In 1999, BusinessWeek production manager Nicholas White went outside to smoke a cigarette and, upon returning, got stuck in an elevator. For 41 hours. The story of his ordeal is woven through Nick Paumgarten's new New Yorker feature about elevators, and is, predictably, the most interesting part. It's amazing how much 41 hours in a small metal box altered White's life forever, for the worse. And—oh yes—there is (sped-up) security camera footage of him the entire time. It's mesmerizing, because you can imagine him slowly going insane, which is exactly what's happening. Below, the video, and the article's summary of White's life since he was rescued. Let this be a cautionary tale to all of you who may find yourself similarly ensared in this most primal of New York office drone nightmares!
White never went back to work at the magazine. Caught up in media attention (which he shunned but thrilled to), prodded by friends, and perhaps provoked by overly solicitous overtures from McGraw-Hill, White fell under the sway of renown and grievance, and then that of the legal establishment. He got a lawyer, and came to believe that returning to work might signal a degree of mental fitness detrimental to litigation. Instead, he spent eight weeks in Anguilla. Eventually, Business Week had to let him go. The lawsuit he filed, for twenty-five million dollars, against the building's management and the elevator-maintenance company, took four years. They settled for an amount that White is not allowed to disclose, but he will not contest that it was a low number, hardly six figures. He never learned why the elevator stopped; there was talk of a power dip, but nothing definite. Meanwhile, White no longer had his job, which he'd held for fifteen years, and lost all contact with his former colleagues. He lost his apartment, spent all his money, and searched, mostly in vain, for paying work. He is currently unemployed.