Bodhi Dreyfus-Ballesi doesn’t communicate with words, but he has no trouble conveying his message when he sets eyes on an escalator.
“He claps and laughs and shrieks,” says his mother Shoshana. “And though he loves to ride them for hours on end, he loves nothing better than to come across an escalator that’s out of order.
“When he sees the zig-zag gates blocking the entrance to an escalator to indicate it’s not working, he thinks that’s a real hoot – and we then have to wait for someone to come and fix it.”
Dr Dreyfus, a senior lecturer in linguistics at the University of Wollongong, has spent countless hours watching her middle son ride the escalators at shopping centres in Wollongong and beyond since he was seven years old.
He even had an escalator party for his 11th birthday – inviting friends and family to ride alongside him, and then tuck into a escalator-shaped cake.
But while the novelty of an escalator ride wears off pretty quickly for other kids, Bodhi – who has a severe intellectual disability – remains enthralled with moving walkways some two decades on.
The 23-year-old has his favourite sets of escalators; he prefers the staircase escalator to the ramp variety; and he lets his wishes be known through the picture cards attached to a chain on his belt.
His enthusiasm recently saw him selected for a podcast series called People Movers: Escalator Enthusiasts. Fascinated by someone who “loves escalators even more than me”, Melbourne podcaster Lindsey Greene travelled to Wollongong to spend time with Bodhi on the city’s approximately 30 escalators.
“Wollongong mall is perfect for Bodhi as there’s quite a high number of escalators in the one place,” Dr Dreyfus said.
“He needs sensory stimulation and so I think the movement, the noise and the vibration of escalators really appeal to him – and he likes to also stomp his feet on them and go down backwards.
“If he doesn’t have that stimulation, especially when he was younger, he could resort to challenging behaviour. But he can spend hours happily entertained on escalators.
“I’d have to say my husband Mark and I are eternally grateful to the person who invented them.”
Bodhi has lived in a group home since he was 18, but still loves to go to the escalators when his parents pick him up for visits as well as with his other carers.
“I don’t always ride with him – now he’ll point to the couches near the escalators to show me where to wait for him,” Dr Dreyfus said.
His regular visitations means he’s well-known to many security guards and retail staff – though he can get different reactions from the public.
“We do get looks because he does clap and squeal but I can’t be looking for people’s reactions all the time – it’s too painful for me,” his mother said.
“Some people are lovely and generous and will talk to Bodhi, who’s very social. Some people are not so generous.
“I think that’s why I enjoyed the podcast experience so much – I was really happy that someone was interested in something Bodhi was interested in, that wasn’t to do with his disability.
“To attract that kind of attention was exciting for Bodhi and heartwarming for me.”