08 – Escalator Enthusiasts

Since the beginning of this podcast I knew I wanted to devote one episode to other people who like escalators. I figured: I like escalators, surely other people do too.

This episode started with an email from a stranger:

Dear Lindsey,

I heard about your escalators podcast and was wondering whether you are still doing something on escalators because if you are, I was also wondering whether you might be interested in my son – a severely intellectually disabled 23 years old young man (with no physical disability) who loves riding escalators and has been doing so for almost 20 years. I take him almost every week to ride them in Wollongong, where there are at least 30 to choose from. If you are still doing stuff on escalators I wonder whether you might like to follow him one day and see how he engages with them (forwards, backwards, clunking the steps as he moves up them but not down them etc), and what he likes to communicate about them – actually he’s completely nonverbal yet likes to comment on many aspects of escalators using pictures and gestures (up ones, down ones, steps ones, ramp ones etc). No pressure, just a thought. Pic of him attached

Shooshi

I immediately said yes and a week later I was on a train to Wollongong to meet a stranger from an email.

Shooshi picked me up from the train station and took me back to their big house in the bush with lots of rooms with comfy beds, where I got to learn more about Bodhi and his love for escalators.

Bodhi developed a interested for escalators while killing time at an airport. Since then, it’s grown into a weekly routine. Bodhi loves escalators so much that his 11th birthday party was hosted at the Wollongong escalators featuring an escalator cake.

Exif_JPEG_422
An escalator cake created by Evelyn Ireland

I stayed the night and the following morning Shooshi, Mark & I went for a walk along the Austinmer beach:

IMG_8758

Later that day, Shooshi and I went to pick Bodhi up from his group home. On our way we passed by one of Wollongong’s lesser known attractions: the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere:

temple-3
Nan Tien Temple via Visit Wollongong

…before arriving at the Wollongong escalators:

IMG_8768

Bodhi communicates non-verbally. He uses a stack of cards attached to his belt buckle with pictures of things he uses regularly. If he wanted a drink of grape juice, he would point to the grape juice picture on his belt buckle, and we would stop, sit down, and he would have a drink of grape juice.

BodhicommunicatingatEsc13April2018
Bodhi with his picture stack

After an hour of escalators, it was time for me to catch a train back to Sydney.

I rode back to Sydney reflecting on how something as innocuous as escalators brought me here.

Hear from Shooshi, Mark & Bodhi in the eights episode of People Movers. Listen via OmnyiTunes or your podcast app of choice.


Credits

Dr Shooshi Dreyfus

Mark

Bodhi


Upcoming Events

I will be at the Audiocraft Podcast Festival’s PodFair on Sunday June 3rd. The Fair will be held in Sydney at the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) at 

Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 8.58.04 pm
More info via the Audiocraft program

Later in June I will be part of Melbourne’s Emerging Writers Festival. I’ll be leading a podcasting workshop at the Dandenong Library on Saturday June 23rd (followed by 12 fortnightly workshops afterwards).

Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 10.00.48 pm
More info & free booking via Emerging Writers Festival

Transcript

Welcome to People Movers: a podcast series about the impact of escalators 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 about them before.

This is the last episode of this season of People Movers.

In the last episode we were in Sydney. This episode will going to pick up where we left off to meet someone who loves escalators even more than me. But first, let’s take it back a few weeks. It was early April and I got an email from a woman named Shooshi Dreyfus. The email read:

Dear Lindsey,

I heard about your escalators podcast and was wondering whether you are still doing something on escalators because if you are, I was also wondering whether you might be interested in my son – a severely intellectually disabled 23 years old young man (with no physical disability) who loves riding escalators and has been doing so for almost 20 years. I take him almost every week to ride them in Wollongong, where there are at least 30 to choose from. If you are still doing stuff on escalators I wonder whether you might like to follow him one day and see how he engages with them (forwards, backwards, clunking the steps as he moves up them but not down them etc), and what he likes to communicate about them – actually he’s completely nonverbal yet likes to comment on many aspects of escalators using pictures and gestures (up ones, down ones, steps ones, ramp ones etc). No pressure, just a thought. Pic of him attached

Shooshi

Conveniently I already had a trip to Sydney planned, so I replied:

Hi Shooshi,

Thanks for reaching out. I would absolutely be interested in meeting your son and learning about how he engages with escalators. The final episode of the podcast is going to be about people who like escalators so it would be a perfect fit.

As luck would have it I’ve actually got a trip to Sydney booked for next weekend. Would you be available?

Speak soon,

Hi Lindsey,

That’s amazingly coincidental that you’re interested and coming up next weekend and doing the last one on this topic! Can’t believe the synchronicity! And yes we would be available too

I don’t know what you’re plans are and whether you’re interested to come to the Illawarra (the region Wollongong is in). It’s beautiful and only about an hour and 20 min by train and is a LOVELY train ride as it goes through the national park and along the coast. I can pick you up at this end or do whatever works. We usually go to the escalators on Sunday afternoons if that works for you, and you are welcome to stay over – we have a big house in the bush with lots of space and spare rooms with comfy beds. We’ll feed you well and if the weather’s like it is at present, a swim is always good. But of course no pressure – just tell me what works for you and I’ll try to work in with that if at all possible

So I changed my flight home from Saturday night to Sunday night and started looking up train timetables from Sydney to Wollongong.

Lindsey (leaving voicemail): Hi Shooshi it’s Lindsey I’m just letting you know I’m on the train now. I should be there in an hour and twenty minutes, I’ll see you then. Bye

* sound of train doors closing*

Shooshi had mentioned the train ride was scenic and she wasn’t wrong. We passed through a bunch of suburbs I’d never heard of getting to the Royal National Park and then the coast. I listened to podcasts and looked out the window thinking about what the night ahead would have in store for me.

When I got to Thirroul, a few stops before Wollongong, I was met at the station by Shooshi who took me back to their big house in the bush with lots of rooms with comfy beds. Not long after, her partner Mark came home and I got to learn a bit more about Bodhi and his love for escalators.

How old was he when you discovered he liked escalators?

M: That’s a good question

S: I think he was about 7

M: My recollection was waiting at the airport

S: …To pick me up and the plane was late so you took them on the escalator and we realised he just wanted to go up and down and up and down

M: And that was it after that

S: So if you find something that entertains him, which is actually really quite difficult to do, was quite difficult to do, it’s easier now that he’s older, you’re like ‘great!’ Found something that Bodhi likes to do, he’s happy, so that’s why we kind of ran with it because he loved doing it and it would use up hours of time, otherwise you’re scratching around trying to keep him occupied

M: To be out and about doing something he loved worked for him and worked for us didn’t it?

S: And actually when he was at 11 we had his birthday party at the escalators. So we set up tables at the top of the street mall and his favourite ones are next to the street mall, they go straight off the street mall and my artist sister made these flags on bamboo poles and so we set up all the food and all the homeless people joined in the party as well and then we went all around the escalators each of us holding a flag behind him as he travelled around. He didn’t care less but we had a great time. And the other funny thing that happened, not funny thing, nice thing when you were talking about escalator art, I was thinking that one of our friends made an escalator cake. So she actually made the sides and those liquorice straps with lines on them for the rails and steps and everything. I’ll see if I can find a picture because that was amazing. That was a piece of cake art.

M: Well she was an artist, she studied art. So it was a sculpture

Bodhi is 23. He’s lived in a group home since he was 18, about half an hour away from Mark and Shooshi. There he goes to a day program 4 days a week where he, and other men in the home, ride the train, go swimming, go on picnics and of course – ride escalators. That leaves three days when he’s at home, two of which he’s visited by Shooshi and Mark.

M: I have a Wednesday date with him at Hungry Jacks after work. Last Wednesday he ate 5 hamburgers

L: What’s his PB?

M: His PB?

L: His personal best

M: Oh okay. Five. I don’t think we’ve got past five

M: And Shooshi is usually Sundays and that involves escalators usually. I haven’t done escalators with him for quite a while

S: In face you’ve only only done Hungry Jacks with him for a long time

M: It just seems to be his preferred activity on a Wednesday for some reason I don’t know. He never asks for escalators

S: I don’t want him to eat hamburgers all the time and I like to take him to do an activity. Sometimes I do take him to the rainforest or some other activity, or he loves visiting people, but escalators sure bet that he’ll have a good time and you’ll wear him out

L: What do you think it is about the escalaros that he enjoys? The movement, the speed, the texture?

M: I think it’s a combination because he’s always been fascinated with steps as well, so with escalators you’ve got the combination of the movement, the rhythm. Because he’s always been quite attuned to sounds and music, so the movement, the rythm, the steps

S: He’s kind of a gross motor kid so he likes steps, ladders, boardwalks, escalators. And I think it is a bit like a ride: they’re exciting, they move, they take you somewhere, they kind of action without him having to do very much. You’ll see when you go tomorrow

M: And he has little moves, he’ll go backwards and he’ll know just at the right moment when to pirouette around

S: Or when to lift his heels and get off backwards. Or the other thing he does when the escalator’s going up is he puts foot on upper step and makes it clunk, clunk, clunk

M: Which can be dangerous at times which we found out

M: And there’s the whole social side too, as I was saying before, a lot of the sales staff in different stores got to know him and knew him on a first name basis and even the security guards and plain clothes security guards all knew Bodhi. And there was a time when he was in DJ’s where there was a new staff member who didn’t know him and she was wondering why this strange boy was riding the escalators and she tried to basically march him out of the shop but the other staff twigged and they said ‘no no no it’s okay we know him it’s fine that’s Bodhi’

S: That’s the nice thing about Wollongong, it’s quite a small town so someone Mark grew up with, she works in David Jones, we all say hello to her when we go past. There’s always other people. And if he bumps into someone he knows from any part of his life, whether it’s school or his day program or his group home, he’s beside himself if he bumps into someone he knows at the escalators

M: Mind you, he doesn’t like to be distracted too long  from the escalators, so at a certain point he’ll do this little wave thing which means ‘okay time for you to go now, I’ve gotta return to my escalators activity’

S: Piss off, leave

S: He’ll do it for hours. He’s got these pictures that he wears and it’s kind of keywords: pictures of escalators, car, bus, all the things that he might like to talk about on a stack on a string off his belt on a key ring, and he will point to different ones. So when we’re on the way to the escalators in the car he will point to steps. And he’s not asking about steps, he’s talking about the fact that we’re going to escalators that are steps. Or there’s ramp escalators and it’s pretty important which one’s we’re going to

L: So is that him choosing which ones he wants to go to?

S: Kind of yeah and it’s also him confirming that we’re actually doing what I said we’re doing. He repeats things a lot. In the beginning it would be you can go to Wollongong esclators or Figtree escalators or Worrawong escalators or Shell Harbour escalators or if we go to southern Sydney Miranda escalators. So sometimes I’ll play a game with him because I’ll say to him “do you want to go to escalators?” and he’ll go yes, and then he’ll go “Woo Woo” and I’ll say “what Figtree escalators?” and he’ll say “Woo Woo”. And I’ll go through them all. I know it’s Wollongong escalators

M: It’s all about the conversation at that point and even when you’re there riding the escalators, there’s a whole lot of associated conversations he likes to have because there’s escalators that go down and there’s escalators that go up and there’s the ramp escalators as Shooshi said and the step escalators. He’ll keep asking you throughout the activity, it’s like “yes Bodhi this is the escalator that goes down isn’t it” and because he doesn’t have expressive language you have to uphold both ends of the conversation for him and he’s waiting for you to say it

S: So he’ll force you into my armchair and he’ll yell at me up the escalator. He’ll be going “ahh ahh” and I’ll have to say “that’s the down escalator!”. He won’t stop. If you get it wrong he’ll just keep going “ahh ahh” until you get it right

M: Until you say the right phrase and then he’s happy and then he continues riding

M: That’s part of the activity as well isn’t it, it’s the conversation you have while you’re riding the escalators, it’s got to be the right one

The conversation moved between Bodhi and escalators and dinner.

S: So this is fresh corn pollenta which I think is like creamed corn but it’s really yum/ And then serve yourself, that’s like…not ratatouille, sort of like a shakshuka without eggs I guess. So serve yourself a big dollop of that. Do you want me to serve you Marko?

M: Yes please

S: We say a little blessing that goes like this: for our family and our friends and our food and our freedom and our life and our health and our fortunes, we say thank you

L: Thank you. It looks delicious

S: Good. I hope it is. Let’s taste it and see

By 9 o’clock I was ready for bed. I was tired but full of anticipation for the next day.

The next morning Shooshi, Mark & I went for a walk along the beach, before leaving to pick up Bodhi

S: So we are now about to pass the biggest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere

L: Oh wow

S: You can see the pagoda right there and the temple’s just in front of it

L: Are there are a lot of Buddhist people living around here?

S: No there are not a lot of Buddhist people living around here. And in fact these are Taiwanese Buddhists they are building a little university across, they’re just making the road over at the moment, where they teach English and they teach things like mindfulness and other kinds of lovely Buddhist things. It’s a pretty amazing temple in the middle of Wollongong

L: It’s weird that the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere is not in Taiwan or somewhere in South East Asia, that it’s in industrial Wollongong

S: I think it’s because of space. They could never buy this amount of land or anything

Half an hour later we’d picked Bodhi up and we were on our way to the Wollongong escalators.

S: Bodhi this is Lindsey. Lindsey this is Bodhi

L: Hello

S: Lindsey’s going to come to the escalators with us Bodhs

S: Can you find a photo of escalators to show Lindsey what esclators we go on?

B: Mmm

S: Yeah those escalators. Which ones would you like to go to today? Wollongong escalators? You want to go to Wollongong? You don’t want to go to Figtree escalators? You want to go to Figtree escalators? You want to go to Wollongong escalators? Okay

Bodhi communicates non-verbally. He wears a key ring on his belt which has a piece of string attached with about 30 pictures of things that he encounters regularly. So if he pointed to the picture of grape juice, we would stop, sit down and he’d have a drink of grape juice.

Bodhi spent the car ride pointing to images on his iPad and his belt buckle and Shooshi would repeat back to him what was in the picture.

B: Eee

S: Oh yes that’s Wollongong escalators, that’s your favourite ones isn’t it?

B: Eee

S: Show me. Oh that’s the ramp ones

B: Mmm

B: Eee

S: That’s the new ones isn’t it, that’s you riding them

B: Eee

S: Show me. Oh Darren! We love Darren. He lives in Mount Kembla with Ev. We saw Darren last weekend didn’t we when we visited

B: Eee

B: Mum!

S: That’s me, I’m your Mum!

We got to the shopping centre and Bodhi led the way. If he wanted to go to the escalators with steps, he’d point to the picture on his belt that had steps. If he wanted to go to the ramp escalator, he would point to the picture of the ramp.

S: Hi how you going?

Man in shopping centre: Good thanks how are you?
S: Good

B: Eee

S: Are we going to show her the steps one and the ramp one? Because there’s a steps one before we get to the ramp one isn’t there. Where’s the ramp escalator? Can you show Lindsey where’s the ramp escalator?

We rode up and down, on the steps escalators and the ramps escalators, with Bodhi leading us to the ones he preferred. It was clearly a well worn path for Bodhi and for Shooshi. Bodhi was on a mission and it was just up to Shooshi and I to catch up.

L: Yeah they’re steps

S: That’s the steps escalator, you have to go on that first. Can’t go past an escalator

L: Steps escalators

S: The ramp one’s around the other side. There it is! It’s the ramp escalator, that’s just too exciting

S: Are you showing Lindsey your ramp escalator?
B: Eee

* Bodhi stomping on escalator *

S: So yes I don’t think there’s anyone quite as interested in the classification of type as Bodhi

S: I could draw a taxonomy because: ramp and steps – choose either, up or down – choose either. And you have to choose from both

L: Does he have any sort of pattern or is it random each time?

S: No he rarely comes back to these ones, we usually stay over there, and those ones, but I think he is trying to show you that there’s different ones

S: We will go to Hungry Jacks when we’re finished, we’ll go to Hungry Jacks and have a chicken burger when we’re finished at the escalators. You want to go now? No let’s do a bit more escalators. And when we’re finished we’re going to go to Hungry Jacks, but why don’t we show Lindsey the new escalators

For most of us, escalators are just a form of transport. They help take us from point A to point B and once we’re at point B, we don’t really think about them. But for some people, like Bodhi and Shooshi, they’re more than just transport. Shooshi mentioned the night before that she and Mark had once considered moving to Armidale in regional NSW. She said that when she was thinking about moving, they had to consider how many escalators were in the city, because they’d become such a big part of their lives and they couldn’t live in a place without them.

One of my favourite things about escalators is how little the technology has changed in the past 100 years, but how widely their use has developed over this time. When Charles Seeberger displayed his escalator at the Paris Fair in 1900, he could’ve never predicted that 118 years later, Bodhi would’ve been riding escalators for fun at a Wollongong shopping centre on a Sunday afternoon.

S: That’s the down one isn’t it

B: Eee

S: Do you want Lindsey to come?

L: We’ll go up the ramp escalators?

L: Yeah it’s the ramp escalators isn’t it

L: Yep ramp escalators

We rode the escalators for about an hour. They usually go for longer, but I had a train to catch.

S: Bodhi, Lindsey’s going now. Do you want to turn around and wave bye-bye to Lindsey?

L: It’s nice to meet you Bodhi

S: Yeah Lindsey’s going now, we’re gonna say bye-bye Lindsey. See you next time

And pretty soon I was on the train back to Sydney, where I listened to podcasts and looked out the window, thinking about the places I went and the people I met all because of escalators.

This has been the final episode of this season of People Movers.

But before I want to share a bit of news. I’ll be at the Audiocraft Podcast Festival’s PodFair on Sunday June 3rd at AFTRS. If you’re going to Audiocraft, come by and say hello. I’d love to meet you and I’ve got some stickers to give away as well. I’m also going to be part of The Emerging Writers Festival, where I’ll be leading a podcasting workshop at the Dandenong Library on Saturday June 23rd. More info on both events can be found on my website: peoplemoverspodcast.com or my Instagram @peoplemoverspodcast.

Finally, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who’s shared their stories with me this season: Roger Haig, Mark Dunn, Chloe Martin, Lewy Cardwell, Scarlette Do, Amy Marks, Sara Savage, Chris Fox and finally Shooshi, Mark and Bodhi. Special thanks to everyone who listened to the podcast and supported my silly idea.

I’ll be back at the end of the year with season two. But until then, I’d encourage you to pay more attention to the escalators around you. You might be surprised what you discover.