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A sudden jolt, many of us lurched, and then all movement stopped. We were stuck between floors!

In about two seconds I could tell that I was packed like a sardine among a bunch of people who didn’t have the crisis coping skills of actual sardines.

The one difference, of course, was that most of these people had cell phones. And their phones came out faster than a posse drawing on a fleeing outlaw as they called for help, or called loved ones, or canceled appointments, or ordered pizzas, or took care of whatever else was at the top of their priority lists.

I guessed I couldn’t blame them, since none of us knew if this transportation apparatus would be immobilized for a few minutes or several hours. I mean, think about it. This was not fun. We were all crammed together with no food, no water, no bathrooms and no Starbucks. I had recently experienced my first root canal and, compared to this, the root canal already seemed like a trip to the beach.

I began to observe the people around me more closely. There was confusion, uncertainty, dread, and even resignation on many of their faces. I could even tell what the lady standing next to me was thinking. “The first thing I’m going to do when I get home is call each one of my children and grandchildren,” her eyes were obviously saying. Or, maybe, “I am never going to leave home wearing uncomfortable shoes again.” I was sure it was one of those things.

All too quickly, though, some of the more anxious riders appeared to be approaching the near-panic mode. That was probably accelerated by the fact that there wasn’t room to sit down. It was so crowded that we all had to stay on our feet. That, of course, made things even worse.

“These people need encouragement,” I thought to myself. Since I was in the middle of the group, I decided that I should try to do something.

“Folks, just relax and stay calm. The maintenance crews will have this thing fixed soon, and then we’ll be on our way,” I said in my most reassuring, airline pilot voice. It worked! Everyone quieted down. Sully would have been proud.

I was right about the timing. In what seemed like an eternity, but – in reality – was just a few minutes, our rescue team arrived! We were all going to be okay!

The maintenance team had obviously determined the source of the problem, and we all watched intently as one of the technicians removed a panel and manipulated some unseen controls. And then, to our great delight and with the accompanying cheers and applause of the whole group, our escalator began to move once again!

— Jerry Tobias

Jerry Tobias is an aviation writer who flew everything from supersonic military aircraft to Boeing 747s during a 40-year career as an Air Force, corporate and airline pilot. He also speaks as an aviation safety specialist and as a motivational speaker discussing life lessons learned through aviation.

Reflections of Erma