Street Smart Chicago

Upward Mobility: A plea for escalator etiquette

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Copenhagen Metro/Photo: Stig Nygaard

Common Sense for Chicago 2010

In a diverse population like ours, we all want different things. Some people want to cast votes for a President Palin; for them, we have secret ballots. Some people want to eat restaurant food in their pajamas; luckily, there’s takeout. And while some people prefer to bask motionless on escalators, reveling in the thrill of this mechanical stairway to heaven, other people want to please keep moving.

Until I moved to Chicago, I believed the escalator dilemma—how climbers of the moving staircase could possibly coexist with the exhausted, the contemplative and the lazy—had, like the challenge of cheap lo mein at home, been solved. Standers to the right, movers to the left. Sometimes, maybe, you have to say, “excuse me” to a wayward traveler, but you can do so with righteousness, because you have etiquette on your side.

Other cities get it. New Yorkers separate, the standers huddling to the right, the climbers marching, single-file and unencumbered, to the left. D.C-dwellers have got it down. Muscovites manage to wordlessly sort out their seemingly incompatible ascent styles, as do Londoners. The good people of Chicago, though—O, corn-fed, oblivious Chicago!—clump together in contented gridlock with alarming regularity, a perpetual human barricade barring forward motion. A single “excuse me” is powerless against this immobile crowd.

I appreciate—I do!—the relatively livable pace of this city. I’m totally capable of “stopping to smell the roses.” It’s just that sometimes, I want to spend my leisure time not trapped on a mechanized staircase at the Howard El station. And there are occasions, Midwest or no, where one is legitimately in a hurry, occasions when only the combined forces of man and machine can triumph over tardiness.

I’m not demanding everyone go bounding up those electric steps like strung-out golden retrievers. These are trying times, after all. Gather ye restful moments where ye may. Specifically, gather them while standing to the right. The left is for passing. (Rachel Sugar)

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