I first wrote down “196 Steps” for the title of this post, and it occurred to me it might appear to be one of those irresistible “list” posts, like: “8 Tips For Moister Eyeballs,” or, “5 Things You Need to Know About Gorp.”
Or a personal improvement plan! A more ambitious version of the 12 Steps, or Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
(Dare I say, like the 10 Commandments?!)
If 10 bullet points are good, 196 would be way better. Like, 19.6 times better. And much more realistic. You can’t get to the top in only 10 steps.
Oh, such scrumptious linkbait! I would so enjoy the flood of attention. Everyone linking and tweeting and sharing my words… All would be well, or at least, less dissatisfied.
But despite my liberties with the title, 196 turns out to be the number of steps from basement to roof in one of the stairwells in my office building. That’s eight flights of stairs, with two of them having 26 steps and the rest 24.
I’ll tell you all about them.
It takes about two minutes to climb those 196 steps. There’s a prize when you get to the top. Next to the locked roof door is a large dispenser of foam ear plugs. (Presumably it is loud out on the forbidden roof, I imagine due to all of the roaring dragons.)
The 196 steps are part of my exercise regimen, along with walking the dogs. And much like those walks around the neighborhood, I don’t like encountering people on the stairway. I’d prefer some alone time.
Sometimes, when I think about it, I try to make the climb fifteen minutes before or after the hour, when people are less likely to be traveling between meetings. More often I just go when I can’t stand sitting at my desk any longer and have to get up and walk.
A completely successful stairway trip is one where no one else enters the stairwell at all. Also fairly successful is when they enter the stairwell, but we never cross paths. Catastrophic failure is when you have awkward encounters.
Let’s say you meet someone at a doorway, and you have to excuse yourself for being in the way, or they excuse themselves, or someone holds the door for you, and you point upwards and contort your face into a ghastly rictus of a smile and mutter, “Thanks. Still going up.”
Or you wonder if you should hold the door for someone, in this case when you exit the stairs, but let’s consider any doorway-related passage.
With doors, there’s a dreadful distance where social etiquette goes to die. If it’s me, I typically don’t want people to hold the door if I’m not right there. I’m happy to open it myself. It’s a terrible situation to have someone standing there holding a door, and I fret over how much faster I have to walk to be polite and respectful of their effort, while at the same time I’m resenting them for putting this on me, and I unconsciously arrange my features into an uncertain grimace, before remembering I should attempt to be gracious and hiss, “Thank you.”
If it’s my dilemma of whether to hold the door or not, it’s just as perilous. I’m fine with holding it for someone one or two steps behind — maybe three steps — but at four steps and beyond, well, where does your obligation end? And it’s often hard to tell how many steps separate you. I don’t want to look back to gauge the distance, risking eye contact and the initiation of a legally binding doorway relationship. (Typically in these cases, I emit an involuntary yelp and break down in tears.)
Let’s return to the stairwell, and let’s say some slowpoke appears in front of you, or you’re the slowpoke. People, myself included, almost never pass. You can tell they want to, or they can tell you want to, but you settle into this uncomfortable pairing, I guess because it would feel impolite to crowd past, even though no one would care. It’s much better to maintain a high level of repressed tension.
I guess when I’m the slow one, I can look at it as having a personal trainer. I feel compelled to pick up my pace. And I feel defensive. It’s not like I’m out of shape, I silently argue with Mr. Pushy. (Well, I am, but I’m in good enough shape for walking/climbing. And note that it usually is a mister.) Maybe they’re just going up two or three flights. I’m making the Herculean effort of eight flights. I’m pacing myself. And I do want to pace myself, because if you take eight flights too fast, you’re going to sweat and your face will shine, and people will surely be repulsed by the sweaty overweight guy, or they’re going to suspect you of embezzling from the company or that you’re up to some other wrongdoing, when all you’re doing is stealing five minutes of time going down and up the stairs, trying to lose a bit of that fat.
When you’ve finally made it to the top, there’s one last risk: Your final flight to the roof. All that’s up there is that locked door and the foam ear plugs. You don’t want people to think that you’re some kind of weirdo, just climbing steps for fun, or that you’ve mistakenly climbed too far. I don’t know why this is a problem. In the times I’ve been discovered, nobody has pointed and laughed or called security. Yet still there is a great relief when I’ve achieved the roof and evaded detection. On occasion, I’ve paused at the top to let other footsteps pass in and out of the floor below, standing motionless, wondering if the footsteps might continue up, and knowing in that moment exactly how it must be for a burglar. But this is something we’re all familiar with.
So there you go. “The 196 Steps.” A great way to exercise your legs and your anxieties.