I’m a walker on escalators. When I’m not too tired, or too ill, or my ex-dancer body isn’t playing up, I walk up, sometimes two steps at a time. I walk down, sometimes skipping over the steps at such speed that the combined velocity of my body and the escalator feels like maybe I’m not walking at all, but just falling on a slow low tug of gravity.
But when my daily peak-hour commute took me through Melbourne Central Station – the same commuter station as podcaster Lindsey Green – every day I had to try and quash my anger at the escalators’ dual carriage system: the standing lane and the walking lane. By walking, I was making it up from the underground faster. But the one lane of standers and the one lane of walkers created a bottleneck before we could step onto this moving staircase. Every morning, a delay as everyone dutifully waited their turn in an inefficient system. My anger began, like so much anger does, from a story in the Guardian, detailing research on how if we all stood, everyone’s travel times would be shorter. Every morning I would stand in the crush on the platform and think about how this would all be better, how we would all be out of the station and into the air a lot faster, if only everyone else had read that article too.
Although my current commute is escalator-free, I’ve been thinking a lot about this research recently as I’ve taken a deep-dive into the world of escalators care of Green and her podcast, People Movers. For such a ubiquitous part of our lives, you might think there’d be a handful of podcast episodes about them, but by my research it’s a surprisingly rare topic – 99% Invisible stands alone in covering the noise created by escalators way back in 2011 in a beautifully layered meditation on sound (adapted from a podcast named Whisper Cities, which seems to have disappeared from the internet). Even so, you might not expect a whole series dedicated to these objects. Green had other plans.
In each episode Green tackles a new facet of the humble escalator – their mechanics, their histories in Melbourne and Sydney, the fear they can inspire – with verve and with heart.
People Movers, with seven episodes released and counting, is a surprisingly joyful and engaging podcast about these things which sit so commonly in our lives. In each episode, running 15-odd minutes, Green tackles a new facet of the humble escalator – their mechanics, their histories in Melbourne and Sydney, the fear they can inspire – with verve and with heart. Depending on the episode, the origin story of Green’s interest in escalators is slightly different: either she noticed the escalators in a Melbourne train station moving at varying speeds; or she was in Kiev, travelling an escalator into the deepest station in the world. Either way: one day something stuck, and she became fixated on finding out – and telling – the story of these ubiquitous machines.
There are many podcasts which fill a niche, with shows for passionate fans of any topic – but you don’t feel like Green is making this simply for the escalator-enthusiasts out there. Instead, she aims to refocus all our eyes on this prevalent part of our lives, and understand how these objects can be used to tell a social history of how our cities came to be; give a current social critique on disability rights; create art. In episode three, tour guide Chloe Martin describes understanding the history of escalators as holding up an ‘optimism that advances in technology can bring’.
There is a delightful farrago to People Movers. Green often leaves the edges of the work untidy and the production values belay the independent budget and spirit. Her interviews conducted by phone are often of poor quality: her voice echoing, their voice coming through crackly and broken. This quality has been enough to turn me off podcasts before, but Green’s enthusiasm and her honesty, as she speaks of working in ‘my home studio – also known as the inside of my wardrobe’ (a technique perhaps most famously used by Millennial’s Megan Tan) is enough to carry the show through.
[Green] aims to refocus all our eyes on this prevalent part of our lives, and understand how these objects can be used to tell a social history of how our cities came to be.
Green leaves in filler words and noises, the ums and likes so often edited out; she keeps in snippets of inconsequential conversation, or her testing the pronunciation of words and names. Unusually, the whole of episode six is given over to running an interview with Green as the guest on Triple R’s Parallel Lines, where the host Sara Savage asks Green about these moments: ‘I guess the topic is inherently a little bit silly,’ she says, ‘[so] I feel like I’ve got a bit of creative license to be kind of silly myself and not take myself too seriously.’
This silliness is present in the playful sound-effects (in the transcripts for each episode, Green describes her sound mix in entirely accurate ways: ‘Sparkle sound effect’, ‘Crackling old-timey sound effect’, ‘Ta-da sound effect’) as well as in the music by Umbra, which somehow feels simultaneously current and like we’re in an 80s game show.
But while Green may be approaching herself and the topic with silliness, she’s also sincere in her approach, both to escalators and to her guests. As a journalist, I’ve often rued having to cut my interviewees’ answers for word counts, understandability, or brevity, and perhaps this is why I appreciate the space Green gives to her guests. Often, their answers are long winded and repetitive; they would be so easy to pare down. But in including these extended responses and ruminations, she unmasks their passion. In episode one, Roger Haig, the National Support Manager for KONE, says: ‘No it’s not a job, you’re right – it is a bit of a passion. It’s one of those industries, I guess, where it gets into your blood, it gets into your blood.’ By the end of their conversation, we know this is true.
People Movers perhaps feels most analogous to a zine: its absolute passion, its clutter, its untidied edges, its young voice, its singular committed focus.
Green is often self-deprecating, almost laughing at herself, but she is mostly excited by her passion – for escalators, yes, but also for podcasts and crafting audio stories. She never tries to hide her beautiful fervour, and it is infectious. In this way, People Movers perhaps feels most analogous to a zine: its absolute passion, its clutter, its untidied edges, its young voice, its singular committed focus.
So often what podcasts can do is highlight the joy of discovery. While sometimes that might be spread out over multiple stories on a theme, there is something special to Green’s fidelity which makes this extended focus work.
It is Green’s optimism which carries People Movers. She elevates a small story into one which sustains itself, shifting and changing, over multiple episodes. It both feels like this is a story Green could keep telling forever, but also like there are many other stories of our world which she could help us to explore.