The Glass Elevator

Thus continues a series of notes about my recent travels. I didn’t post them earlier because they were mostly written as notes or based on notes scribbled in free moments in cafés, restaurants, train stations and buses. I have tried to modify them only enough to make sense of them, not to make them read-worthy.

Glass elevator(Apologies to RD)

I had a few hours to kill at Suvarnabhumi Airport, so I did what I always do at airports—I got something to drink and started walking. Suvarnabhumi is really a rather nice little airport. Lots of glass and steel. I gathered stares as I wandered the concourse, striding confidently toward the unused gates at the end of the airport, but I must not be the only person who kills airport time that way because the security guards at the end just flashed the famous Thai smile as I walked all the way to the obviously empty gate, turned around and headed off the way I came. Or maybe they were laughing, assuming I was lost and too shy to get help.

It was on the way back down the concourse that I noticed the offices outside the glass windows. For reasons perhaps only known to a now-forgotten group of Thai architects, they presented not only the operations of the airport to its directors, but also the all-too-personal actions of those directors and their subordinates to the general public. I couldn’t help watching for at least a few minutes. Most people seemed aware of their ocular defenselessness. Until they stepped into the glass elevator.

The first man to catch my attention was the man with the balding comb-over. He had walked down the hall like everyone else, I assume. I hadn’t noticed anything unusual about it, anyway. But as soon as the mirror doors closed, he started smoothing his few remaining hairs. He continued to do so until the elevator reached its destination two floors away and he anticipated exposure. He was blissfully forgetful of the glass walls of the elevator. The shoe tier and spit-polisher was apparently equally oblivious.

I think we all do that when we feel protected. Once the doors close on the world, we are free to honestly examine ourselves to make sure we give the right impression when they reopen.

Except sometimes the doors don’t close.

Before I explain that, I have to ask your impression of the men I described. Did you judge them or lose respect for them? I can’t speak for you, but I will freely share that I had no bad feelings for the men. I walked down my glass-walled concourse smiling at the view through the window they’d accidentally opened into their lives. I sat down at my own gate and gazed out on the world through 180° glass that was both my window to the world and its window to me. All at once I saw what was staring me in the face—I, too, was in my own glass elevator.

The world is a glass elevator, really. Everything we do is displayed for everyone around us.

My necessary extension of that thought demanded the identification of our doors. And isn’t it simple enough? We all erect walls. Walls of apathy or action. Feints to disguise our true desires and fears. If people care to, they can see past them. Most of us don’t bother. We are content living and viewing willful exposition, ignoring the hidden truth.

I want glass doors.

And a life worthy of them.
(21 Jan 08 | Bangkok) 

One Reply to “The Glass Elevator”

  1. Interesting post, and a tough challenge. It’s hard to live behind glass doors, but even harder to WANT that. The facility where I live and work has security cameras in every corner. I guess it’s a good reminder that someone is always watching. There is reason to walk worthy.

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