators. Great zingers like “I guess we’re all going to get to know each other a lot better” or “Well, this is going to get awkward” seem to well up inside them and burst out against their wills like the chestburster from Alien. Except this time he’s wearing a little vaudeville hat and holding a cane.
I’ve experienced many horrible elevator comedy moments, but this was the worst: Some guy dressed in faux-military Halo armor and carrying a Miller Lite tallboy turned to me and fired off the pithy bon mot, “I hope nobody farts in here.” This was followed by gales of laughter from my fellow elevator riders. Then Captain Miller Lite of the 5th Asshole Platoon noticed that I did not laugh and he said my least favorite thing in the world: “Sorry. I guess you don’t like comedy.”
It took literal physical effort to not reply, “I do like comedy. That’s why I’m not laughing.”
But the true horror of elevators at big events is this: They are a quick three to five minute reminder of the fundamental problem with human society.
If you’re riding from the 27th floor of a packed hotel down to the first floor, the elevator will most likely become full by about the 23rd floor. When the doors shut on the 23rd floor, a society is instantly formed.
We are now a brave new group of humans called The People Who Are IN the Elevator. All of the other humans wanting to get on the elevator are now loathsome idiots to be mocked and judged.
It’s Sociology 101 that humans are quick to form Us Against Them social models, but the speed at which it is done in elevators is shocking and horrific.
Here are a few concrete examples.
More than once over the four days of Dragon Con, one of the members of the Brave New World Of In The Elevator immediately commented, “Ugh, we’re almost full but we’re still going to have to stop at EVERY FLOOR so people can try to get on the elevator.”
And the rest of the In The Elevator social group shook their heads at the ignorance of the fools on the lower floors who didn’t have the common decency to use their psychic powers to know the elevator was already full.
Cruel jokes were often made like, “We should just hit the close button as soon as the door opens.” Everyone would laugh and relish the thought of rubbing those Not On The Elevator People’s noses in their inferior status.
As the weekend progressed and people got weary of elevator travel, the Great People Of Inside The Elevator became bigger and grander assholes. The doors would open on a family of people dressed as the Incredibles and some jackass in a crappy Wolverine costume would bellow, “DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT! THE ELEVATOR IS FULL!”
The Great Elevator Wars Of Dragon Con 2014 reached their disgusting height when I was on an elevator with some jerks who actually were slamming the close button on people as they tried to get on the elevator.
It was pretty full but it was not at capacity. We stopped at one floor and a woman ran for the elevator. I only saw her for a split second but she seemed like she truly needed to be somewhere. It was just something in her eyes. Maybe she was that desperate to get Patrick Stewart’s autograph, maybe a family member was in danger, maybe she really wanted to hear that street performer try to play the soundtrack of Inception on his saxophone, who knows?
The Self-Appointed Alpha-Hole of The Elevator People hit the close button just as the woman reached the door and she literally said, “Please.” Everyone laughed as the doors closed on her plea.
A lot of these particular jerks were big and loud and drunk and I honestly believed they could cause me real injury with their big dumb fake anime swords, but I decided to say something.
I squeezed into the corner of the elevator to make more room and said quietly but firmly, “There is still room for more people on the elevator.”
The jerks who did hear me rolled their eyes and sighed at the comedy-hating killjoy, their expelled breath raising the ABV of the air in the elevator by at least 3.2%.
I wished I had said more and said it louder.
So now sitting here alone in the safety of my home, I’ll say what I want:
“WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU? THE PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF THE ELEVATOR ARE NO DIFFERENT FROM THE PEOPLE INSIDE THE ELEVATOR. THEY’RE TRYING TO DO THE EXACT SAME THING YOU ARE, YOU FUCKING MONSTERS.
This is not even about nationality or race or eye color or fame or money or toenail length or any of the other stupid reasons we find to ostracize one another. It’s not even about fundamentally different ideologies or conceptions of right and wrong.
The only difference is ‘those people’ are not on the elevator and you are.
And you didn’t DO anything to earn your amazing In The Elevator status. You didn’t get on the elevator because of your skills, your charming personality, your work ethic, or your superior genetic code. It is dumb luck that you are on this elevator right now. Luck so dumb it is dumber than your dumb elevator fart jokes.
And yet, with no actual thought, analysis, or emotional reflection, something deep and primordial in your awful human brain says, ‘You know what’s a good idea? Why don’t I throw empathy out the window and ostracize the Not On The Elevator People? They deserve it for not being on the elevator right now.’
And then you’ll smash your way through the crowds to make it to a panel about Doctor Who or Star Trek or some other TV show that celebrates the best of what humans strive to be.
Also, stop drinking Miller Lite. It is a shit beer. This is an example of me adopting a typical Us Against Them mentality by being a snob about beer.
BUT AT LEAST IT’S A TINY FUCKING BIT QUALITATIVE AND NOT AS ARBITRARY AS RANDOM ELEVATOR RIDING, YOU MILLER LITE DRINKING ASS CLOWN.”
If I had had time to say all that, it would probably mean the elevator was stuck between floors. So maybe it’s better I at least made my mumbled attempt at human decency.
Maybe some of these In The Elevator assholes I’m railing against are not really assholes. Maybe they were just tipsy, excited about seeing Zardoz cosplay, and not thinking straight. Maybe one of them will read this and see things from a different point of view.
I truly hope so. I’m a very optimistic person. Dangerously, stupidly optimistic. There’s a scene in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood where someone tells Ed Wood about how awful his movie was. Ed, as played by Johnny Depp, does not miss a beat and says, “Well, my next one will be better.”
“My next one will be better” is a mantra for me. A mantra of dumb hope.
Even with all of my often unfounded optimism, a weekend of Instant Elevator Society makes me feel like humans are just hardwired to be jerks.
Still, it won’t stop me from going back to Dragon Con or any other big fun social event with massively clogged elevators.
After every horrific elevator ride, I’ll try to take a deep breath, calm down, and give myself a little hope injection.
“Well,” I’ll say, “maybe the next elevator society will be better.”