Point/Otherpoint: Walking On Escalators

by Jason Toon & Matthew Norman

Welcome to another in our occasional series of debates about the least significant issues of our time. Today Jason Toon and Matthew Norman debate whether escalators should always be walked, and whether it's permissible to confront those who block the way...

What's Your Hurry? by Jason Toon

It's a type that anyone who's ever worked in a high-rise office will recognize: the hustling go-getter who's just gotta get to the top of that escalator three seconds before everybody else. This antisocial stair-climber doesn't live in a world of autonomous human beings. To him, other people are merely obstacles between him and his transcendently important destination. Ken Lay and Ivan Boesky would approve.

And woe betide the ignoramuses who offend her sense of self-importance by, you know, standing there minding their own business. "One side, slowpoke! I've got vital work to do! Those expense reports aren't gonna file themselves!"

There's nothing wrong with walking up an escalator per se. I do it myself sometimes. When the escalator is empty, or when everyone is occupying the correct side (standers to the right), there's no harm in trotting up a few steps. The time-saving benefit is a total illusion, of course - I'm sure these hustlers squander more time every day vacillating over the choice between venti or grande. But as long as they're not getting on anybody's nerves, no big whoop.

What really makes me want to clip their Achilles tendons is when they have the gall to tap someone's shoulder, or squeeze around them, or ask them to get out of the way. It's obviously, again, not about the delay. By the time the rider has figured out what this pushy, self-important jerk is so worked up about, both walker and rider have usually reached the top of the escalator anyway. So what's the point? It's the principle!

And that principle is: the walker wants you to know that she's superior to slothful, inconsiderate, insignificant you. She understands how this works and she's got important things to do so you should be thanking her for educating you about your faults.

Most people understand that you stand on the right and walk on the left. The rule is so ubiquitously followed that the rare violators are clearly just unfamiliar with this milieu. They haven't had occasion to ride escalators in office buildings much and they probably won't be doing it a lot in the future. Whether you say anything to them or not, chances are they're never going to block your path on this escalator ever again, so "educating" them about it is a pointless instance of social friction.

Unless the point is to spike your morning coffee with a jolt of smug superiority.

Anyway, what's wrong with taking a brief breather after hiking to the building from your bus stop? Here in Seattle, nobody lacks opportunities to walk up inclines. Showing up at work sweaty and disheveled may be your idea of fun, but forgive the rest of us for not sharing your bizarre masochistic fetish.

Escalators were invented for a reason, and I, for one, take the side of scientific advancement. Insisting that escalators must always be walked is a denial of rationality, humanism, and the entire Enlightenment tradition. I doubt any of these neo-cavemen forego modern dentistry or plumbing. But when it comes to escalators, evidently humans must supplicate themselves before the tyranny of altitude.

I'm happy to report that I myself have never been asked to step aside by an aggressive escalator climber. Because if I had, it's possible I'd be writing this from a jail cell. This escalator's a public place, and that dude's got as much right to my space as I have to barge into his stall in the restroom. But on second thought, maybe I would let him pass - after all, it would get that uptight ninny out of my company a few seconds sooner. And apparently a few seconds makes all the difference.

Get Out Of The Way by Matthew Norman

Jason, you're astonishingly obtuse.

First, what kind of person, in this age of epidemic obesity, wastes synaptic firings defending flabby, slothful slobs' right to stand still on moving stairways? A little walking up stairs would be just the thing for this once-great-in-the-sense-of-being-excellent, now-great-in-the-sense-of-being-physically-large nation. Escalator standers are what's wrong with America.

But let's set aside the problem of our gross national fitness. (And I do mean gross.) Let's just say that, for some perverse reason, your vision for the future of America is that we should all adopt the Huttese ideal of beauty, and regard our bodies as nothing more than support systems for the thumbs we need to play Nintendo.

Even then, I think we can all agree that it is, in fact, a longstanding convention of escalator etiquette that the right-hand side is for standers (e.g. the elderly, the handicapped, and persons carrying oversized loads of any kind, be they luggage or body mass) and the left-hand side is for normal escalator use. That is, walking. All we're really arguing about is how to deal with people too oblivious or too selfish to know about it or care to heed it.

Apparently, you regard it as somehow rude for decent citizens to interrupt these idiots' ignorant reveries by tapping them on the shoulder and asserting our right to freely pass.

Dude. DUDE.

When someone has to tell you you're blocking the way -- on an escalator, in traffic, or at the front of the line at a deli where you've somehow arrived before giving any thought to what you might order -- that person's not being rude. He's letting you know that YOU are. And he's doing you a favor.

Offering that kind of negative feedback is not only acceptable; it's ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to enforce the social customs by which civilization is governed.

If no one's gonna give me a hard time about it, why don't I cut in line at the bank? Or take cell phone calls at the movies? Or double-dip in community hummus? Or -- yeah, that's right -- block the walking lane by standing still on an escalator?

Flouting the unwritten prohibitions on such behavior betrays a deeply selfish attitude -- an attitude that one's personal convenience trumps any consideration of the needs of others. This is the mindset of irredeemable narcissists. It is the attitude of sociopaths. It is the attitude of children. It is imperative that we call out these cretins wherever we see them, and condition them to understand that the rules apply to everyone.

For the future of human society, and also because COME ON, SOME OF US HAVE PLACES TO GO, left-side escalator loiterers simply MUST be confronted.

Photos (top to bottom):
Eeyore on the Escalator by Flickr user Annie Mole
Kiss by Flickr user pedrosimoes7
Parliament Station Escalator by Flickr user AdamSelwood
Used under a Creative Commons license