In Maine, the school kids always get a weeklong vacation in April. We call it "April Vacation,” because it is a vacation that falls in April. If I’m moving too fast for any of you in this post, I encourage you to go back and re-read certain paragraphs before you continue.
My wife and I decided that in April of 2004 we would take the kids and spend a few days in Washington, D.C. None of us had ever done the tourist thing in D.C., so we were all very excited for the trip.
Washington, D.C. is considered a great walking city. You can park your car in any spot near the National Mall, and spend several days taking in the sights without ever bothering with the car again- various Smithsonian museums, the White House, the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, etc. Of course if you're not a good walker, then that's a problem.
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At this point in my disease progression I was having a lot of difficulty with longer walks. I was avoiding going to sporting events, shopping malls, or big-box stores. Nature hikes were out of the question. My legs would get tired after only a couple hundred yards, feeling as wobbly as a healthy person’s legs would feel after having run to the point of complete exhaustion, and then a little further. I knew that eventually I would have to employ some sort of mobility aid, but that is an extremely difficult step to take (pun intended), and I was putting it off as long as I could.
I decided that this mini vacation (during April Vacation) would be a great opportunity for me to try out a mobility aid in a non-threatening environment. Nobody that I knew, other than my immediate family, would see me. I searched on the internet and found a company in D.C. that rented scooters. I'm not talking about the cool, two-wheeled type of scooter that is almost like a small motorcycle. I'm referring to the type of scooter that George Costanza used in that classic Seinfeld episode.
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It’s not all bad. I learned how being in a scooter can help with the long lines that form outside tourist attractions. It turns out that you, and everyone that is with you, can often skip right by the hoards of parents and their snotty nosed kids- no waiting required. Best of all, everyone that you zip by in your scooter smiles at you politely, without a single complaint to the authority figures about how you just cut in line. I suppose that this, as with handicapped parking placards, is one of the ways that society attempts to equalize the fates of its members- redistribution of happiness.
Perhaps most importantly I learned that if you are not stubborn, and you accept the benefits that come with a mobility aid, you can resume activities that had been avoided for a long time. Some folks in D.C. looked at me with pity for the fact that I needed assistance at all- the glass half empty viewpoint. But from my perspective, as someone discovering the freedom that a mobility aid provided, the glass was definitely half full- at least half full.
Overall, I’d characterize my first scooter experience as a success. It would have been impossible for me to enjoy Washington, D.C. without it. However, I wasn't really coming out of the closet yet. This was a private rather than a public experiment. It gave me a chance to try out this technology in relative anonymity, dipping my toes in the water of the disabled world. Later in 2004 I would start using mobility aids at home, at work, and in my community. That was a much bigger deal.