Don’t misstep: should I take the stairs?

I used to live in a condo where the stairwells weren’t accessible on some floors. I complained to the management — why couldn’t I make taking the stairs part of my daily routine?

My current condo allows for stair use to and from each floor. Oh, lucky me! No excuses. Ever. This creates an ethical dilemma each time I arrive home: Stairs or elevator?

There’s the obvious reason to take the stairs: exercise. But beyond your doctor’s voice in your head, there are other compelling reasons: There’s no wait on take the stairs. Only your own endurance will limit you. Plus, you might make friends. One time my husband and I were going up the stairs as a friendly looking guy in a North Face jacket was coming down. “Fellow stairs people!” he said to us. The Stairs People! We didn’t even know they existed, but now we wanted to be part of their exclusive club. You won’t meet Stairs People in the Elevator.

Another major factor: You can avoid a lot of awkward situations by taking the stairs. Say you walk into the building at the same time as someone that you only sort of know. A lot of people go into the mailroom and slowly open their mailboxes so as to “miss” the elevator their semi-acquaintance takes. No need to be awkward. Just smile and then head to the stairwell.

On the stairs, you avoid awkward questions. “Ummm, remind me what floor you’re on again?” I’ve said to more than one friendly-yet-only-slightly-familiar face.

“Same as you!”

“Oh, wow, that’s a brand new haircut you have,” I usually try as a recovery maneuver — but let me say, this doesn’t work if your neighbor’s bald.

Have you ever gotten on an elevator, only to find yourself going up when you wanted to go down? In my old condo my brother and I once mistakenly hopped on the elevator on its way up. We greeted the woman who boarded on the ninth floor and then accompanied her on her descent. The elevator then stopped on the sixth floor, and no one got on. “Umm, that was supposed to be us,” I mumbled. When taking the stairs, this hardly ever happens. In fact, I can only think of one time when instead of heading down to the first floor, I started climbing up to the seventh, but I don’t like to talk about that.

You can’t pass someone on the elevator, but if someone is going too slow on the stairs, you sure can pass them. This has never happened to me, probably due to the extremely scarce number of Stairs People and also because, let’s be honest, it’s tiring to take the stairs, and sometimes I have to wait a few seconds at the landings to catch my breath.

On the other hand, sometimes you know you should take the stairs, but you’re tired after your 15-minute stint on the elliptical machine. When someone else happens to arrive and pushes the elevator button, you can always just “ride along.”

There are, of course, a few drawbacks to the stairs. If you’re carrying any number of items — more than just a purse/murse and a coffee cup, for example — the added weight will turn your ascent into an Iron Man Hike, and it’s also harder to open stairwell doors than to push the elevator button with your hands full.

And what about footwear? Taking the stairs is a workout, and you’d better be dressed for it. No flip-flops, clogs, or stilettos. In winter, it can get a little toasty by the time you reach your floor in your triple-layered long underwear, winter coat, sweater, sweatshirt, hat, gloves, scarf, and facemask.

And what about being a good neighbor? Is it rude to walk past someone waiting for the elevator and take the stairs? Especially if that person is your next-door neighbor? The elevator is the condo’s version of seeing neighbors on their front lawn — a chance for small talk (and it only lasts until you arrive at your floor — then the elevator gods start making that horrible buzzing sound!). If you don’t take the elevator once in a while, you might not meet many neighbors — though for an introvert like me, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

And what about the most common stairs faux pas? Just twice this month, coming up the stairs, I’ve tried to go into the apartment directly one floor below me. The door is identical to mine, after all. Funny how I’ve never accidentally walked a floor too far. My neighbors below have a dog that barks every time I try to put my key in their door. Sorry guys; I know it’s happened early in the morning. One time at my last condo, I made this mistake after an early morning gym workout. Only I had forgotten my keys, and I started pounding on the doorbell for my husband to wake up and let me in. Needless to say, he did not.


At this point, you might be wavering, but I beg you to consider all that the stairs have to offer, and I’ve saved the best for last.

Have you ever gotten stuck in an elevator?

It’s only happened to me once, on the day my husband and I were moving out of our old condo. We had hired movers, who were down to the very last load. So far, we’d had a myriad of elevator-related challenges: One elevator was down, so the building wasn’t able to reserve the freight elevator for our use only. We were trying to move our things down from the sixth floor in the same elevator that all ten floors were using to get to and from their apartments that day. And we were paying the movers by the hour.

Then on the last load – the very last load – I got in the elevator with the movers. They had a cloth cart on wheels that was a sort of catch-all for things we hadn’t packed in boxes. It was full to the brim with things like lamps, a plant or two, some winter jackets; perhaps even a lone banana. We got into the elevator and pressed the down button. The elevator didn’t move. It started making that angry elevator buzz.

“This thing’s stuck!” one of the movers said, and my heart sunk – I had thought we’d be just under the two-and-a-half hour mark; now all hopes of that were gone.

Or were they? Said mover stuck his hand in the door, and using superhuman mover strength, pried the elevator doors open. Back out in the hallway, we were all – mostly me – extremely relieved, but we were still stuck on the sixth floor with a cartload of stuff.

“I have an idea,” Superhuman Mover said.

We took the stairs.

Carissa Jean Tobin lives in a condo in Northeast Minneapolis with her husband. Her hobbies include creating humorous surveys for friends, lounging at the Wilde Roast Café, and administering the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to interested family members, friends, and strangers. She teaches kindergarten in North Minneapolis.