The Hungry Hungry Escalator

My forthcoming children’s book will be titled: “The Hungry Hungry Escalator.”  It will be based on an incident that occurred to my in-laws and I as we tried to depart New York’s Penn Station recently.  We survived, but have been left bruised and sore, some more than others.

Let me back up.

Last week the wife (Ashley) and I went to New York City by train, on vacation with my in-laws (Ma, Pa, her sister Amber and brother-in-law J.P.)  We were to leave by train on Wednesday morning.  The train didn’t arrive until Wednesday afternoon, however.  That four hour delay, plus some more delays en route, put us off our arrival time by numerous hours.  Instead of arriving at 10 p.m. on Wednesday night, we instead arrived at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday morning, costing us a pre-paid night in our Chinatown-based hotel rooms.   Beyond that, we had a great time, ate great food, saw great shows (the new production of Les Misrables is fantastic–and that was just for the Val Jean understudy!!!), went to some very nice comic shops, and mostly learned how to ride the subway.  (We only accidentally went to Brooklyn once.)

We were scheduled to depart Sunday morning at 6:55 a.m. so we took the hotel’s car service to Penn Station, leaving at a little after 6.  We got there in plenty of time, then found coffee and breakfast–though just barely.  I tried to order six breakfast sandwiches from a Duncan Donuts whose cashier line did not speak much in the way of the Queen’s English.  The ordering process became an Abbot and Costello routine.

ME:  Yes, I’d like six #10s, please.

CASHIER:  Ten number sixes.

ME:  No.  Six of the number tens.

CASHIER:  Ten number sixes?

ME:  No.  The turkey sausage muffin.  I want six of them.  Please.

CASHIER: The number 10?

ME:  Yes.

CASHIER:  Ten number sixes.

ME:  No.


They were still assembling my six #10s when boarding was called for our train.  I escaped with a bag of sandwiches and two cups of piping hot coffee in a cardboard drink caddy, then joined the family as we headed for the escalator leading down to our train.

We passed the ticket lady at the top of the escalator, showed her our tickets and proceeded.  My brother-in-law, J.P., went first, followed by Ma, Pa, me, Ashley, and her sister Amber.  One of J.P.’s bags had a broken handle, which made keeping it balanced on top of his larger suitcase difficult.  It fell off on the trip down, but he was able to replace it.  However, as he reached the bottom of the escalator, the bag fell off again.  Ma, who was right behind him, saw it land on the steps in front of her.  She planned to step to one side of it on the escalator’s lower landing and push the bag out of the way with her own rolling bag.  Only because her bag was in front of her, she didn’t see where the landing began, misjudged the end of the escalator, caught her bag on his and then went crashing over the two bags as her legs were knocked from under her.  I looked down in time to see her fall, and I turned to alert Ashley, who was a couple steps above me.  When I looked back, I had time enough to see Ma’s coffee splashed across the metal landing plate below before I found I was being knocked backward by Pa, who had been knocked off of his feet after crashing into Ma and the luggage, not to mention his own luggage in front of him, as we were carried toward the growing pile by the still-moving escalator.

Ma was on the landing and Pa close behind her, but I was trapped at the point further up where the metal steps are still very much metal steps and have not yet shrunk beneath the landing plate.  My feet were trapped beneath Pa and the luggage, while my upper half was being gratered by the teethy metal steps.  Somehow I kept the coffee caddy level on the way down (which shows my sense of priorities when it comes to life: “Save the coffee!”).  While the cups were still in their caddy, held in my left hand, that hand was being pushed toward my face by luggage from below while my right arm and back were shoving me toward them due to being pushed by the steps from above.  I don’t count escalators as a phobia of mine, but I did watch the Doctor Who story “Seeds of Doom” a number of times as a child.  I still suppress shudders at the thought of the massive grinder the story’s villain attempted to feed the Doctor into via an automated conveyer system.   My situation at that moment felt reminiscent.

Ashley and Amber, meanwhile, had been a few steps above us, and saw the oncoming pileup.  Ashley began yanking luggage from the space between her and me and chucking it back up the escalator for Amber to catch, so that those of us in the pile wouldn’t be buried under it.  There had fortunately only been one lady above Ashley and Amber and she wisely fled back up the steps to get away from the chaos pile.  Ashley also had the presence of mind to shout for someone to stop the escalator–only, in the moment, she couldn’t remember the word escalator so she instead shouted “Stop it!  Stop it!  Stop the thing!”

I also tried shouting, but I wasn’t much more coherent because I was staring at the business end of two scalding coffees being pushed closer to my face while I was being pummeled by the toothy metal steps on the other side.  (My other arm, I realized, still clutched the bag of sandwiches.)  The extended handle of my rolling suitcase was being pummeled by the steps and it sounded as though it was being crushed.  This sent me into a panic because I figured my fingers would be next.  Ashley said I began screaming a mixture of “STOP IT!!!!!  STOP IT!!!!!” and “OWWWWWWW!” at the top of my lungs.

Below, J.P. was trying to hit the stop button, but it was covered by a plastic lid that was latched in such a way that simply lifting it wasn’t part of its design; it took him a bit to get it open and hit the button and the escalator came to a halt.

I managed to climb out of the luggage and get to my feet.  I had still not spilled the coffee.  I was shaken and cursing, mostly under my breath.  I looked down to see where Ma was at.  She was standing down on the concrete of the train platform, looking back up at me with wide eyes.

“Ma?  Are you all right?” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said.  Her expression made me wonder if she was more badly hurt than she looked. What I didn’t realize until she told me later was that Pa had pushed her free of the escalator and she’d been able to turn around to see me being grated by the steps.  She had been frightened for me because I was wearing my leather satchel around my torso and she could see the strap tightening.  This was because the steps were pushing it further beneath me, but to her it looked as if part of the strap might have been caught in the works and was in danger of strangling me.  My incoherent screams couldn’t have been helping matters.  Thinking about it now, though, had I not been wearing the satchel, I would have been a little closer to the steps themselves and might have been physically injured as opposed to pride-injured–which is mostly what I suffered.  At no point did I feel like I was being choked, but Ma she was about to have Pa free me with his knife.

The ticket lady came down the now stationary steps and was very concerned for all of us.  She didn’t want us moving around until she could ask a few questions and assess the lawsuit potential–though she didn’t actually say that last part.  Ma said she felt like her hip, shoulder and arm were probably bruised, but she didn’t feel anything was broken. I shook myself out and said that I felt okay, too.  Pa, who over the course of the last year has undergone not only triple-bypass heart surgery, suffered a stroke, recovered from it, and had his carotid artery cleaned out, said he felt fine.

The ticket lady offered to help us fill out an accident report, but that would involve not being on the train, which was about to leave.  Seeing that we were all pretty much intact as far as we could tell (not to mention the inspection of my physician wife), and how none of this had been Amtrak’s fault to begin with, we decided to just soldier on down the track.  We boarded the train.

I think we were all in a bit of shock for a while.  The situation, bad as it was, could have been worse.  Mostly, I felt stupid for not being more quick-thinking in the moment and winding up at the bottom of the pile so swiftly, while Ashley, Amber and J.P. saved the day.

After half an hour or so, we all ate our cold breakfast sandwiches and drank our coffee.  I felt a little sore and for a little bit I thought I’d bruised by coccyx, but I eventually decided there wasn’t much wrong.  (I’ve still had cause to shout “Ow!  My coccyx!” over the past day, but only because it’s fun.)

The rest of our train trip home was, thankfully, uneventful and undelayed.

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