Years ago, when I was working for Big Paper Company, I accidentally wandered into the elevator that was also holding the CEO and his aide de camp, both of whom worked out of the company's New York office, an office that held about 17 employees who couldn't bear the thought of living in Memphis with the hoi polloi. No, New York is where they'd rather stay.
It was the three of us. I couldn't walk out again - that would look too weird. So I stood as far from the both of them as I could - have you noticed how people automatically, almost unconsciously, optimize the space between them in an enclosed area like an elevator? Is this culture specific? Are there cultures where people will stand close to a stranger when there is room to be far away?
When I was in Chile, I used to go to the movies almost every Sunday afternoon, unless they were showing The Lion King, which they did one year for nine straight weeks. The theater was almost always near empty, as most Chileans spent their Sunday afternoons eating a long leisurely lunch together. But there would be a few of us at the movies and invariably, people would sit clustered together. Not people at the movies together, but random strangers would walk in, see someone sitting in spot x and think, "Look! Someone is sitting in spot x! That must be a good place to sit. I shall join that person."
I often had to move because people would come sit right by me. I later found that there was the additional factor - in addition to a desire to cluster - that a woman alone at the movies was surely looking for a man and I was almost wearing a neon sign that said, "American woman! Will sleep with anyone!"
So I was in the elevator with the CEO and the ADC, scared to death to say anything. I could derail my career - such as it was - with one stupid comment. So I pressed my lips together and looked at the floor. That, surely, impressed the CEO.
The elevator stopped at 4. I moved to disembark but the ADC almost knocked me over on his way out. My jaw dropped - this was the south. In the south, men let women get off the elevator first. Yes, yes, yes, I know we were at work and the men/women rules shouldn't apply, but the reality was that they did. Plus I was closer to the door than the ADC was, so just logic should have let me leave first.
The CEO saw my shocked expression (perhaps the same one I had yesterday when a friend said that her parents had told her she would have to get her cat declawed before the cat could go into the parents' house). I tried to recover but really, it takes more than a second or two to recover from the shock of being run over by a 6'2" man.
He said nothing, but he held the elevator door with one hand and gestured for me to precede him out with the other.
The CEO was from the south. I hope he explained courtesy to the ADC.
Now. More than ten years later. I arrive to work, just left the bus. Wearing my winter coat and my sweatpants over fleece-lined tights. No makeup yet because I put it on at work. I don't put it on before I leave home because 1. my eyes are always too puffy that early out of bed and 2. the cold always makes my eyes water and that washes everything right off.
I do not look glamorous. I don't care. I don't have a "career" any more. Right now, I just want a job so SH and I can afford a new roof and our property taxes.
The new chairman of the board is waiting for the elevator. He has arrived from out of state for a board meeting. We get on the elevator. I say, "Hey Bob! How ya doing? What floor do you need?"
Then I scan my card and hit his floor and we chat.
And I don't care.