What Goes Up

A salute to the small but dedicated cadre of elevator professionals who see to it that your next ride won't be your last

By Kirk Semple
It is a disturbing fact of urban life that we while away a good deal of our time packed into vertically moving boxes, forced to endure the awkward rituals and mind-numbing boredom of confinement.

We speak, of course, of elevators.

Blessed be the elevator passenger who has the foresight to bring along reading material. The rest of us are left to find diversion elsewhere. Watching the light blink from floor number to floor number. Furtively eyeballing fellow passengers without being detected. Calculating how many people it would take to exceed the allowable weight limit (suddenly an enthralling pursuit!). Wondering who the hell Otis is anyway.

Especially observant riders who ply the elevators in the City of Miami may have noticed a subtle change of late. It's buried in the inspection certificate, that slip of paper behind a Plexiglas shield, attesting that an elevator inspector has been here to make sure everything is in top shape. For more than a decade, that space was the domain of a man named Anthony Nastasi. But gradually during the past year, the rugged peaks and foothills of Nastasi's signature have given way to another mark, that of one Harjeet Singh.

Nastasi, who joined the City of Miami's Department of Building and Zoning in 1983, was in charge of inspecting each elevator and escalator within the Miami city limits once every eighteen months. At first he had help in his endeavor, but from 1992 until his retirement in May 1995, he was going it alone. Enter Singh, along with fellow rookie Marcos Bermudez. Late last year, Bermudez moved on. Now the city is all Singh's, and day by day he's replacing the last of Nastasi's certificates and establishing his own imprimatur, vaguely reminiscent of the darting flight path of a barn swallow.

"We've wiped him out from the city!" Singh declares triumphantly.

Well, not quite. Vestiges of Nastasi linger. A scattering of elevators, including several at Mercy Hospital, the Miracle Center, and CocoWalk, still bear his mark.

News of his signature's survival brings a rant from the 74-year-old Nastasi. "My name should not be up there. It's been over a year!" a thick, sloppy New York accent blares through the phone lines from North Fort Myers. "Ya can't blame the man, the man is green. He doesn't have the experience yet. Lemme tell you, I ran that whole damn city myself. I was in the trade somethin' like 35 years [yeez], I was a trouble shooter [shootah]. Then I became an inspector. You're talkin' about 45 years in the business. Oh boy, I'll tell ya, I know where all the elevators are.

"I'm a perfectionist, ya know, right?" he continues. "I was always interested in elevators. When I first came to Miami, there was a lot of work wasn't being done. Covers were missing, pits were dirty, tops of cars were dirty, cables were rusting. I always wanted things done the right way. You can put in that newspaper of yours: I was an inspector for fourteen years; I never hadda go on an accident case."

Nastasi's swagger is unique in the small, subdued subculture of local elevator inspectors, but his satisfaction isn't. To a man (and the business is almost entirely populated by men), they're a prideful band. And why shouldn't they be? Elevator inspectors are unsung heroes, our last line of defense against the combination of shoddy workmanship and the inevitable effects of gravity. Theirs is a thankless job. They toil in near-obscurity, slipping in and out of buildings phantomlike, doing their work in the darkness of dusty shafts and noisy machine rooms. But if something goes wrong A a car gets stuck, say, or somebody gets hurt A they feel the heat.

Declares Miami Beach's lone elevator inspector, 50-year-old Nathan Quarles: "People ride on 'em and take them for granted and don't realize what's going on around them or above them or below them.

"Elevators," he intones, "are fascinating."
It could be a scene from a B-grade biker flick: Carl Mario is sloshing through the sticky grime of a service passageway in Kendall's Town & Country Center. A large man dressed in cowboy boots, jeans, black T-shirt, and a leather vest, Mario might have just slid off the back of a Harley and is now hunting for a guy named Zeke. And Zeke doesn't have long to live.

Actually Mario's a Metro-Dade elevator inspector and he's searching for an elevator, his first inspection of the day. It's eight-thirty in the morning and the stench of stale beer is in the air. "Usually you get the smell of urine in here from people sleeping, but today it's not too bad," observes the twelve-year veteran as he wanders down a hallway behind Cafe Iguana. "These places look so nice from the front, don't they?"

He pushes through a door marked "DANGER: ELECTRICAL MACHINERY A AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY" and enters a small cement-block room whose most distinguishing characteristic is the phrase "THIS SUCKS" emblazoned on one wall in fluorescent pink spray paint. This is the machine room, often an inspector's first stop. The 41-year-old, Miami-born Mario moves steadily and without hesitation, looking over the machinery and running through a mental checklist: Is the room clean? Is it illegally being used for storage? Any errant wires or electronic equipment? He discovers a violation: The machinery is overdue for a required periodic pressure test.

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