Running up the escalator

Suzanne, what is wrong with these fucking people?”

It seemed more appropriate than usual that I should fling the f-word, seeing that I found myself in a Secaucus, New Jersey train station near midnight. “I mean, why the fuck are these people running up the escalator when there are two huge staircases on either side of us?”

We’d just come from a Prince concert at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford. I’m from outside of Boston and rarely use public transportation. I was perplexed as I watched people running upwards on a moving escalator. I was also geographically disoriented. I have no idea where I am when in New Jersey, no sense of what goes where. If I’m in Secaucus, where is New York City? Where is Jersey City? Where is the Hudson? Where am I? But one thing I do know, despite all this confusion: When you ride an escalator “up,” you don’t run up the moving stairs.

Image via Wikipedia

“They’re showing off,” Suzanne said. “Just stay to the right and let them pass.”

“But isn’t this the stupidest fucking thing you’ve ever seen? I mean, what is with these people? Assholes.”

Suzanne took my hand and laughed. She’s very cool that way. All my bad language just “sweetens the pot” for her, she says. Gotta love a girl like that, right?

The next day she reminded me of what seeing Prince at the Izod Center really meant in my life – it was an incredible success story for one such as I who has been fighting panic disorder and agoraphobia for most of her life. I told Suzanne about the first concert I ever attended in 1977: The Steve Miller Band played the old Boston Garden – home of the Bruins and Celtics. At that time, smoking was still allowed in public venues and smoking pot was expected and allowed at rock concerts, despite marijuana being an illegal drug. The Steve Miller Band was reaching the height of its popularity in the 1970s with songs such as Fly Like an Eagle, Jet Airliner, and Take the Money ‘N Run. Their first hit came when I was a little kid, four years earlier, with The Joker.

In 1977 I was fifteen and my best friend’s older sister agreed to take us to the concert at The Garden. I should have been excited to attend the event, but I was scared. I became obsessed with my fear of inhaling pot smoke, smoke which I knew would infiltrate the arena. That fear extended itself into a fear of crowds. This was the blossoming of my panic disorder and agoraphobia. I had no awareness of the extent of my anxiety at that time; it was an inarticulate tremor beneath my skin.

When we walked into the Boston Garden that night, and a reefer cloud of smoke reached all the way down to our ankles, I was petrified. I spent the entire concert in a state of panicked alert, waiting to trip out again as I had the year before when I’d smoked marijuana and hallucinated from it.  To better understand my problems with narcotics, please see my blog entry “Drugged.”

That was more than thirty years past.

It’s 2010. Suzanne reminds me of how I’m challenging myself and pushing my limits, of how I’m growing.

I can board trains, buses, and escalators and walk into the Izod Center arena in the State of New Jersey – so far away from my home in Massachusetts – to see a legend like Prince. When we first walk in, I note the music is way too loud. I feel the drums vibrating in my chest and the guitars searing my eardrums. That kind of physical stimuli can still give me panic. I remember how strong I am, what good shape I’m in, at age 48. I have worked hard (for decades) to reclaim my ability to attend rock concerts, to attend life.

Of course, it helps to have a supportive lover/friend by your side.  Thank you, Suzanne. And it helps that smoking of any kind is no longer allowed in public places. So there is no cloud of reefer smoke infiltrating my nostrils and making me hold my breath and squirm in terror. The worst we run into at the Prince concert is a young woman who tries to hustle us into buying her a beer at the concessions. “I’m thirty years old,” she lies. “And can you believe I left my ID at home?” When we tell her that we won’t buy her alcohol, she says, “You guys, suck.” I don’t hear this but Suzanne tells me later. Suzanne looks at me and says, “Thirty years old, my ass.”

It’s all so easy now.

Prince is gorgeous. One cannot help but stare at his phenomenal presence and physical beauty. He reminds me of my twenties, the age I was during his rise to fame during the 1980s. I feel a kinship with him because he can bring back my youth, just by standing up on that stage and singing the songs of 25 years past. He can bring that youth to me now, now that I am healthy enough to breathe it in deeply.

I am so calm as I watch Prince dance and listen to him sing those amazing songs: Let’s Go Crazy, Kiss, Purple Rain, 1999. The idea of panic fades away to the mustier regions of my brain. I eat a giant pretzel and drink red Gatorade and hold my girlfriend’s hand.

And later, I will curse the New Jersey-ians running up the escalator. Life is so much better now.


  1. It’s kind of cool to think of being healthier and happier at 48 — to be in a better place now than you were when you were in your twenties. Prince hung around long enough to sing to you when you were ready. Glad you enjoyed the concert!


    • Hi Faye, thanks as always for reading and responding. Yes, it is a good feeling to know I’m healthier at 48 than I was in my younger years. I like the idea of Prince sticking around to sing to me. 🙂


  2. Nice. I’m glad you had a good time at the concert with no panic attacks or whatever. I’d like to know where you got the pot that made you hallucinate. Maybe it was laced with PCP or something? If there are stairs next to the escalator, those people should have taken the stairs if they didn’t want to “ride” the escalator. But, I hate it when there’s only an escalator and I’m trying to get somewhere, like trying to get to the movies, and I have people “riding” the escalator. MOVE! Geez, are they that lazy that they can’t walk up or down the escalator?


  3. …inarticulate tremor beneath my skin. NICE! Will you sue me if any or all of that sweet piece winds up in a poem? 🙂 Prince seems timeless. I remember trying to con movie patrons into buying my friends and I tickets to see Purple Rain as we were not quite old enough to be allowed into R rated movies. I don’t remember how we did it, but we did and I remember thinking afterwards that it was the best movie ever made. I rented it a few years later and wished I could retract those thoughts. LOL


    • Jacque, I would be honored if you “stole” any of my writing for your poetry. Go girl. Funny story of your changing perceptions of the movie, “Purple Rain.” Prince is a living legend in my opinion. Just love him. Thanks for reading and responding!


  4. Followed you here as one of Faye’s friends. Ah age, such wonderful and mixed blessing. I went to a lot of concerts at the old Garden and getting out of their in those crowded tunnels used to scare the bejeezus out of me — stay by the wall, don’t trip, keep moving. Kind of like life itself, I suppose. Write on, Cindy.


    • Hi Ned,
      That was so sweet of you to find my blog from Faye’s writing group. Thank you for reading and commenting. That old Garden was something, huh? I don’t think I ever had the courage to go to another concert there, but I did see Larry Bird and Kevin McHale play for the Celtics. That was worth it. 🙂 Keep reading, Ned. Do you have a blog? Cindy


  5. When I started reading this, I thought it was a piece of fiction – very good, too. Further along, of course, it became obvious it was a memoir, and very well written. You describe your condition and your current response to it vividly, so that the reader is more able to understand.
    If you’re writing for therapy, that’s fine. But you might like to turn ‘yourself’ into a character and fictionalise this as part of a novel based on your life; you seem to have the necessary writing talent to me.


    • Hi Stuart,

      Thank you for reading! I so appreciate that you took the time to comment and think about my blog entry. I’m much better at writing creative nonfiction than fiction so I don’t see a novel in my future. I hope some of these blog entries (early drafts) become full-blown essays or full-length memoir at some point. When they do, they go beyond therapy and reach out the reader in a way similar to ficton. The hope is, as you point out, that I become a “character” in my own story, but I will likely do it in nonfiction. It was so kind of you to say such nice things about my writing. It means a lot. Please keep reading, and I will check out your blog soon.


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