Why can't I just use the stairs?

For many people, riding in elevators is a far from uplifting experience
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The Independent Culture
London's Canary Wharf tower bugs me. I am fully aware that various incredible feats were achieved in the construction of the building, but none of this makes up for the fact that it discriminates against the lift-phobes - people like myself, whose knees knock at the mere sight of a sliding lift door.

We're the folks who regularly climb the grimy staircases at deep tube stations, such as Goodge Street, rather than use the elevators. We even clamber up the sometimes faeces-covered steps at Hampstead station, which are housed in the deepest stairwell in Europe. A few years ago the IRA bombed this stairway; but still I never considered not using it. Even the threat of being blown to smithereens would not persuade the confirmed lift-phobe to ride in the station's elevators.

Recently, a friend of mine invited me to visit him at Canary Wharf. No problem. I knew that the building was 850 feet tall, but I didn't mind the prospect of having to haul myself up the 1,000-plus steps. However, when I arrived at reception on the ground floor and asked a security guard where the staircase was, he told me I would have to take a lift because the stairs were only ever used in emergencies.

At first I thought my mate had set me up. After all, I mused, every building has some sort of a useable stairway. Then panic set in. What if we got stuck, with the elevator suspended hundreds of feet up? What if the cable snapped?

I tried everything to get the security man to see sense. I even babbled an embarrassing confession of lift-phobia in front of a crowd of city execs.

But nice though the security man was, he was not be moved. Either I hopped on one of the automated death-traps or I went home.

So I decided to dice with death. I even took up the security team's kind offer of an escort. But being told to breathe deeply and hold on to the bar in front of 20 fellow passengers was not exactly the best form of therapy. My heart pounded. Sweat broke on my brow. My hands shook. And I could not stop trembling ... nor letting my imagination run riot - by far the worst part.

Yes, I got out unscathed; but my visit was ruined. All I could think about was the return journey. I had been told by security to ask for another chaperone on the way back. Another public humiliation.

So when the time came to descend, I reluctantly walked over to the lobby. I paced up and down for 20 minutes. After I had received almost as many odd looks as Canary Wharf has steps - 4,388 actually - I took the plunge.

So I survived both journeys without a scratch. But why did I have to endure such an ordeal? Can't just one of the building's four sets of stairs be made available to quivering wrecks like myself to trundle up and down in exhausted, but tremble-free, bliss?