Cold weather is coming, so I’m thinking about fall and wintertime places to go with Jonah. Lucky for us, one of Jonah’s all-time favorite things to do is ride the escalator. Any escalator, anywhere, anytime. The best place to take him for this exciting activity is Latham Circle Mall; it’s so incredibly empty he can’t hurt anything or disrupt the normal flow of mall traffic (because there is none). When I tell you this mall is dead, I mean it is very nearly six feet under. There are probably 100 storefronts, of which perhaps 7 or 8 are occupied. Incredibly lame for shoppers. Perfect for us. We almost always have both the up and down portions of the escalator all to ourselves.
This particular escalator is a long, skinny one which transports nonexistent shoppers and moviegoers up and down from the main shopping level to the movie theaters above. When we first arrive at the mall, Jonah will slowly walk its echoing length and back, dragging his hands along the grimy gates and unwashed windows of the ghostly closed-down shops. Sometimes he’ll pause at the small cluster of coin operated ride-on motorcycles, buses, airplanes, etc. He never asks for moneycoin so he can ride the rides. He just climbs in and out of them for a while, enjoying the motionless experience.
After this it is time for the escalator. This does not mean we take the escalator once up, once down, and go on our merry way. We ride that escalator up. We ride it down. We ride it up again. We ride it down. We ride it up. And down, and up again.
At the top level, he will run over to this funnel-looking structure where you place a piece of moneycoin in a slot and the moneycoin rolls round and round the funnel, circling the circumference a little lower with each pass until it drops into a hole and is ostensibly donated to I Forget Which Good Cause.
Sometimes Jonah will stop here and plead for moneycoin. “Okay,” I tell him, hoping I’ve got a lot of pennies. I usually do, and the moneycoin fun begins. When I’m out of moneycoin I distract his protests — more this?! – with promise of further escalator fun. So we go back down. We ride up again. We ride back down and up once more. Again. Again. Again. Again. Up, down. Up, down. By this time I usually want to give a countdown so I say “10 more times, bunny.”
“More eh-cah-layor?” he begs. “Yes, boo, 10 times more.” But now he understands I have placed an official limit on the fun. Depending on Jonah’s behavior, how exhausted I am with the monotony, what I have to do that day, and how amenable I’m feeling, I might increase the number to 20 times more. Up the escalator….yay! Down the escalator….yay! Over and over and over.
Usually when I tell people a story like this, they think they have a handle on what this means, but I doubt it. One day my friend P came with Jonah and me to experience firsthand what it’s really like to ride an escalator up and down 50 times or so in a row without, say, trying to break a Guinness record for escalator-riding. She told me afterward that although she’d heard me relate similarly repetitive activities many times, she now understood exactly how strangely surreal it is to just go up and down, up and down, up and down, with nowhere to go…no real destination except a cycle. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, I think; but who wants to over-analyze extreme escalator riding?
It is definitely a whole new ball game when there are people around. Even at the other great nearly-always-empty escalator, the one that brings you up to the 4th floor of the New York State Museum, we can ride for only so long before the guard-on-duty takes notice and stars to stare, no doubt weighing the chances that my small son and I are escalator terrorists. Usually I save him the discomfort and stop to explain. “My son has autism,” I say. “He likes to ride the escalator.” Most of the guards are pretty cool about it.
On the 4th floor there are more museum exhibits, a Subway sandwich shop, and an indoor carousel. Whether Jonah wants to ride the carousel or not is a crapshoot – but if he does get on, he always wants to sit on the most stationary thing on the ride.
When he was younger he’d ride a horse, but now he wants nothing that goes up & down. In fact, he wants no horses at all. No slowly-spinning tea cup. No rocking bench. Jonah wants the stationary bench where you just, um, sit.
Whatever floats your boat, kid. Mama’s getting too old for much motion on top of spinning, anyway.
I should invent a ride area at the amusement park called Jonah’s Autism Adventures. It’d have a merry-go-round full of stationary benches, a very long escalator, and a structure that spins your moneycoin around before sucking it down and away.
While I doubt it’d be a big attraction, I say all the better: Jonah would love it, and he’d have the whole place to himself.