When the elevator broke, everyone in my apartment building was taken by surprise.
It's a modern building in the Castro and the elevator worked fine, zipping up and down 24/7, transporting residents, pizza deliveries, my neighbor's leather-clad visitors and various dogs. But there it was — stuck — with an out-of-order sign. The parts would take weeks to arrive.
Since never leaving the house again wasn't an option, I rediscovered the unused back staircase.
And, schlepping up and down, I realized I had never noticed how often I rode that elevator. Down the staircase to go to work. Up the staircase coming home. Down to go the market. Up carrying grocery bags. Down to get the mail. Up again. Down again.
"Exhausting," I complained to a neighbor, as we both paused on the landing, staring down the stairs. She thought so, too, so we bounded down the staircase to grab a latte. We sat laughing together. Gosh, I thought, I've lived here 15 years and never once had coffee with a neighbor.
Next week, I was on my way down with garbage and Phil from next door was on his way up with groceries. He looked fabulous. "Did you join a gym?" I asked. "No, I've lost 10 pounds," he groaned, "climbing these stairs."
As the weeks passed, the formerly deserted steps became the life of the party. Neighbors who'd barely exchanged a word became fast friends, chatting mid-staircase as take-out dinners got cold and dogs pulled at leashes while owners stopped to say hello.
There's a lot of talk about how modern technology has improved our lives. But what struck me was how our quality of life was going up, not down, with no elevator. The old 18th century lifestyle of real exercise and actual talking with each other left everyone healthier and more truly connected. And connection with others is really the way to ride life's ups and downs.
The elevator is working now, but I'm hoping our new "old" lifestyle keeps working, too. Sometimes just a few steps can change your life.
With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.
Richard Swerdlow teaches at the Sunset School in San Francisco.