Moving Forward

Moving Forward

crowdWe were a snow globe without the snow.

The nine of us, among a crowd discharged from a Metro train beneath the Johns Hopkins Hospital, had been herded up two escalators and toward the revolving … thing (more of a chamber than a door) that separates the subway from the underground corridor of the hospital. “Please move forward,” a disembodied, female voice urges every two seconds or so as you approach.

We patiently waited our turn as the clump of commuters before us cleared the exit on the other side before entering ourselves. “Please move forward.” Stragglers are thus urged to keep up the pace, lest they trigger a safety sensor at their heels that momentarily pauses the machine, annoying everybody. (Move too fast and, well, you’re not going to get through any faster.) We all calmly moved into the apparatus like so many mornings before and it continued turning, us taking tiny chop steps, marching almost in place, in unison, spurred by the exhortation “Please move forward.”

Basically, it’s a sealed, two-sided tunnel that spins toward an opening. When slot A reaches terminus A, the path is clear to discharge us all into the hospital. Meanwhile, slot B reaches terminus B, and the path is clear to the subway escalator. The outside atmosphere stays outside and vice versa. It’s pretty simple.

Not today. Today, without warning or apparent reason, the revolving thing stopped cold, as did we.

We eyed the machine and each other. There was a grunt, and there was a giggle. Then a sigh. Nothing was obviously damaged, not that we’d ever really looked at it all that closely before. An uncomfortable minute or two passed, most of us public transportation veterans guessing that it was probably a glitch that would solve itself, like a web page that takes a few seconds too long to load but comes up eventually. It wasn’t.

The doors are see-through safety glass, so claustrophobia wasn’t a big concern at first. But the muttering was beginning to turn ugly. Testiness resides just below the skin and in the throat of every commuter who’s ever waited an hour on a frigid train platform as a cheery announcer pronounced that “all trains are currently running on time” or stood 45 minutes in a crowded, hot, stinky, stalled subway train while a cheery announcer apologized “for any inconvenience.”

And we did sorta need to be on our way, you know?

Here’s where you realize that there are a few of kinds of people.

Me: “What am I doing wrong? My feet must be in the wrong place. I’m causing the malfunction somehow. I’m holding up all these people. I’m an idiot!

Others: “Who’s the idiot? Move forward!

Still others: “The stupid thing’s broken. Shove it, idiot!

I hate breaking stuff — so much so that I often hire people to work on things that they end up breaking anyway. (Maybe I am an idiot.)

So, there are double doors at the center of the contraption that separate chambers A and B. These suggested an exit route, but to where? The one trapped soul on side B was now exhorting me to bash them open. But really, what would that have gotten us? Me with her on that side, or her now on our side, all of us still stuck — just a little more tightly.

As it happens, of course, when there’s a blockage between here and there, somebody who needed to get there — to the subway — finally alerted the security guard at the desk, who sauntered over.

She shook her head, “mmm-mmm-mmm.” (Wait a minute, was she smiling? She never smiles. Maybe she was figuring that if the machine were stuck forever, we might all die, but that would be a small price to pay for never again having to remind 99 out of 100 Hopkins employees who enter this way every single day to please have their badges visible.)

The guard walked side to side. Was there an “override panel” somewhere? She slid her hands across the glass in these big, odd gestures, like Marcel Marceau or something: A mime will lead them to freedom!

Not so much. She threw up her hands and walked away.

Great. That was helpful.

Did I mention that the machine continued to urge “Please move forward” every two seconds?

OK, then. We were late for work. We were a little bit embarrassed to have people on both sides of the snow globe looking at us like we’d intentionally ruined their day. We were kind of angry. Thus we were ready, when the machine urged us on one last time to “Please move forward” and the security guard shrugged, to march onward, the nine of us forcibly overriding whatever hesitancy the apparatus was feeling. Nine sets of shoes, 18 lockstep feet, 18 hands pushing against the glass.

It gave, the door ahead of us snapping free and swinging toward the frightened lady in Side B. The double doors separating the sides popped, one of them slapping me on the backside as she, and we, sprung toward daylight.

The spinning thing’s been out of commission ever since.

Everything but the voice, every two seconds, as commuters pass unimpeded through the opening we created: “Please move forward.”

Well, why didn’t you just say so?

– Steve St. Angelo

UPDATE (3/6): It’s alive. The hospital has repaired the device, which is spinning as well as ever. Which means, if anybody comes around asking where to send the bill for that repair, we never had this conversation. Let’s just all move forward, what do you say? Please?

Editor’s note: You’ve been there, right? Feel free to share a story from your daily commute to Johns Hopkins in the comment field below. Or, have a nursing story to tell, smart or silly, that you have trouble putting into writing? That’s what we do here. Email [email protected] to keep the blog rolling.


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