I’ll Take The Stairs.

posted in: Art, School 16
Staircase at the Courtauld Gallery, London, England. Photo by Mike Peel via Wikipedia.
Staircase at the Courtauld Gallery, London, England. Photo by Mike Peel via Wikipedia.


Today, I had my first class in the graduate Writing department and I am in love.

I’m in love with my professor’s incredible brain and I’m in love with her syllabus. I’m in love with the bike ride to campus (six minutes!) and I’m in love with all my fresh new notebooks. What’s wonderful about this place is that when I say I’m a quilter, everyone wants to know more because everyone here loves art, pattern, color, and making things with one’s own two hands (and feet, if you’re a quilter or a potter, of course.)

I am not in love with the elevator situation, however. I had a rather harrowing experience this morning.

Many classes at The School of the Art Institute (SAIC) take place at 116 S. Michigan Avenue and 112 S. Michigan Avenue. These buildings are across the street from the Art Institute itself and they are both very tall. I don’t know how many floors each one has, but I’m quite certain both have at least 14 because I climbed 14 flights of stairs today. Before 9 a.m. With a cup of coffee in my hand, a tote bag on my right shoulder, and a purse on my left one.

In pumps.

Hey, man, I’m impatient. If I’m at the bus stop for too long and the bus is nowhere in sight, I’ll just start walking. Why stand around and twiddle my thumbs when I can move my tushie and get a change of scenery? Besides, bus stops are grody. This impatience applies to elevators, too: I hate waiting for them. If it seems doable, I’ll take the stairs every time. This “don’t wait” philosophy is hardwired in my general disposition, but it also springs from having experienced long periods of my life when I was so ill and so weak I couldn’t walk. I’ve been in hospitals for months and weeks at a time and it’s certain that I’ll be back in those places again. I genuinely do not take for granted when I feel well enough to take the stairs, so I do. Within reason.

The three (only three!) elevators at the 116 S. Michigan building are tiny and date to the Mesozoic period. Seriously, these are the slowest elevators I’ve ever experienced. I think they go up or down a couple floors and then just need to rest or something, maybe make a phone call before they get back to work. And at 8:50 a.m., there are big crowds of students — mostly undergrads — all waiting for them. One is usually out of order and the other two creak open every 5-6 minutes and let in a trickle of people inside before creaking away again.

What floor was my class on, I wondered? I took a look at my planner. Eighth floor. I sucked in some air. Let’s do it, Fons. Boot n’ rally. And I began to take the stairs.

I had to rest at the fifth floor. While I was doing that, a couple undergrads zipped past me, laughing and talking while they were zipping up stairs because they are small children. (Neither of them were wearing heels.) But when I got to the eighth floor, I realized I had made a terrible error: I was in the wrong building. I was in 116 S. Michigan; I should have been in 112. There’s nothing like being out of breath and sad and panicked because now you’re going to be late to your very first department class during your very first days of graduate school.

What was I to do? Wait there for the elevator and take it all the way down, then walk to the other building and then go up another eight flights of stairs? Even I have my limits. Then I realized something. The two Michigan buildings are connected at the 14th floor! This was a good solution: I could just go up to 14 and then back down to 8 on the other side and maybe still make it right on the money. I looked at the elevators through the stairwell door. I looked up the stairwell at six more flights of stairs. I thought about my life. I thought that if I died in the stairwell someone would find me eventually. I took a deep breath, cursed loudly (it sounded awesome with the echo), and began my ascent. Again.

I was in my seat at 9:02. I was sweaty and gross and happy, actually, because that’s how bad I want this.