In Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist, after the elevator of Briggs building had fallen, the Chairman of the elevator inspector's guild was holding a press conference at the entrance of the HQ. Elevator inspectors were gathering in the O’Connor’s listening to the press conference from the radio rather than joining the newspapermen on the conference site.

The trip is everything to elevator inspectors—the bumps and shudders, not the banalities of departure and destination—and if the radio waves must first amble from the reporters’ microphones to the receiver atop the WCAM Building and dally there a bit before returning (nearly) to the humble spot of their nativity, so much the better.

I wonder what the relationship between 'trip' and 'radio waves' is here.

2 Answers 2


The job of an elevator inspector is to start at one location, travel a distance (going up and down the elevator) and then returning where they started. Thus, the idea that what they're hearing had to travel to the radio tower, be processed there, and then travel back, doesn't bother them, they don't mind the delay. To use the following line from the passage:

The intrinsic circuitousness of inspecting appeases certain dustier quarters of her and her colleagues’ mentalities, the very neighborhoods, it turns out, where the key and foundational character deficits reside.


This likely refers to the [nearly] instantaneous propagation of the radio waves used to send the audio signals to the radio.

In the elevator world, a trip takes a non-negligible amount of time, in the order of seconds. The trip also involves a distinctive experience, e.g. the acceleration and the deceleration, the shaking of the cabin, as well as the sounds, involving the rattling of the cabin itself, the cables, and sound of the motor used to move it.

I'm guessing all of those are important for the elevator inspectors, as those can tell them about the condition the elevator is in, how well it's performing, and whether it is in need of service - e.g. creaking and screeching may tell them something needs to be lubricated, and rattling may point to loose parts.

On the other hand, the radio waves propagate, for the purposes of consumer radio, almost instantaneously, to the point where it takes longer for the audio waves from the radio to reach the listener a few meters away than it takes for the radio waves to reach a radio receiver a few kilometers away.

In this regard the "trip" the radio waves take is (almost) instantaneous and the end product - the sound - bears (almost) no trace of it, a complete opposite to what the elevator inspectors are used to.

Perhaps, in that case, they might find solace in the fact that there's a delay introduced by the circuitry required to route the audio signal and produce the radio wave. Although this delay is negligible for end-users, it might evoke some familiarity for the inspectors.

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