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Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching here in the U.S.—a time to show our thanks by gorging on food until we’re miserable and complaining about leftovers.
Retailers, however, have a different goal. They remind us this is the official start of the Christmas shopping season. Of course, many of them have been reminding us for a couple of months now. I even have a friend bragging they have finished their Christmas shopping. They don’t even mean for last year. Disgusting.
I don’t like shopping unless it involves sitting at my desk clicking a mouse. I don’t like the crowds. The noise. The escalators.
No one warns you about the dangers of an evil escalator.
I battled the escalator monster at the age of eight. To this day, I approach those moving steps with trepidation. Before entering the moving horror, I check my feet to ensure my shoes are secure, laces tied, and feet fully protected. You would be equally as cautious if you had had the battle I did.
I grew up in a small manufacturing town. Retail was primarily downtown—”the” mall wouldn’t open for several more years. Main Street—yes, it was really called Main Street—had a number of stores in its couple of blocks, but the highlight was our only department store. A multi-story department store towering over the center of town.
Okay, fine, it was a two story building, but the department store was the center of the holiday festivities. A real, working toy train set circled a toy town. Christmas decorations hung from the ceilings. Crowds mobbed the aisles. Toys filled the shelves. Santa Claus ho-ho-hoed while holding screaming toddlers terrified by this weird stranger.
And in the center of the sprawling store—cue the evil music—a pair of escalators waited to eat little children.
Trust me on this. I was almost a victim.
For some strange reason, we made a historical decision as mankind that we could no longer walk up or down a flight of steps without mechanical assistance. No, we needed the steps to move and carry us—and so we invented escalators. People simply step on to them, oblivious to the danger, and ride from floor to floor.
I have no specific memory of the down escalator, safely gliding you from the second floor to the first. But the up escalator lives in my nightmares. The time it attacked me. Held me against my will. My father wrestling me from the jaws of the beast.
Being kids, my older brother and I would turn the escalator ride into an adventure. We would walk backwards bumping into people innocently riding. We would lift ourselves on the handrails and fly. We would leap off of the end (I should have practiced that more). Or, we would simply hit each other for the fun of it.
Siblings. I pity only children who don’t remember the joy of pounding on each other. Lots of fun until Dad would get irritated at us and tell us to “Knock It Off.” That, of course, was the internationally recognized signal for the two of us to start arguing about who started it.
For some odd reason, we were often separated on these shopping trips. No clue why. It sure wasn’t as fun for the two of us. But on the day of the evil escalator attack, I was alone with Dad.
The store was crowded with Christmas shoppers. I had already been given the usual warnings. Don’t wander off. Don’t touch that. Don’t break anything.
The item we needed was on the second floor. We approached the escalator without fear (and only a mild warning not to play around since I was momentarily sibling-less). I was in front of him (something about watching me closely) as we stepped on. The ride to the second floor was uneventful.
The exit from the escalator, however, was very eventful. I simply stopped. Could not move. At all. My foot was glued to the floor. I was in the monster’s grip.
The first person to collide into me was, of course, my father. He exuded those paternal words of love—“Move it!”
I tried, but was immobilized.
“Stop clowning around.” He was using his Dad voice. Amazingly, it had no power over my sudden frozen state.
“I’m not. I’m stuck.”
People were now beginning to collide into my father. Frustrated at my game, he picked me up to carry me off the escalator. My foot, however, remained stubbornly stuck to the floor. I became the incredible stretching kid.
Realizing that I was not moving, we entered the land of crazy questions. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I’m stuck.”
“How can you be stuck?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can you get unstuck?”
“Would I still be stuck if I could?” The situation was so crazy that I actually lived through that answer.
By now, the entire escalator was full of people trying to walk backwards to avoid the traffic jam. And a massive crowd was forming at the bottom of the escalator trying to get to the second floor. Most of them had no idea what was wrong. Of course, they couldn’t see me, only my father blocking the path. Let’s just say there was an incredible lack of Christmas cheer and it wasn’t seasons greetings they were shouting.
Doing his best to continue walking backwards, Dad examined my shoe. He spotted the errant lace. I was never particularly talented at keeping my shoes tied. Heck, I still struggle with that detail. One of the great joys of approaching senior status is the fact I can wear slip-on shoes without attracting attention.
A shoelace had ridden the steps underneath the guard at the top. Trying to pull my foot forward only wrapped the lace around its teeth, locking my foot in place. Since I was moving forward, I had the lace wedged. As more people piled up behind me, I became the world’s smallest and most effective barricade. Something like this:
All we had to do, he deduced, was move backwards enough so that my foot was before the guard. That only meant moving the entire crowd one step back so we had room. Christmas cheer erupted again. I learned new vocabulary words.
After much grumbling, struggling and pushing, we had success. My shoe came loose. We stepped off the escalator. The flood gates were released. Wave after wave of shoppers entered the second floor. Most of them had no clue what had caused the traffic jam.
To this day, I think of that moment every single time I step on an escalator. And I do mean every time. I automatically look at my shoes to make sure they are tied. And when I reach the end of an escalator, I lift my feet high to exit. I even use that jumping skill at the end of the ride.
Now I do my Christmas shopping online. No escalators are involved. That seems much safer.
Wishing you the Happiest of Thanksgivings. If you dare venture into retail during this season, beware of the escalators. They’re evil.
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