the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

RISING TO THE OCCASION

The Desmond building's elevator floor indicator, circa 1928. 1/40 sec., f/1.8, ISO 100, 35mm.

The Desmond building’s elevator floor indicator, circa 1928. 1/40 sec., f/1.8, ISO 100, 35mm.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

LOS ANGELES USED TO BE COMPOSED OF MANY PEOPLE LIKE RUBEN PARDO, the balding, beaming driver of the elevator at the Desmond building at 5500 Wilshire Boulevard. Once upon an urban time long, long, ago there were people who specialized in guiding, in fact, feeling the rise and fall of elevators in cabs they manually controlled. They were the unofficial greeters of their buildings, as familiar with the fortunes of the tenants and clients of their respective towers as the counterman at a diner.

Once, these ascension specialists were turned out in resplendent uniforms befitting their twin duties as both concierge and mechanic. Epaulets. Braided cords. Hats that earned the word “snappy”. Gloves. And always, the inextinguishable smile that Ruben still radiates to all, from the edgy curators of the Desmond’s second floor Gallery “A” to its street level Fed Ex workers to the Deco lovers who float into his lobby to admire his peacock-bedecked elevator doors and the warm mahogany wood of his stately 6×8 foot cab, all original from 1928.

And always, there is the science of measuring the distance between the floors himself, knowing when the car is level, waiting for the right moment to sweep back the flexible cage door that protects his passengers. Watch your step, sir. Turn right and go to the end of the hall, ma’am. Press the button to call me if you finish early, and  I’ll come up and get you.

Mr. Pardo has seen Desmond’s descend into the ashes of yesterglory, and now, is still around to see new leases beginning to give the old girl a facelift in one of L.A.’s biggest comeback neighborhoods. Everything old is new again, and, as the crowds start coming back, he is ready.

Don't do the joke about his job having "its ups and downs": he's heard it. Ruben Pardo at his post at the Desmond's elevator. 1/40 sec., f/1.8, ISO 100, 35mm.

Don’t do the joke about his job having “its ups and downs”: he’s heard it. Ruben Pardo at his post at the Desmond’s elevator. 1/40 sec., f/1.8, ISO 100, 35mm.

I asked Ruben, after thirty-seven years on the job, if he would mind posing for me before his cab. “I’ll just look out toward the street”, he said, and he was right. Mid-morning sun from Wilshire lit his smiling face to perfection as he stood next to his beloved car. It was the look of someone who is doing exactly what he wants to do, a rare thing in a world where we hurry to throw things away, to surge on to we don’t know what. Ruben has earned his little vertical sliver of sky, and he’ll take you up there anytime, himself.

Whenever you’re ready.

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One response

  1. I love this post. What a sweet man! If only we all could be so joyful after being on the job for that long. I hope when I am there, that I can look back and have no regrets for my chosen job.

    December 4, 2013 at 8:06 AM

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