Calculated Risk

Jamie Zipfel
2 min readJun 23


There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.” — Frank Wilhoit

I consider the safety placard on the wall inside the elevator

this windowless metallic tube

going down, down, down

to the parking garage.

I wonder how many regulations concern elevators

stifling innovation by demanding

inspections, alarm bells,

emergency stops.

I wonder how many workers imploded

at the bottom of half-built shafts

trying to feed their sons

before such rules were

deemed necessary.

Did they think about

the cost of progress

as it squished them

under its steel boot?

I think about the hubris of cutting corners —

pressing your luck with the ocean and

the laws of physics, only to demand

a princely sum

to be proven


I mourn the teenager who didn’t want to go

who panicked in small spaces

who went to please his father

only to die under the

crushing weight of


Do you think his father told him to “man up”

before they were both enshrined?

I wonder if they died hungry and freezing

clinging to each other in their sock feet

a poor, huddled mass.

Or, were they so insulated from the consequences of their actions

that the universe spared them this, too.

I bet the amount we spent saving the already-dead

would feed a lot of sons and daughters.

Would put lots of computers in

libraries, where people could

look up facts, like

62% of first-class passengers survived the Titanic

While only 25% of third-class passengers did.

The naval budget is $230 billion dollars.

The education budget is $195.

I’m sure someone ran the numbers and decided

that five billionaires must outweigh

the millions howling distress calls

over the pundits calling for

“fiscal responsibility”.

I bet that money would put a lot of elevators in metro stops.

“Ding!” goes the federally-mandated button, as I think about

the concept of rock bottom, of morally bankrupt

before getting in my car, buckling my

innovation-stifling seatbelt

checking my rearview mirror

for destroyed progress

and head off toward my destination,

obeying the speed limit.

After all, the rules

apply to me.



Jamie Zipfel

A writer/teacher/designer split between the Midwest and the Middle East.