Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chapter Two

Mass Manners©
Your guide to living as part of a society
Good manners are a lubricant and a balm for people who live among people. They are part of our history, part of an implicit social contract – a contract where “live and let live” and “do no harm” will always trump “get out of my way” and “shut the fuck up.” And unlike the existence of Global Warming or the “Theory” of Evolution, that contract is largely non-negotiable – or at least it will be when I am made King of the World.

The Sidewalk, The Stairs, and The Escalator

You can just silence that voice your head right now. The one saying, “I’m not a child. I know how to walk on a god damn sidewalk!” Because…no you don’t. If you did, I wouldn’t be writing this. And trust me, if you can’t master the intricacies of the sidewalk, then stairs and escalators are way out of your skill set. Right out. So let me help you. I beg you, let me help.

The Sidewalk. Most of you know what a sidewalk is, but for those of you who might not have seen one, like you folks living in Los Angeles, a sidewalk is a paved pedestrian walkway next to, or on the side of a road. The sidewalk is intended to be a safe place for people who travel “on foot.” We call these people pedestrians. Observe that PEDestrian, PEDicure, biPEDal, centPEDe, and that French thing all upstaters wish we had, the PIED-a-terre, all share the same root – PED, meaning foot. You follow me? The sidewalk is a place on the SIDE of the road for people who WALK. Hence the name: side + walk = sidewalk. The sidewalk keeps the pedestrians out of the road, out from amongst the cars, and trucks, and taxis, horses, and rats and what have you, and this is good. The sidewalk is the place where the people walk. Well, it should be the place where the people walk. Unfortunately, the world being what it is today, the sidewalk is also a pathway for bicycles, scooters, power chairs, Segways, baby strollers, rollerbladers, and tourists. (Tourists are similar to pedestrians, but with less developed navigational skills and more time on their hands, and I’ll get to them in a minute.) Now, I want you to quiet that voice in your head again – the one that thinks I want babies and the physically challenged either to brave the roads or stay home. I don’t. If you have a charming gap-toothed tot in a pram, or you need to use a power chair for whatever reason, you have every right to use the sidewalk. Of course you do, don’t be ridiculous. 

But wait! You are not off the how-to-use-the-sidewalk hook. Stay with me, people. The 21st century sidewalk is no longer for pedestrians alone. It just isn’t. The modern sidewalk is really more akin to a “road for people without cars” then it is a pedestrian walkway. And I suggest we use it as such. In this country, the USA, we drive on the right hand side of the road. The right side. Right, meaning not only “not left”, but also not wrong. Right, meaning correct. And now we get to the heart of the issue. You should think of the sidewalk in exactly the same way you think of the road -- you travel on the right! You walk on the right side of the sidewalk; you push your baby stroller on the right side of the sidewalk; and you motor along in your Jazzy Scooter on the right side of the sidewalk. You can speed up, slow down, and even pass slower people. And you NEVER stop moving. Just as in a car, unless you break down, you KEEP MOVING. 

Which brings us back to tourists. We love you, tourists. We really do. You come, you see, you spend. But when you are using the sidewalks, as you are most welcome to do, you must not stop walking. If you see an enticing object d’art, be it a painting or a celebrity; or if you become overwhelmed by the all the tall shiny buildings; or if you need to photograph yet another homeless person to shock the folks back in Lemon, North Dakota; then you signal your intentions with a much appreciated, “excuse me,” and you pull over. You step to the -- wait for it -- RIGHT HAND SIDE of the sidewalk. You do not interrupt the flow of millions of well-heeled pedestrians on their way to work. You pull to the side of the sidewalk, just as any vehicle would pull to the side of the road. 

Which brings us to vehicles. If you are on rollerblades, or a bike, or a scooter, or a (god-loves-a-dork) Segway, you belong on the road. Period. End of discussion. If you have a baby stroller or are in a power chair, you should conduct yourself EXACTLY as all the non-mechanically endowed pedestrians should conduct themselves. Exactly. This means you do not use your baby stroller as cybernetic snowplow. It means you do not smash people’s calves and ankles with your power chair. You are not more important than I am, or he is, or she is, or they are. (This is a leitmotif, just in case you are a bit dull.) Stop annoying everyone who isn’t you, fellow citizens. Get on board the societal wagon. Learn how to use the sidewalk.

The Stairs. Stairs are made up of a series of steps that allow pedestrians to bridge vertical distances. Stairs are an architectural wonder. Stairs are good – we like stairs. Stairs are very similar to sidewalks, so why people are so pole axed by the proper use of them is quite beyond me. Yes, I know they look all zig zaggy if viewed from the side, but even this is a manageable distraction. Focus, people. As with sidewalks, you travel on the right. Always on the right. You go UP on the right; you go DOWN on the right. If the stairway has two wide banks separated by a handrail, then smart people split those banks into two wide categories. Guess what they are. Right. Up and down. Get with the program. It’s easy. If you go up the stairs on the left hand side, you are an obstructionist. You are antithetical to everything that city dwelling promises. You should live in cave somewhere where they have a lot of unoccupied caves available. But wait, there’s more to learn. You do not ever run on the stairs. You know why? Because it’s dangerous, and upsetting, and you are not so important that you have to be somewhere the rest of us don’t have to be. If you were more important than the rest of us, you would be carried to and fro in a litter or a sedan chair. You would not be jockeying for position on public transportation…like you are. Check your ego at the door. You live in a society. So, you move up calmly and efficiently on the right hand side of the stairs; you move down calmly and efficiently on the right hand side of the stairs; and you pass annoyingly slow people with aplomb. Living among people is a pleasure, yes? Same rules as the sidewalk and the road -- you never stop on the stairs unless there is an emergency, and if there is an emergency, you pull over. And you never, ever sit on the stairs. Why? Because. Stairs. Are. For. Walking. I’ll say it again. Get with the program. Learn how to use the stairs.

The Escalator. The escalator is a moving staircase, which makes going up or down long flights of stairs easier and faster. It’s an amazing contraption – amazing, misunderstood, and almost incurably misused. Almost incurably misused. Luckily, I have the cure. Put your thinking caps on, because here we go. Do you buy a ticket before using the escalator? Do you get a souvenir mug or T-shirt after you use it? Do you throw your hands in the air and squeal with a mixture of terror and glee when you take the escalator down a level? No you don’t. And shall I tell you why? Because the escalator is not a ride at Knott’s Berry fucking Farm, that’s why! What is wrong with you? Do you ever give a single moment’s thought to the rest of us – to the rest of society? I’m telling you, a little piece of me dies every time I see one of you young, able-bodied people take that first step onto the miracle that is the escalator, only to screech to a stop the second you land on the tread; and then you ride the escalator all the way up or down. 

My god. Listen: Escalator. ESS-KUH-LEY-TUR. Get it? Words have actual meanings, you know. Are you under the impression there is some “bon mot guru” in England randomly ascribing amusing sounds to all the nameless objects and devices of the world? “Oh my...someone has invented a moving staircase. How wonderful! I shall call it, Tandoori Chicken! No wait…Porchulaca! No, that’s rubbish. I have it! I shall christen it…The Escalator!” Wake up, people. It’s called the escalator, because its intended purpose is to escalate. Escalate means to raise or lower, increase or decrease, in stages. The escalator raises your altitude; it lowers your altitude; it increases your speed; and it decreases your effort. It is a nearly perfect thing, if you use it properly. So let me help you. I beg you, let me help. The traffic patterns for escalators are pretty much the same as they are for roads, sidewalks, and stairs – with an important proviso. There are people who can’t climb stairs or use escalators. If you are old, infirm, on crutches, saddled with too many children, or carrying an unwieldy and costly majolica jardinière; then you are entitled to stand on the right hand side of the escalator and let it carry you up or down. That’s right; people who are, for whatever reason, unable to walk up or down stairs and/or escalators get a pass on this one. However, people who are too damn lazy, stupid, ignorant, clueless, or willfully antisocial – or any combination of the aforementioned pejorative states -- do not. And because some of the less ambulatory members of our society will be standing on the right, you should be passing them on the left – just as you would pass slower traffic on the road, sidewalk, or stairs. 

The escalator is not a mini vacation for you. You don’t have the right to block passage on the escalator and trap all the more cooperative members of society behind you just because you carry the “sloth gene”. If you are determined to squander Time, to ride rather than walk, to be carried like Soylent Green on a perpetually moving conveyor belt of human fodder, then do it while standing on the right side of the escalator. Don’t make arbitrary decisions that affect the rest of us; don’t deny the rest of us our socially engineered right to escalate; don’t force us to march to the beat of your barely audible and woefully anemic drummer; and don’t demand that we plod and drone along behind you, just because your brain and body have become too addled and lethargic to comprehend that Life’s precious minutes are ticking and tocking away at an alarming pace. That would make you a prick -- and not a little one.

And while I’m taking the time to help you with escalators, I’m going to throw in a little free advice on the people mover. The people mover (or speedwalk, as it is more accurately, and sadly less frequently, called) is the wide flat conveyor belt at airports designed to move luggage and the people who carry it from Terminal X to Gift Shop Y. It is, like the escalator, most decidedly not a ride. It is therefore, to be used exactly like an escalator. You stand on the right, and you walk on the left. To make that possible, you standers need to corral your luggage and kids so that we walkers can get by you. Yes, yes, your kids are lovely; but I don’t know them so their antics don’t amuse. Cooperate, would you? Start today. Learn how to use the escalator.


Mass Man Speaks said...

Does it make you dizzy to walk on an escalator that isn't turned on? I can barely manage it. I turn into an instant drunken sailor.

Dan Stearns said...

I've always said, "It's a sideWALK, not a sideSTAND." Move it, buster.

Michael said...

Oh, Dan--I could hear you saying that line so clearly, it was as if you jumped out of my computer and into the room with me! A Dan Sterns original--I miss you, buddy!