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

His fifteen years have earned him the mantle of senior inspector and the title of supervisor. In fact, he's now the most veteran inspector in Dade. In addition to his supervisory duties, Miner inspects elevators in Golden Beach, Sunny Isles, Bal Harbour, and Surfside, as well as Homestead. (In better budgetary times, these municipalities would be handled by a separate inspector.) "If I have a son, he will not be in this business," the 40-year-old Miner asserts, but deep down he seems resigned to the probability that elevators are a Miner family predisposition.

Indeed, many of Dade's elevator professionals A inspectors and tradesmen alike A have followed relatives into that dark, dank shaft. When he was a kid, Metro-Dade's Carl Mario, for instance, tagged along behind his father, a Westinghouse elevator mechanic, and now counts a half-brother and two brothers-in-law among his brethren in the biz. Part of the reason has to do with the impenetrability of the unions. In the Forties, when Anthony Nastasi graduated from an electrical engineering trade school in New York and entered the elevator business, he had to take a nonunion job. "Your father had to be there, or an uncle, to sponsor you," he recalls. "I had to sweat it out until the Seventies to get in."

The elevator fraternity remains intimate. The local six-county chapter of the International Union of Elevator Constructors (motto: "Taking America to the Top Since 1901") has only 530 members. Most inspectors in Dade were originally union tradesmen who find this work less strenuous. "The biggest thing I pick up here is a pen, versus a 350-pound rail," says Mario. "I'll take the pen any day."

Once you're in the elevator business, though, you stay in it. The union local's vice president Michael Hammar says union members' careers commonly last 40 years or more. And it's hard to take the elevator business out of the man. "Me and my lady friend got into an elevator in Las Vegas," recounts Mario, "and the first thing I did, instinctively, was to ring the alarm bell."

Anthony Nastasi knows the impulse. Retired for more than a year, he can't stop exploring the world's shafts. "I took me a tour of Europe and studied their elevators," he admits. "I went to China, I went to Russia. I was looking at all the goddamn elevators!"

"Hello, I'm Harjeet Singh. I'm elevator inspector from City of Miami. Please, I want to see chief engineer." Singh, a native of India, is speaking in his pretzely accent to a security guard at the Alfred I. duPont Building on East Flagler Street downtown. There's a little language barrier to hurdle.

"¨Si?" the security guard says tentatively, his forehead furrowing. "Si." He points to nowhere in particular.

"I need to speak with chief engineer, chief of maintenance," Singh tries again, handing the guard one of his business cards. "Is there a manager's office?"

"Si, office," the security guard hazards, gesturing by turn to the ceiling and to the doors leading out to Flagler Street. "Building. DuPont Building." Singh nods his head respectfully, says thanks, then sets out to find the superintendent himself. Formalities taken care of, he boards one of the building's stunning-

ly beautiful elevators through doors engraved with palm trees and tropical birds, and scans the car's interior appreciatively. "Very historic," he notes, his admiring gaze sweeping around the car, constructed of dark wood accented with elaborate bronze designs. He stands attentively, feeling through the soft soles of his loafers the car's jerky, time-honored rise. "This is very old," he pronounces. "One of the oldest in the city."

There is nothing rushed or impatient about Singh, a compact man most identifiable by his prominent nose, well-groomed beard, and turban. He is both intensely appreciative of his job and extraordinarily deferential to building managers. (Toward the end of a perfect inspection at the spanking-new Bristol Tower condominium on Brickell Avenue, he tells the superintendent that he'd like to view the elevator shafts, adding quickly, "Not to find fault.") Other inspectors might wipe their sweaty brows with their sleeve. Not Singh, who carries tissues to do the job.

The 46-year-old Singh has no ancestral claim to the occupation. In fact, he never spent a day in the business before March 1995. He is from Jamshedpur, a city in northeastern India, where he worked for a coal-mining concern after earning a degree in mechanical engineering. "I was doing well back in India," he admits. But in 1989 he moved to Orlando, where his brother lives, in order to, as he puts it, "do better." A job in a cement plant led to a job at a textile factory, and finally to the City of Miami, where he replaced the venerable Nastasi. "I think I'm the only elevator inspector from India in Florida," he ventures, credibly.

His workload is awesome. When Marcos Bermudez left to work for Metro-Dade, Singh stopped taking lunch breaks. "I bring food from home and eat in the car," he says.

The duPont Building's machine room on the roof is a hot, dark space, filled with hulking apparatus the size of jet engines. And loud. A far cry from the purr of modern equipment, this room rumbles and churns with the grinding of gears, the clank of metal cables, the whir of sheaves. A row of metal cabinets houses panels of electric relays that crackle and spark. "It's all mechanical," Singh explains above the din. "These are like museum pieces."

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