Swift

The Escalator

“Did you arrive by aircraft? If an aircraft hadn’t been available, how long would it have taken you to arrive to Washington, D.C.? How would that have changed your travel experience?”
This sign greeted me in the National Air and Space Museum and made me giggle. I arrived by sailboat, and it took three and a half months.

The sign writer may think traveling by sailboat would be scary. They may want to know what it’s like to be in a storm, on a boat, out there, alone. They may ask how it feels to look out at night, and see no one. No land, no cell service, no help. I’m actually a rather anxious person, but it’s not the sea that causes my anxiety. It’s the city.

We spent 3 or 4 days sailing up the Potomac. In the 95 miles from Chesapeake Bay, we had seen very few people. The night skies were so dark we could see the Milky Way reflecting in the water. First, we sailed by Mount Vernon. Then boat traffic picked up. There was a bridge, and aircraft landing at an airport. Helicopters flew overhead. Voices on the radio increased. 

We had to dock. Get the lines out. The dog went wild, howling and barking. (He thinks this procedure helps our docking communication. It does not.) (He also must think “I’m going to kill you, you brimstone beast” means “Bark louder, please”) Construction hammers nearby. The dock master helps us tie up. Another human! I probably should have put on clean clothes. Maybe brushed my hair?

We walk into the neighborhoods to drop Hastings off at day care, constantly watching for cars trying to run us over. They go so fast! And where are we? Get out the map!

We walk to the Metro station. The sign states: “It’s time. Pardon our dust while we build new escalators”. That means the city knows these old escalators are about to fall apart and drag your body through their teeth into dark machinery.

I linger. Matt is already 3 steps down. I’d looked up Metro etiquette and knew to stand to the right and walk on the left. Not that I’d be walking on the left. No, I’ll be standing on the right, clutching the railing, concentrating on keeping my feet in the correct position, preparing to leap off at just the right moment and avoid certain mauling by the exit teeth. Luckily, my shoes don’t have laces. If they did have laces, they could get caught in the exit teeth and I’d become Flat Stanley and be dragged away, crunched to death.

Matt turns around to look at me. "What’s wrong with you?” he says. So many things. There’s the height. I don’t like heights, they make me feel sick and un-moored. Then there’s the death by escalator. And if I survive the escalator, what if Frank Underwood is at the tracks downstairs? What if I trip getting on the Metro and fall underneath it and get electrocuted and then run over? And if I survive the Metro, there will just be more escalators. Or elevators, where you can get trapped in the heat with some screaming kids and a pregnant lady and an unhinged person, and you’d die of thirst, or the cable would break and send you hurtling to the ground.

Or, you could get flattened by any of the one million drivers trying earnestly to run you over. What about the plague? It could become airborne in the city. Out on the sea, the plague isn’t likely. And then there’s terrorism. These bag checks in museums are a laugh, and they don’t even bother with the joke on the metro!

And so I hesitate at the top of the escalator. People rush by on the left side, rushing to catch the next Metro that will whisk them off to the next danger. I’ve been here long enough to calculate the speed that each step takes to separate. I don’t want to step on the middle of a separating step, of course! That would make me fall!

Don’t forget the helicopters that fly directly over our boat non-stop. It seems like they are flying at 50 ft, and our mast is 55. I lay in my bunk, and I can feel the explosion, the way the mast crashes down and tears the fiberglass boat open, like the way I open a bag of salt and vinegar chips, but a lot noisier!

I put my best foot forward, which, honestly, doesn’t seem wise. Shouldn’t you put your worst foot forward so it can test the troubled waters? Or is it like George Washington, leading the charge? My right hand grips the hand rail, which vibrates in an unnerving way.


A teenager, who grew up without the benefit of safety commercials, who still knows everything and is indestructible, puts his worst foot forward and lurches onto the escalator. He begins to tap the rail to the beat of a tune coming through his Beats by Dre headphones (this was last week, before Courage by Apple). It unhinges me. I want to turn and tell him to stop, but I don't, because that would be crazy! 

I push through the hurdles in my mind, the traps that lie in wait, and arrive at today’s museum. “How would your life be different without modern travel?” the sign says. It would be a lot less stressful!

Escalator safety commercial:
What do you find scary about modern life? Maybe being crushed by a vending machine?



References: Frank Underwood - fictional character on House of Cards, set in D.C. (a Netflix Series).
Beats by Dre - headphones for cool people
Courage by Apple - Apples claims it took courage to remove headphone jacks from their new phone. Insert eye roll.

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4 comments

  1. So much to worry about! Especially Frank Underwood lurking in every dark corner in DC waiting to destroy you. The helicopters would freak me out. I figure it would be good to anchor near you in situations like that as our mast is shorter than yours. You could be like an early warning system of sorts that they're flying too close :-)

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    1. I just kept telling myself that since these were Marine One helicopters flying at 200 ft that the pilots knew what they are doing. But no one is immune from checking Tinder at the wrong time and getting distracted!

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  2. Society. It freaks me out in so many ways on so many levels. I hear you about people, noise and modern technology. You are sheltered from all that when sailing the oceans and anchoring in remote places. Getting back to the "real world" is a shock to all senses! I do love the mall area, museums and parks in DC, though, so I would be willing to live on the edge of all things fearful for a few days. :-)

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    1. It's really surprising how different things seem when it's not your day to day life. I didn't realize how calming I found the boat until being away from it!

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