If you live in a city you’ll know escalators are hard to avoid.
They’re everywhere: from our shopping centres to our universities to our public transport.
But what if you’re scared of using escalators?
It’s no secret that I love escalators. Therefore it wasn’t until I started researching this episode that I found out more people were afraid of them than I’d thought. This episode began with the discovery of the following Trip Advisor forum post:
Twenty two users replied to the post with different advice:
After several years the original poster finally got the help she’d been searching for:
Escalator accidents are not uncommon. There was the woman who was crushed to death by an escalator in China in 2015. And the 17 people injured in a Hong Kong escalator accident in 2017.
But how do people navigate escalators after an accident? And how can you avoid them if they’re everywhere?
On Scarlette Do’s second night in Ho Chi Minh City her mother was involved in a severe escalator accident.
Scarlette wrote about her experience in ‘How To Cope With Your Estranged Mother Being In An Accident In Vietnam’ for Farrago.
“Step 1: Assume that this can happen anywhere, anytime. You don’t have to climb the Grand Canyon in the rain or trek a Cambodian jungle for your mother to cut the back of her leg. You can simply go to dinner in downtown Ho Chi Minh City and her Achilles tendon can be caught by the escalator. Even in your wildest imagination, you’d never thought the first meeting in years would result in severed muscles and artery. But life changing in the blink of an eye is a cliché you should not give into. Read on to see how you can manage the situation.”
‘Avoiding escalators at tube stations’, Trip Advisor
Welcome to People Movers: a podcast series about the impact escalators have had on everyday life. I’m Lindsey Green and throughout this series I’m going to talk to you about escalators in a way you’ve hopefully never thought of them before.
In the first three episodes of People Movers we learned a lot about where escalators came from and how they work. The next few episodes are going to be about escalators in action.
How do people actually use them? And what about people who can’t use them? Or who would prefer not to use them?
This episode is about safety.
To be honest, when I first started planning this podcast, I didn’t really consider that escalators could be something to be afraid of.
That was until I came across a post on a Trip Advisor forum called “Avoiding escalators at tube stations”.
The post read:
I would like to plan a trip of three or four days to London with my family.
I have a phobia of escalators (only descending- I am fine going up).
Is there any publication or other source of information which will detail which stations/lines I can use without resorting to escalators. I am happy to use stairs or lifts.
It was posted on the 14th of April 2013.
There were 22 comments on the post all with different advice for how they could navigate their way around London without escalators. Someone replied less than hour later saying:
“- Go to tfl.gov.uk (as others have already suggested)
– Under “Journey Planner” (right-hand side of screen) select “More options”. Tick the “I cannot use escalators” option.
– Enter your departure point and destination
– The site will tell you what routes are suitable
It’s a really useful tool!”
To this, the original poster replied:
“Thank you for all your responses. It is really appreciated.
The “i cannot use escalators” option is invaluable.
I have been putting this trip off for years due to my fear – now I feel we can do it!”
What struck with this post was how the woman wrote that she’d been putting off a trip to London for years due to a fear of escalators.
That made me wonder – how many other people out there are afraid of escalators too?
LC: Hi I’m Lewis Sebastian Andrew Cardwell. I’ll give you the full name there. I’m 23 and I avoid escalators at all costs so I can take the stairs.
LG: And why is that? Can you give me a bit about your history with escalators and why you avoid them?
LC: Because when I was about…I can’t remember what age I was, I was super young. One of my shoelaces got stuck as I was going up. And I was hanging out and I saw my shoelace get stuck and then it got really stuck and I thought my foot was going to fall off.
LG: What escalator were you on? Where were you?
I was in Greensborough Shopping Centre. Going up this escalator I had loose shoelaces, because I was a kid and kids don’t do up their shoes, and it got stuck in the side and as I was going up it was going further in and the shoe was getting tighter but I was like ‘this will be okay, it will work out’. I get to the top, I try to walk away and I pull back towards the escalator and my foot’s just like going under.
LG: So when you were going up the escalator you had your shoelace caught in the mechanics of the escalator but you thought ‘nah she’ll be right’.
LC: Yeah pretty much
LG: What did you think was going to happen?
That I would be able to pull my leg hard enough that either the shoelace would break or it would come out. I was wrong. The shoelace did break but in a way that it was just stretching. They make those shoelaces really tough. It was pulling. It started to pull the shoelace from the other side and it started coming through the eyelets and I was like oh man this is how I lose my foot.
LG: Is that what you thought – that you were going to lose your foot?
LC: I was a kid yeah I was panicking, I was like I’m not gonna be able to walk, I’m going to have a stump leg, I’m going to be a pirate.
L: That’s a lot to think about on the way to the top of an escalator
LC: As a kid yeah
LG: What happened after you got your foot free?
LC: Once I got to the top it was really pulling tight and at that point I was in tears panicking like the toddler like oh God I’m gonna die even though it’s just a foot stuck in an escalator. This guy ran out of Target, because there’s a Target right near it, he ran out like ‘I’ve got scissors! I’ve saved the day!’ He cuts the shoelace. My shoe was still super tight so I was ripping the shoe off and my foot was purple and throbbing in pain and I was crying in relief like I’m not gonna lose the foot.
I was with my mother and my Oma and my Oma didn’t care, she was just like ‘yep we’re getting baked potatoes it’s gonna be really nice’ and my mum was like ‘that’s what happens when you don’t tie your shoes up’. Like is this really the time to learn a lesson here?
LG: That’s so funny
LC: Where’s the sympathy? I almost lost my foot. We should’ve made a shopping centre wide thing like
*Imitating a loud speaker voice*
“There’s a boy on the escalator near Target who’s got his foot stuck in it we need all the staff here now…to laugh at him.”
The embarrassment wasn’t a thing then because me keeping my foot was a thing then. The embarrassment five minutes after I was like “I’m at the food court and everyone just saw me cry my eyes out but at least I got nuggets”
LG: How do you navigate escalators now, by just avoiding them?
LC: Escalators usually have stairs next to them. I also treat escalators like stairs, just like a speed boost walking up. But I do sometimes when I’m at the top of an escalator I get really scared but I’m really hot footed on them, I don’t let my feet touch the ground for too long and my shoelaces are always tied up.
LG: So you didn’t make a switch to shoelace-less shoes?
LC: For a while I did wear laceless shoes and that was a motive for it when I was a kid and also because velcro shoes are really cool. I did take the lesson and start tying up my shoelaces.
LG: Do you tuck them into the shoe?
LC: I did. I still do now but that’s just because I trip on my own feet now and I always have really long shoelaces because I’ve got giant feet. So shoelaces go in.
LG: So it’s a different kind of hazard now?
LC: Yeah. I’m just a hazard to myself now. I am the new escalator.
So for Lewis – getting his shoelace caught in an escalator during his childhood means he now walks up escalators quickly, or avoids them altogether.
But what if a ride on an escalator totally changed your life?
Just a heads up – in the next interview we’re gonna talk about blood and gore. If you’re not into that, skip forward to the end of the podcast.
S: I recently went back to Vietnam which is my birth country and that night we went out for dinner downtown Ho Chi Minh City and to access the restaurant we had to go up an escalator. And I boarded the escalator first and then my mum, her sister, my siblings at the back and I don’t think my mum’s sister had much experience traveling on escalators, that’s why she tumbled and pulled my mum, she held onto my mum to try to gain balance but it ended up dragging my mum and her feet down against the teeth of the escalator from where the steps emerge and that ended up cutting her Achilles and severing muscles and the arteries at the back of her foot.
We tried to call an ambulance because nobody knew first aid so we thought we’d leave it to the paramedics – there’s no such thing in Vietnam – we tried to call an ambulance but they said we’re in another district we’re not going to get there quick so you have to make your own way to the hospital and we had to choose the nearest hospital and we had to catch a taxi, we had to transport her down from the restaurant. The escalator was out of the question so we tried to put her on this trolley they use to deliver food and we put her in the elevator, went downstairs, got into a taxi and get out of the traffic jam which was everywhere downtown Ho Chi Minh City because it was a couple of days before Chinese New Year so everybody was trying to travel everywhere, get food, visit family because that’s the tradition for Chinese New Years and everyone was all over the city.
Got to the hospital, first aid was horrifyingly bad, they were under equipped so we had to transfer her again to another hospital and by that time she lost too much bloody already and it was a nightmare. It just felt like I was on my own because nobody really knew what to do
L: Do you feel that in that sort of situation you were surprised by how you could handle it?
S: Definitely. I still think about that sometimes and I still can’t believe I did that because there’s one point at the restaurant when she had a cut and I got the news that the ambulance is not coming so there’s that point of transition which was barely a transition, you just kind of snap into action where you have to calm down, stop panicking, start wrapping and it was quite instinctual if that’s the word. I had to yell out ‘can I have more cloth’ or ‘can I have more bandages’ and ‘call the ambulance’ or else they’re just going to gawk.
I think we all have that in us – that survival mode where you have to stop waiting for someone to do the job.
L: What were your plans for the rest of that trip to Vietnam?
S: I was going to stay in Ho Chi Minh City for less than a week and I was going to do some traveling by myself after that. But it was my first trip back to Vietnam as a young adult so I had wanted to go out and party and go to the rooftop bars and get into that experience of a young adult in Ho Chi Minh City that I never really had. So that was the plan but after that it was just hospital trips every day. It’s just not appropriate for me to go out partying when mum is in bed and can’t move, can’t go to the toilet.
L: Did she make a full recovery? How is she now?
S: I’ve been in touch with her quite sporadically but even over the phone you can’t get a sense of the recovery and how she’s feeling in reality. She’s been saying ‘I can walk here and there’ but in Vietnam you have to use a scooter to get anywhere so we haven’t talked about that subject yet. I’m not sure if she can get on the scooter and drive herself places because your livelihood depends on a scooter. She can walk places and she’s going to physiotherapy sessions but at the same time she can’t afford to go anymore because it costs money and without her income she can’t afford that. So I’m not sure. She’s gotten to this point of recovery but I’m not sure how much more she can achieve.
L: Has this experience changed how you navigate escalators now?
S: Oh yeah definitely. You still have that trauma, that ‘what if’ at the back of your mind, like what if you get on the wrong step, what if you fell backwards. I usually, if I was by myself, I would usually take the stairs but if I was with a friend I would take my time to get on the step. The other day I was trying to get on the train at Melbourne Central and you know that really long escalator that goes down to platform 3 & 4 and it was rush hour as well so you can imagine the escalator was going so quick and I was staring at it and I couldn’t decide where to put my foot so I started crying. I don’t know maybe I’m just a baby, but it’s definitely a pressure to try and travel with escalators now but I think with time I’ll get better.
L: Yeah because it’s a very niche kind of trauma that I feel like not a lot of people would have a lot of empathy for. I don’t know do you find that people don’t understand it well?
S: Oh yeah definitely. My friends tease me.
S: I let them get away with them because they’re my friends. If I cut them out I won’t have any friends left. When I looked around while trying to travel with the escalator everybody just do it. People do it without thinking whereas I have to stop and think about where I place my feet. So I think escalators are so entrenched as a part of everyday travel because they’re everywhere now.
You can read Scarlette’s article ‘How To Cope With Your Estranged Mother Being In An Accident In Vietnam’ via the link in the episode notes.
You can follow People Movers on Instagram: we’re at people movers podcast. Full transcripts and more information can be found at peoplemovers podcast dot com. You can find it on iTunes or your podcast app of choice. Once you’ve done all that – leave me a nice review and tell your friends.
The music in this episode was provided by Tim and Dave of Umbra. Find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/umbraduo.