Don’t Fear the Escalator

The first escalator came into use at Coney Island, New York in 1896. That was a long time ago, right? Most people living on Earth now had not even been conceived.

Today, the number of escalators is rising steadily, enabling us too to rise steadily without the ordeal of negotiating stairs with our legs and feet.

But I’m sure you would agree that what was once a marvel of modern machinery is now a mere fleck on the face of our subsequent achievements. The escalator has long been taken for granted; its once amazing triumph of getting us from one floor to another in a staggering, ooh, three quarters of the time, is now no more impressive than your dad wearing jeans.

But I am not here to berate the great escalator, its modest mechanics still central to our day-to-day, despite its young, technological step-children popping up aplenty (escalator vs iPad: I think I know who’d win (crunch, crunch!)). I’m just somewhat puzzled by people who still treat them like spaceships. Who tentatively tickle the steps with their toes before taking the mighty plunge into the horror of a world where stairs move up and forward. It’s with these people that I have my beef.

Beware mischievous trolleys

Have they not watched the rest of us? Did they not see that when we set foot on the crawling surface that it did not crumble, or speed up, or start racing backwards through space and time? Do they not have long enough while they stand, inching closer to the end, to prepare for a descent not too dissimilar to walking in a straight line?

I’ve even seen people having problems on moving walkways – those long human conveyor belts which display you enticingly for those travelling in the opposite direction. Just get on it. You are not going to die (probably – read on).

Incredibly there are announcements (and they’re not just for the blind; there are signs up too), that warn you you’re approaching the end. I just don’t understand. There’s no sign next to crossings pointing out the kerb. McDonald’s doesn’t come with a caution that it’s going to disappoint. There are just some things that everyone knows. How did these people slip through the net?

You are also advised to face the direction of travel. What sort of imbecile needs this kind of instruction? You know which way to face when you’re walking. Why should this suddenly be thrown into doubt when on stairs? And why do these people get their own, special-case signage?

What if you don’t have a dog?

Some are so bewildered by their successful dismount that they stumble, dazed as if they really had been abducted. The announcement should be, “On leaving the escalator please move aside to recover. Other people are in the world and some of them are behind you.”

What terrible traumas have these people witnessed to provoke such a fear of this old, faithful friend? Are they privy to something the rest of us aren’t? I needed to find out what was going on. Thank goodness for Wikipedia.

It transpires that there aren’t an abundance of escalator accidents to report. And the majority aren’t even due to evil machines. For example, a number of escalator-related injuries were caused by people just falling off. I wondered how one could fall off an escalator, but apparently you just need to ride the handrail or get drunk. And doing both at once will seriously strengthen your chances of death. One girl died from injuries after somehow getting her head caught between the escalator rail and a low ceiling. (Conclusion: I don’t think the machine is to blame here – I suspect these people could also have died from improperly using a cup.)

Anyway, my favourite accident (yes, favourite) was when dozens of people were ‘thrown off an escalator that suddenly changed direction in a busy Beijing subway station’. Which got me thinking. Perhaps those who fear them are on to something.

Perhaps the escalators will one day revolt, taking revenge on a technologically superior world. Maybe they’re waiting for the perfect moment when they can hurl a maximum number of us up into the air, our bodies breaking on ceilings, falling in fragments, iPad pieces pelting down all around.

Escalator amateurs: j’aime pas


2 responses to “Don’t Fear the Escalator

  • Liz

    In all honesty I have more tolerance for awkward escalator takers than say those who get on one and proceed to charge up it as if they were being chased. If you want to walk, there’s another ingenious contraption called a flight of stairs. As a self affirmed lazy person who only has to look at a flight of stairs to feel breathless and sweaty, I would officially like to reclaim the escalator.

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