Let's just say for argument's sake that you enter a New York City subway station and step onto an escalator that's headed down towards the train tracks. At that moment, you must choose one of two clear courses of action: walk down the escalator, or stand still. Put more precisely, you can either walk down the escalator, or you deserve to be pushed down the escalator.

We live in a society here. We don't live in an imaginary Candyland which revolves solely around your personal needs, where the needs of every other human are completely irrelevant unless they coincide with your own. In this world, we all have to pitch in for the good of the whole. We all have to do our part to help ensure the smooth functioning of society. We all have to consider the needs of others when making our daily decisions.

We all have to walk down the escalator. All together, now. There you are.

You don't want to walk down the escalator? Counterpoint: The dozens and dozens of people behind you do not want to miss their train. That train— do you hear it?— yes, that train that you can hear, approaching the station, right this moment. The train that will be pulling in and opening its doors in just seconds. What makes this train so tantalizing is that we can all hear it approaching; we're all so close to the train that we're aware of its impending arrival; we all want to get on the train, in order to reach our destinations; and yet we can't get to the train. Why can't we get there? It's so close. Why not just make our way to the platform in a hasty but orderly fashion and get on the train?

Because this motherfucker up here wants to stand still on the escalator.

You're too tired to walk? Counterpoint: no you're not. How did you get in this subway station to begin with? Were you hauled here in a wheelbarrow? How do you move about the city? Are you carried by the scruff of your neck in your mother's mouth like a wayward puppy? I suspect that, no, you walk. You walked here. You can walk down the escalator. All of us are tired, you see. That is why we don't want to spend any more time in this train station than is absolutely necessary. That is why we want to catch the first available train— the train that is about to pull in now. Which we will miss. Because we are stuck on this escalator.

Behind your relaxing ass.

You're standing "to one side" of the escalator and we can go around you? Counterpoint: really? I'm not here to call you a liar, but have you taken note of the average width of the average escalator in the average urban transportation hub? Even the escalators that are designed to be wide enough to fit two people were clearly not designed with the girth of the average American tourist in mind. Nor were they designed to accommodate two people when those people are carrying bags and backpacks and briefcases and art portfolios and all the other detritus that modern subway riders transport in their daily travels. Acting as if all escalators are wide enough to render your own personal decision to stand still unmeaningful to those behind you is little more than a convenient fiction. And, of course, a good number of escalators are only built to be wide enough for a single person, in which case walking down should be understood to be mandatory, under the assumption that you are not a graceless savage.

If you are so old and decrepit that walking down the escalator would literally put your physical health in peril, then fine. And I'm even willing to give the laziest among us the gift of being able to stand on the upwards escalator that is leaving the station, when there is no risk of missing a train (although the negative karma you accrue from your escalator blockage will still be yours to deal with). But do not, under any circumstances, stand still on the downward escalator, enjoying the sensation of sloth, oblivious to the increasingly desperate and frustrated crowd of commuters piling up behind you.

Keep it moving, people.

Previously in Urban Transportation Etiquette: Please, Don't Stand in the Walkway

[Image by Jim Cooke.]