I often prefer to take the stairs, rather than the elevator or escalator, especially if I am only going up a couple of floors. I find that it is usually faster to walk up a few flights of stairs from the first floor to the second floor, rather than press the elevator button, stand there and watch the numbers change as the elevator slowly works its way down from the 7th floor, wait for all the people to file out, get in the elevator, press another button, watch the doors close, watch the doors open again as someone manages to slip in at the last minute, and then stop at every single floor on the way up to your destination.
So that’s why when I was running late the other day for a doctor’s appointment located on the second floor, rather than wait around for the elevator to take me up, I decided to just dash up the stairs. Quick! Except… I couldn’t find the stairs. They were nowhere to be seen. Surely there must be a stairwell; it is impossible for there to be a building without stairs. I opened several doors located near the elevators, but none of them led to stairs. I had no choice but to take the elevator up. As I waited for it to arrive (7… 6… 5…), I thought to myself, what do people in this building do in case of a fire?
Obviously there must have been stairs in that building, but the point is, they were well out of sight and clearly nobody was taking them. It was then that I realized the “hidden stair phenomenon” is a distinctly American thing. It is something I only noticed since I returned to the US and repeatedly found myself in buildings where I wanted to take the stairs but couldn’t because… I couldn’t find them. The elevator is presented as the only option.
In most European buildings, the stairs are clearly marked and are located immediately next to the elevators; people are given a choice between the two, and often choose the stairs, especially if they are only going up one or two floors. (Indeed, in some older buildings, the stairs are the only option.) Not so in America, where physical activity has been removed from daily life, and people don’t even think about taking the elevator from the first floor to the second floor; it is just the default method of moving your mass up.
Which is why it is necessary to pay $70 per month for a gym membership… so you can use the StairMaster machine to simulate the feeling and fitness of stairs on occasion.