February 27th, 2009

krazy koati

You'll crash and burn in the bumper cars at Jersey's steel peer

Escalators are simple. Should they be?

That is the not actually urgent question raised by the Society for the Promotion of Appreciating Moving Diagonally Somewhat More, which feels the wonder people feel at escalation technologies has been generally forgotten after the age of seven. They have a point: except for those fortunate enough to be on a pair of parallel escalators and who get hypnotized looking at the other set and how rest of the world moves until the escalator ride ends in stumbling and collision the marvel is forgotten. This diminishes the fun a little.

Escalators started on the second floor heading down in 1822 by the London Traction and Hoisting Company, which was delighted to have finally thought of something which could be tracted and so give some point to the cool but otherwise underapplied word ``Traction'' in their name for decades. You can see their point. Until then they'd had people wandering around London, the surroundings, and the occasional trip to Vienna thinking of things to be tractioned or thinking of what they meant by traction anyway. The consensus was on ``pulling things'' with a vocal minority holding to ``doing ordinary things in too jaunty a manner''.

The popularity of escalators to get downstairs only grew after 1831 when devices to keep a stair on a particular course and to slow it down before crashing into the ground were added. Going upstairs was tougher as people thought they were satisfied with running more swiftly up the downward-going steps. When upward-ness was demonstrated they realized how foolish they had been.

Initially British law regarded escalators as a kind of canal under a court ruling made while other things were on the magistrate's mind, so they were ``common carriers'': any person could bring one's own escalator step, set it on the tracks, and ride either in person or lease the ride to patrons. Steppers had to work fast putting their steps down on the never-ceasing and, after 1842, pneumatically moving escalators and then had to be equally swift in getting the steps off again later on. It could be good transportation-themed work for a person who had nimble hands and the ability to run to the other level and who could get there ahead of the passenger.

And a sign of prosperity in the growing middle class became people buying their own steps. Even if they had nowhere to go to on a diagonal just owning and showing off a private escalator step proved some wealth, and it was not nearly so troublesome as keeping one's own horse-drawn carriages particularly in the home. However, frequent traffic jams, snotty stories by Charles Dickens, and not to mention cases when people were not swift enough taking people and steps off downward-based escalators and so fell into the basement where they were gulped down by the giant greenish-purple glowing beasts living underneath most escalators (too late), resulted in Parliament ruling escalators ought to be monopoly operations in 1856. Other governments followed, but not so closely as to arouse suspicion in the House of Lords.

By 1897 amusement park operator George Tilyou was installing sets of six-storey, eight-lane racing escalators at Coney Island's Luna Park, only to get in four sorts of trouble since he owned the rival Steeplechase Park. Yet the public couldn't stop crowding them thanks to the escalators blocking all the exits, and the enchanted public forced an impressive growth in statistics for the new century.

Escalator booms built up really more diagonal moving capability than the nation needed in the 1920s and the 1950s, climaxing in a famous 1948 attempt to ride the entire length of the Lincoln Highway up and down, and which failed only when people fell, splashing, into the Mississippi River. Nevertheless the surplus escalators served as natural backbones around which to grow multiple-level shopping malls. Without these the modern shopping experience would be much more spread out. Fortunately shopping malls grew like coral in this regard and we need not worry anymore about escalators going unsheltered unless you really want to.

To sum up, escalators should be simple. We need something to be.

Trivia: The Fire and Flames show, using hundreds of performers to simulate a catastrophic fire, was the only show mentioned in the advertising for Luna Park in the summer of 1904. Source: Ship Ablaze: The Tragedy of the Steamboat General Slocum, Edward T O'Donnell.

Currently Reading: The World Of Caffeine: The Science and Culture Of The World's Most Popular Drug, Bennett Alan Weinberg, Bonnie K Bealer.