I was 11 years old during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962, when the United States and the former Soviet Union had nuclear weapons pointed at one another. In grammar school, we practiced “stay away from the windows, get under your desk” drills. As if our little wooden desks would have protected us from “The Bomb.”
Our family lived in Brandon, a small town in central Florida, near Tampa. I obsessed over Pat Frank’s novel about post-nuclear survival, Alas Babylon. I used to consider the odds of surviving a nuclear blast, and would craft scenarios in my little bookworm brain.
Sometime during that era, I began playing the “what if?” game. What if I were in a room, on a bus, or in some other enclosed space, “The Bomb” hit, and the people in that place were the only survivors. What would we do? Who would emerge as leaders? Who were the weak? The strong? Who would fall apart? Whose hidden talents would emerge? And so on.
This afternoon, I dashed into the Medical Center Clinic to pick up a routine prescription. Another fellow, a younger woman and myself waited in the lobby for the elevator to arrive. The young woman seemed distracted, a frown creased her forehead and her lips were tight. The big fellow was well over six feet; I would guess about 6 foot 5 inches. He cheerily asked, “Which floor?” and punched the buttons decisively with large, spatulate fingers. I noticed he had on gloves with a grip pad, kind of like golfer’s gloves, and was carrying a spiffy-looking bike helmet. The elevator doors opened, and he and I emerged with similar springs in our steps, leaving the deflated-looking young woman to ride to her destination alone.
I picked up the prescription at the desk, and within about 90 seconds was back at the elevator. So was the gentleman biker! We laughed, and agreed that all doctor’s office visits should be so quick. As we waited for the elevator, I noticed that he was not so young as his gear might suggest – mid-seventies would be my guess. Turned out he was at the doctor’s office making a delivery. He works as a messenger, making pick-ups and deliveries on bicycle. An absolutely delightful man.
Once we were again in the elevator, headed to the lobby, it stopped on the third floor. The doors opened to reveal a handsome man in a wheelchair and his truly stunning wife standing behind him. I held the “open” button and the big guy lent the pair a hand in getting over a rough spot where the elevator floor and the building floor were uneven. The couple smiled and teased me in their lilting Spanish-accented voices, saying they wanted to be sure this was the “express’ elevator; no milk runs. I assured them they were on a direct flight.
At the lobby, we all parted with warm smiles. Despite the encounter’s brevity, there was a feeling of old friends reunited.
Tonight, I find myself thinking back to my childhood “what if?” game. Those three folks on the elevator impress me as ideal companions for any kind of survival scenario I could imagine. Perhaps we will meet again.