I’ve always felt sorry for Charles Seeberger, inventor of the modern escalator. I don’t know a thing about him, but I’ve come to envision him as a wide-eyed idealist, a benevolent visionary who thought — like the early proponents of television — that his new-fangled gadget would change the world for the better. “Just imagine,” I hear Mr. Seeberger whisper in tones of wonder, “Now people will be able to ascend stairs twice as fast as they could before. Utopia is just around the corner.”
And then, in this mental fantasy of mine, I imagine the horror and revulsion Seeberger would feel if he were to visit any modern America mall, and see how his gift to the world has become a force of evil. Because people do not walk up the escalator, as Seeberger and God intended, and therefore reach the top of their climb no faster than they would using non-motorized stairs. Instead they stand immobile on the escalator, like tourists at the Mount Olympus Zoo’s gorgon exhibit. Instead of improving the world, the escalator has instead just become another contributor to the lazification of Planet Earth.
These were conclusions I had drawn after living most of my life in Seattle, where folks wouldn’t walk up an escalator if it burst into flames. And although I haven’t visited many large American cities, I assumed this phenomenon was constant throughout the nation, a conception that was reinforced last summer when Slate published an article describing how Economists at the University of Rochester had observed the same thing (i.e., the average American walks up an escalator about as often as Bob Dole plays tetherball).
Now, this wouldn’t be so bad if you has the option to walk up the escalator if you wanted to. But you don’t — not in Seattle, at any rate. When I was in Europe, I noticed that while not everyone opted to stay in motion while on an escalator, at least the stationary folks kept to one side so that those wishing to climb were able to do so. In Seattle no one ever stays to one side — even those riding alone insist on occupying the exact center of the path — and asking someone to move over so you can pass is considered about as polite as inquiring if you can stab them with a pike.
So imagine my surprise when I discovered that Washington D.C. citizens walk up escalators or stand to one side to allow others to do so! What the hoohaw?! Is this unique to DC, or is Seattle the only hotbed of not-to-the-side-escalator-standers in the nation?
No seriously, I want to know. The comments are open.