I enjoy riding escalators. It’s different than riding elevators. The escalator is in the open, riding through space. The passenger may hurry, walk briskly up the flow of steps while feeling the additional velocity as the rotating chain brings the steps round through another cycle, or ease into a posture of quiet detachment and ride the grooved metal steps according to one’s inclinations, drinking in the environing space while gently ascending or descending. One is not enclosed in a box, as in an elevator, but out in the open, as one might be at the summit of Everest grinning into a camera with the Himalayan peaks behind piercing a hard blue sky, or floating above Tanzania in a hot air balloon watching a herd of elephants migrate across Katavi National Park rather than a cluster of mannequins displaying lingerie and polo shirts.
The escalator permits lassitude. It says “Here are my steps. Ride them. Be serene. Reflect on life’s joys and woes, or stride upon them - if you must - as they assist in raising your body to the heavens, or carry you in a slow descent to the regions below.”
Escalators are generally found in shopping malls, aiports and department stores. Commercial places. This I don’t like. I would prefer to find escalators in more bucolic surroundings. On a desert, for instance, or prairie. I imagine a hole in the sky where people disappear, or appear in a moment of bewildered stupefaction, descending the steps to the grasses below, the grasshoppers and butterflies and other creatures of the earth. But humanity, driven by a mercantile and not a lyrical impulse, installs them in malls, the great cathedrals of commerce. Look at them: the symmetry of ascent and descent mimics the symmetry of birth and death, the movement of tides, the fables of wealth and misfortune. The poetry is intrinsic. The journeys are short.
We all know what it feels like when the body gets tired. It feels heavy. It wants rest. It wants to lie on the ground, on a bed, on a floor. But the mind, too, grows heavy. Its battles and oppositions weary the neurons until it becomes a labor to assemble a thought, a single sentence. It takes great weight to produce a wonderful lightness. A book is an intellectual apparatus for lifting the mind into the heavens, a crane for letting its cargo down slowly, a tractor for the complications of the ground. The escalator is a product of books and geometry, mechanical engineering and power. The mind is a product of curiosity, escalations of intellectual arousal.
Lean closer, reader, and let me see the elegance of your forehead. Let this sentence be an escalator for you, inclining up, inclining down. Dignified and poised all the way to the end.
There is no shame in riding an escalator. The planet is unoffended. Gravity is unoffended. Earth’s orbit is in no way harmed or compromised. There are primal elements at work. Idler sprockets. A floor plate and a combplate. Gears, cogs, belts, chains, motors, handrails and structural supports. A balustrade. Camaraderie and solitude. Infinite parallels. Incline yourself. Rise. Descend. Watch your feet as the steps tuck under the floor in a loop of eternal alliance.