Monday, November 10, 2008

Descending Escalators

There are two long escalators side by side. The slates of the revolving stairs are shiny on top and black and gritty in the grooves. They are relics, having once been known as a technological marvel, now, they are well worn and barely maintained. The plastic handrails are scratched and dingy, the once shiny black plastic is now on the verge of being called gray. They are long, a couple hundred feet spans the distance from the sun drenched street to the dark lower level. Both escalators are bringing people down, bringing people from the bright, noisy street into the cool depths of the underground rail system. The tunneled opening to the subway is spacious; the graying ceiling is hundreds of feet above and lends an air of grandiosity; as though the riders are on path to a new, darkened kingdom. Halfway down, I can still feel the bright light from the street above which is saturated in the sound of screeching buses and the smell of overripe fruit. But the sounds of the city pale in strength to the thick silence of the inner earth. There are no sounds that compete for attention here. It is only the continuous mechanical drone of the revolving escalator gears that fills the space with sound. The crowd on the escalators is quiet, each rider stands silent and erect, looking straight ahead, like soldiers at attention, emotionless and still. The ceiling of the tunnel is spotted with the yellowed dim glare of old fluorescent lights. The subdued lighting adds to the quiet. On either side of the conjoined escalators are wide stairs of dark red bricks, made glossy by the countless shoes that have walked upon them. Covering the walls are billboard after billboard, each one colorful and shiny; like windows to another world, they flaunt the latest in technological innovation. My old friend is riding on the escalator to my left. His hair is a cushion of long fluffy curls, like the well-worn wig of a Halloween costume. He is wearing his favorite plastic sunglasses. The lenses are black and adorned in turquoise trim. I call out to him, well above the pitch of the escalator gears. He is only a couple feet from me, but he does not turn around. He is smiling, almost undetectably, with only the smallest corner of his mouth in a slight upturn. I call his name over and over, but he simply stands still, waiting to reach the bottom of the escalator but never fulfilling his goal. As much as I call, he never turns around, the escalator never stops moving, and the crowd never leaves.

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