One of the greatest inventions in people moving – kind of like herding cattle into a gate, leading to a truck, heading to a meat-packing company – is the escalator.
I’m not going to include the obvious, greatest contraption, the automobile, because I’m still kind of peeved about the collision I was involved in a few weeks back. And my threshold of being peeved by automobiles increased this week when our car, a trustworthy 2003 Chevrolet Impala, started making knocking noises on the way to an important interview. It cost something like $400 to fix.
Which is one of the reasons we have been a one-car family for the past five years. They break down.
At least I was able to get to my appointment on time, and get to the mechanic in time, and get to the car rental place in time to explain to the agent why I did not have a driver’s license but a traffic ticket. Which was fine, except it didn’t have my picture, and the rental agency needs a photo ID to issue a car to a stranger – and aren’t we all? – so could I please provide a photo ID?
Of course, I couldn’t. The only other photo ID I have is for seminary, and I wasn’t at school. And I don’t have a passport, which I really would like to have. “Oh, yes, I can be admitted to Canada.”
“What’s your business?” the troll at the entry point would ask.
“To travel your fair country, kind troll.”
“Do you have any fresh fruit?”
“Why, of course not.”
But I didn’t have a photo ID, so the man at the counter called his supervisor, explained the situation, and he was told that if I had two forms of identification, I would be allowed to rent.
I had a credit card, a variety of library cards and an insurance card. Then he studied the ticket to see what the violation was for. The agency does not rent cars to people who have been charged with drunken driving, and that’s the first time I’ve even been tangentially suspected of drunken driving by a person of authority.
Back to escalators. I grew up in South St. Paul, Minn., which once was home of the world’s largest stockyards. If you don’t think that’s a point of pride, well, you don’t know cattle. Our high school teams were called the Packers, an apt description. This was in an age when stockyards and the attendant processing companies were called “packing plants,” not “slaughterhouses,” as was the case around the turn of the century. Certainly, we did not want to call our teams the Slaughterers. Cattle were moved by Packers. No, not those Packers, the ones in Green Bay.
Then we moved to the Iowa countryside, which is what most of the state is, and I worked on farms. We shuttled cattle into the back of trucks to be taken to auction.
Which reminds me of escalators. People just kind of naturally line up to feed into the escalator, without even needing fencing to guide them. It’s nothing like climbing stairs or entering an elevator, where people come from all directions like ants. I feel like an Angus at the foot of an escalator.
I remember the first escalator I was on, and there were too many of us kids to count, and we were on our way to see Santa Claus at Dayton’s in St. Paul, and we were wearing coats and mittens, and we were warned seriously about the dangers of escalators, which were ready to tear off an arm or suck you and so much as a shoelace underneath the steel teeth at the top. I’ve always had a vivid imagination, so it didn’t take much to be terrified. It was one stairway you didn’t have to climb to heaven.
I kept my hands to my sides and feared the end of the escalator, where the steps mysteriously disappeared, to jump over the steely bar of teeth crossing the threshold to the safety of the next floor.
Today, I welcome the sight of the escalator at the Governor That Wasn’t Imprisoned Transportation Center in Chicago. But I’ve been noticing the emergency stop knobs lately, and that concerns me. Certainly, people don’t lose life and limb on these things. I don’t remember reading about any bad deaths or limb-ripping Injuries in the papers caused by escalators.
I throw caution to the wind and take the escalator because my right knee doesn’t appreciate climbing stairs, I’m sorry to say.
But I don’t ride that escalator without thinking about my mom’s warning. You don’t want to lose any fingers or toes. Regardless, the escalator is a tremendous advance in herding people from one floor to another, effortlessly and efficiently, to a train car. Like cattle. By invisible Packers.
• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.