She tosses her blonde hair over her shoulder as she looks to the server to pay the bill for her dinner. As she passes him her credit card, he looks back at her in amazement. “Are you the Cheryl Lashek?”
Lashek has won her fame in the Canadian province of Manitoba not through her presence in the media, or politics, or any such thing. No, Lashek is what she calls a “desk jockey,” bearing the formal title of government director of mechanical engineering. But it just so happens that—until recently—if you lived in any corner of Manitoba, you would find her name plastered on the wall of every single elevator you rode in.
Lashek’s signature has graced the paper permits hanging in the elevators for over a decade. Eventually, Manitobans all started wondering the obvious question: Who is this invisible yet ubiquitous engineer who keeps us safe as we fly up and down in these careening metal boxes?
“It’s just one of those mysteries in life. You don’t know who Cheryl is,” says Todd Scott, a long-time Winnipeg resident and Lashek admirer.
“It’s always been an inside joke with my family,” says Alex Plante, an artist who lives in Winnipeg. “It’s like, ‘Oh, there’s Cheryl!’ Or if something’s wrong with the elevator it’s, ‘Dammit Cheryl! Thanks for nothing.’ That kind of thing.”
In the last couple of years, fans of the mysterious Cheryl Lashek found each other on Instagram and Twitter. Photos of her famed permits circulate, pointing out her diligence. Those comforted by the sight of her name are united using the hashtag: #InCherylWeTrust.
But not all is well in the Lashek fandom. Recently, the government of Manitoba posted a job listing online for an elevator inspector. Fans were concerned that this meant Lashek was out. Those worries were exacerbated by a rumor that as of April 1, 2019, signatures would be removed from the certificates altogether.
Outrage and disappointment surfaced from all corners. One tweet described Lashek’s rumored retirement as a nightmare realized, that future generations will never know the comfort of Cheryl Lashek’s name. A page on Facebook surfaced suggesting Lashek should run for the province’s premiership. A local radio station wrote a song in her honor.
However, these rumors were greatly exaggerated. In her first public interview, Lashek says it was not her job that was posted, and she remains a director of mechanical engineering. However, while she remains in the same role, the oversight of elevators has been moved to someone else’s purview. Additionally, the government is looking at the possibility of removing the paper certificates from elevators altogether, but this did not take effect on April 1.
“I am not retiring, I am nowhere close to retirement,” Lashek says. “It definitely makes me chuckle, some of the comments, like, ‘How are we going to know the maximum capacity?’ They see me as the oversight of all of this, and making sure they’re safe and they get to their destination. To me, it’s hilarious that one signature can be all encompassing and so comforting to so many people.”
For Manitobans it seems Lashek’s watchful eye was a predictable comfort that, like so many others, was not properly recognized until it was on its way out. Her signature invoked a similar emotional response as the beeping whirr of a dial-up internet connection, or the omnipresent reminder to “be kind and rewind” plastered across VHS tapes.
While there are many middle-of-the road “Cherylheads” out there, Scott and Plante go a bit further than most. Scott, upon hearing the rumors that Lashek’s name would no longer be adorning the walls of Manitoba’s elevators, had magnets created with her signature.
“People put them on their fridge, so they know their fridge is safe. They put them on their cubicles, in the elevators at work,” Scott says. “They went and they spread her name, so that even if she’s not [certifying] this elevator, she’s doing other things that are safe and Cheryl-approved.”
As for Plante, she took her skills as a digital painter and went to work on an image of a halo-donning Lashek, holding an elevator in her hands.
“I was shocked to see that,” Lashek says with a laugh. “One of my friends sent me a screenshot from Reddit, and I knew right away exactly what it was. And I was just like, ‘Oh boy, okay, this is happening. Somebody painted a picture of me.’”
Lashek bought a copy for her office. “And the guy who delivered it, the postman, instead of putting it in the mail slot for our government office,” says Lashek, “he actually walked it up to the office to meet me, and he took a selfie because he recognized the name.”
For Plante, it was the most flattering of compliments. Even she was surprised by the number of orders she got, having just sent one off to Scotland.
The fame has meant Lashek is recognized whenever she pays by credit card, or gives her email address at a store. But what’s important to her is not the viral notoriety, but the opportunity to show young girls that engineering can be a career path for them.
“I want to encourage other people to pursue their dream, not to get Instagram famous,” Lashek says. “But it’s really cool to be recognized for my accomplishments, and to know that people know I am an engineer.”
“[Winnipeggers] will just cling on to something that is familiar,” she adds. “And if I could do that and become one of those Winnipeg-isms, one of those things asked at trivia nights, that would just totally make me smile.”