If you were to stride along one of the many sidewalks that encircle the state capitol in Sacramento, traverse the steps past the Hellenistic-style columns, walk beneath the grandiose pediment, and meander past the statue of Athena, you would find a man named Michael J. Klasse, one of the capitol’s most interesting employees.
Klasse is an elevator operator, an integral part of the capitol’s hospitality for tourists who visit everyday.
With his slicked back gray comb-over and starched-to-perfection charcoal blazer, Klasse sits in his worn swivel chair and pushes buttons on the elevator.
“Going up?” he asks politicians and tourists alike, greeting them with a smile that is both genuine and revealing. He has been working on the elevator for three years and loves to tell stories of who he’s guided from floor to floor.
“People are always asking me if I’ve ever seen anyone famous or important,” Klasse said. “I let them know that everyone who rides this elevator is important.”
Klasse’s candor has earned him significant notoriety at the capitol. Nearly every employee or regular knows him on a first name, friendly greeting basis.
“It’s a very nice position to be at,” Klasse responded when asked if he enjoyed piloting the elevator. “But if you have any motion sickness or claustrophobia, I wouldn’t recommend this as a career for you,” he joked, garnering laughs from an elevator full of admirers.
Aside from being a greeter, Klasse is an integral part of the capitol’s appearance. From his vintage buck-shined shoes, to his western cologne that permeates every inch of the tiny elevator, Klasse is as much as a performer and historian as he is an operator.
“Most folks don’t realize it, but this building was actually constructed in two parts,” Klasse said. The capitol’s more impressive architecture was constructed in the 1800’s.
Klasse’s elevator will not climb to floors four, five and six, which are relatively new additions to the capitol. “They were built in the early 1900’s,” Klasse explained. “So they don’t have the same style as the front of the building.” There are no elevator operators on those floors, no one like Klass to make tourists feel welcome.
When asked about Governor Schwarzenegger, Klasse said, “That’s his favorite spot right there,” pointing to the corner of the elevator opposite his seat. “He loves to stand over there, I think I intimidate him.”
Klasse is treasured as an irreplaceable benchmark of the old western hospitality that was once the trademark of Californian politicians and governors.
When asked why he enjoys being cooped in a 5×5 elevator all morning, Klasse responded, “I just love to meet new people.”
A quality that is the cornerstone of Klasse’s appeal.