In the belly of the beast

Invariably, on my way to and from work on the t, I encounter a broken escalator. Sometimes it's in the morning, sometimes in the evening, always when I'm most exhausted and in high heels. I know I'm obsessed with the t, but if you spend 2 hours a day someplace (rather unwillingly because they won't give you a parking spot at work), it can start to preoccupy your thoughts.

The Porter Square t stop is the home of my worst nightmare - the giant escalator. So giant it feels like you're ascending toward heaven on your way up, and descending into the bowels of hell on your way down. These escalators are HUGE. And I hate escalators. When I was a kid, I had a dream that I was on one, and fell backward. And just kept falling. It was one of those dreams where you can feel it, where your stomach bottoms out and you jerk awake in terror. Since then, I've had a fear of escalators. A realistic one I think, since really, if you were to fall backward, which can't be that hard to do, you wouldn't ever stop falling until you hit the bottom with a sickening crash and then proceeded to get sucked in by the toothy rotating stairs until you're completely mangled and probably, if you're lucky, dead. The only caveat to this macabre ending is that you could take out lots of other commuters on your way down, and thus provide yourself with a protective cushion when you land. But, the nasty twist here is that if you can take out other commuters, you could just as easily be taken out. All in all, none of these scenarios is appealing, or provides any comfort.

So last night I got off at Porter Square. On my way out of the station I noticed, with little surprise, that an escalator was broken. One of the giant ones. Which is not atypical. But in fixing it, the work crew had completely dismantled it, and for the first time ever I saw what the inside of an escalator looks like.

I expected it to have bells and whistles. Intricate computer chips. Layers of crossed over multicolored wires. Small gnomes scurrying around on gerbil wheels generating power. Something. But it was barren inside. There were two tracks running vertically up the giant slope, and perpendicular to that were rows of horizontal metal bars, and that's it. It was dark and simple. This, I thought with alarm, is what I mount in order to get from down here to up there? Or up there to down here? This?! This is it???

I didn't think it could get any worse but it has. I'm all for simplicity, but not simplicity in my modest Honda Civic engine, or the 747 which jets me to the south of France, or the train that shuttles me to the office, or the escalator I take to reach the street level. These things, I want to be stunningly, bafflingly complex. I want the escalator floor plan to numb the minds of laypeople. I want the technicians who slave over them to have gone through rigorous amounts of specialized training. I want it to be incomprehensible to me how exactly escalators run.

I wish I hadn't looked down as I passed the crippled escalator. I wish I'd never peered into that empty shaft. I feel a chill thinking about it. I just keep remembering the rules: don't look down, don't let go of the railing, don't leave your shoelaces untied. Whatever you do, don't trip on the dismount. Keep these things in mind, and you might make it out okay. But if something goes horribly awry, don't count on sophisticated modern technology to ensure your safety. It's not in there. There's nothing in there. I've been inside. And it's frightening.