Rachel Urkowitz, Artist/Designer

Resident at Westbeth since 1970

Superhero in Training

The year was somewhere around 1984. George Orwell’s dystopia hadn’t happened, but as a teenager during the nascent epidemics of the decade (Crack, HIV, and so on), there seemed to be threats everywhere. Still, I had to leave the house now and then. I got on the elevator on the ninth floor, along with a few of my neighbors, including the future action star, Vin Diesel. He was a teenager, like me, but was a few years older and already looked like his action hero self.

The elevator opened at a lower floor, sputtering a bit as the next passenger got on. The doors closed, and we continued to the lobby, where the elevator paused, but then continued to descend into the basement. We looked at each other, exchanging worried and annoyed glances. We assumed the elevator would stop in the basement. Instead, after a short pause in which it seemed like the doors would open in the basement, the car shook and fell abruptly to the bottom of the elevator pit, about four feet down. The lights went out.

After we all checked that no one was hurt, Vin took out a lighter. Someone found the call button, and we spoke to the guard at the desk to let him know we were trapped. He said he would call the fire department. We waited.

A minute or so went by, and we all started talking about how late we were going to be, and how long we would be stuck. Then suddenly, Vin sprang into action. He asked someone to hold the lighter, and he fit his fingers into the space between the door and the elevator wall. With some effort, he pried open the elevator door with his bare hands. He directed the other man in the elevator to step up out of the pit onto the floor of the basement and hold the door. Then he lifted me and the other woman out of the elevator and leapt up himself. We dusted ourselves off and walked up the flight of stairs to the lobby, thoroughly surprising the guard on duty. I’m not sure if that was the day Vin realized he would be an action star, but it may have been a step on the road!

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