Thursday, February 14, 2008

Vicious metal-toothed monsters

Hello again! On Sunday, I rolled back into Santiago after spending two weeks blabbing away on a community radio station in northern Chile. The experience was incredible, but I'm not going to write about it now. Soon, but not now. An entry of that magnitude requires much more energy than I currently have. As a preview, here's a picture of Canela, the town where my fellow volunteers and I were working:


A sprawling blog post about adventures and misadventures in Canela is on its way. Today's topic is drastically more urgent. I've discovered a horrifying truth: There are vicious, metal-toothed monsters living among us. These bloodthirsty creatures recline in plain sight in office buildings and malls, silently brooding over their sinister intentions.

I discovered the true nature of these homicidal villains yesterday, when a friend and I went to eat ice cream. After arriving to find the neighborhood gelato place closed, we headed to Estación Central, an enormous train station not far from where we both live. Over the years, Estación Central has evolved into much more than a transportation hub; it currently houses a food court, a supermarket, a movie theater, a discount mall and--luckily for us--numerous soft-serve ice cream stands.

As we savored our ice cream--chirimoya for my friend, chocolate-chirimoya swirl for me--we wandered through Estación Central and into the adjoining bus terminal. The terminal was hopping with activity, with luggage-toting travelers speeding through the hallways like the blood cells in those magnified videos of arteries. We took an escalator up to the main platform, where we wove in and out between clusters of waiting passengers.

No, the passengers were not vicious metal-toothed monsters (sorry, U.S. airport security). We only encountered the true member of the Axis of Evil when we decided to leave the platform and start walking home. As we prepared to board the escalator that would take us back down to the main station area, we found ourselves suddenly unable to progress. The group of people ahead of us had stopped right at the top of the escalator.

We probably rolled our eyes. Frozen escalators are an inconvenient but not uncommon reality in Santiago. Sometimes, the escalators in the Metro--which ostensibly make the daily commute less exhausting for the elderly, pregnant women and lazy people--are simply stopped, thus becoming awkward-to-climb staircases. However, this was not the case at Terminal San Borja last night. The true cause of the traffic jam was soon revealed: An elderly woman appeared in the crowd, feebly fighting against the current as she moved away from the escalator she had almost boarded. "I got scared," she said.

That´s how I learned that escalators eat people. Thankfully, my friend and I managed to descend
the spine of the beast without being thrashed apart by metal fangs. After returning home, I went to bed and had a nightmare about ghosts. Coincidence? I think not.

Until last night, I don´t think I´d ever come across someone who was afraid of escalators. My adorable Ecuadorian host mother was terrified of cars and refused to ride in the front seat, but that somehow seemed more normal--or understandable--than a fear of escalators. The woman at the bus station´s phobia seemed, at first, about as irrational as my childhood fear of drains. I remember hovering at the edge of pools for several minutes, eyeing the rippling black squares as I tried to build up either the courage to dive in or the honesty to slink away. What the woman did at the top of the escalator was no different.

During the two weeks I spent in Canela, I saw not a single escalator. Perhaps the woman at the bus terminal had spent eight decades in a similar town; I love transportation hubs precisely because they´re places where worlds collide. The experience served to remind me that not all Chileans are from Santiago and not all people are bubbly kids out in search of ice cream.

1 comment:

statistics said...

or how about your fear of anchors?