Stranger reader Julia Kingrey asks we take a moment to reflect on the perpetually inoperative escalator on the corner of Broadway and Pine and has now, alas, been replaced:

Important breaking news that I have yet to see covered in your august publications!

The Harvard QFC escalators — you know, the ones that constantly seemed to be out of service — are gone. They have been replaced with a set of always-ready-to-serve-you stairs. The new stairs are illuminated (like in a fancy musical!) and appear to be both lovely and practical.

Still, I suspect I am not the only one who is disappointed by this. Sure, the escalators frequently failed at their job of conveying people who wanted to stand in one place between the store entrance and the outdoor parking lot. They often froze and became stairs by default — albeit stairs that could (but probably wouldn't) lurch thrillingly to life at any moment.

They were oddly charming, those stubborn old escalators. Like Bartleby, they preferred not to. They were a modern convenience that refused to be convenient. They were a bit of disorder in the midst of a highly ordered retail space. Their non-conformity nudged people toward slightly naughty behavior like shimmying down the escalator banisters or taking the stairs three at a time.

I will miss you, broken escalators. May your mildly disruptive spirit live on!

"Yeah," says Dave Segal, "but those are some stairs!" Judge for yourself below the jump.

And because there is no occasion, great or small, that cannot improved by an etymology:

escalator (n.)

1900, American English, trade name of an Otis Elevator Co. moving staircase, coined from escalade + -ator in elevator. Figurative use is from 1927.

That's pretty straightforward—though stair has a more rhizomatic history, its roots reaching to the Sanskrit stighnoti ("mounts, rises, steps"), the Old Irish tiagaim ("I walk"), the Lithuanian staiga ("suddenly"), and beyond.

The Otis Elevator Co., Wikipedia tells us, is "world's largest manufacturer of vertical transportation systems." (Its founder, Elisha Graves Otis, was at one time a doll maker but got bored with toys.) The Bartleby-like nature, as Julia so eloquently put it, of its escalators have been blamed for some recent accidents in China when they've switched directions suddenly, causing dozens of people to fall—in one case, to his death.

Thrill-seekers like Julia are always courting danger.


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It's probably too much to ask that they not paint the handrails. Enjoy them while you can!