Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My MS Story Chapter 28- Disabled Travel Experiences

“Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.”
~Henry David Thoreau
I wasn't intimidated at all by flying as a disabled person, solo or with other people. I was grateful for the travel opportunities that my job afforded me. It's just that my legs didn't work, so I had to use a scooter for mobility, and I had to drive with my hands. Piece of cake.

City of Portland
One of my first solo trips with my scooter was in February of 2008. I flew from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon in order to visit our West Coast office. I had been responsible for certain East Coast Operations for a couple of years, but had just recently been given responsibility for the left coast as well.

For the first time in my life I made use of a handicapped taxi cab, in this case to transport me from the airport to my hotel in Portland, Oregon. Until then, I didn’t even know that all large cities had such taxis. The office was across the street from the hotel, therefore I didn't need a rental car. I spent two nights in Portland, and then took the same taxi back to the airport so that I could fly to Denver for a conference and trade show.

City and County of DenverIn Denver I rented a wheelchair accessible van with hand controls. I spent three days at this huge tradeshow and conference, putting a lot of miles on my scooter. I encountered no problems at all in Denver. From there, I flew to Las Vegas to spend the weekend with my good friend Dave.

Dave had a pickup truck, so my strategy was to disassemble the scooter into three pieces and load it into the back of his truck whenever we drove from point A to point B. Dave’s truck didn’t have running boards like mine did, so he had to give me a little boost when I was getting into the passenger seat. I learned that Vegas is an extremely accessible city if you have a power wheelchair or scooter -- not so much if you are just a slow walker. There is too damn much territory to cover.
Dave is a lifelong bachelor who has an Electrical Engineering degree, but chooses to make a very nice living from his love of music instead. Vegas is a great place to create music and enjoy the single life. Dave’s tendency toward serial monogamy has so far prevented him from falling victim to the more self-destructive temptations in Vegas. Speaking from experience, there is no greater deterrent to bad male behavior than the knowledge that a wonderful woman is waiting for you when you get home (and by wonderful I mean all-knowing and a little bit scary).

One evening we met up with Dave’s fiancĂ©, Teena, and decided to walk up and down the famous Vegas strip to see what kind of fun we could stir up. Well, I scooted and they walked.

A couple of times during the evening, being the gentleman that I was, I offered the lovely Teena the opportunity to sit on my lap and enjoy a ride on my scooter. She always accepted. The last time I made this offer I took my hands off the steering tiller and told her that she was in charge of the driving.

Technically, that was a mistake. But the result was hilarious. She was a terrible driver, like a teenager on her first day behind the wheel.  It probably didn’t help that we had both put away a few beers. We zipped through the crowded casinos, Teena in my lap with hands on the controls, at a high rate of speed, with total disregard for the safety of everyone in our path. People were literally diving out of the way to keep from being run over.

If there are two groups of people who are given a free pass for reckless behavior like this, it is beautiful women and cripples. Even though we were completely out of control and laughing so hard that we could barely stay in the seat, nobody said a cross word to us. I’m sure there was carnage in our wake, but we never looked back. I still smile every time I recall that ride.

P1010019 Just one month later, in March of 2008, I took an eight day solo trip to California. I rented a wheelchair accessible van with hand driving controls for the whole week. I spent a few days working out of our office in Long Beach and then spent a long weekend with relatives in Santa Barbara. On Easter Sunday we had a family picnic up in the mountains. If it wasn't for the wildfires, the earthquakes, the ridiculous real estate prices, and the fact that California is hopelessly bankrupt, I think I could live out my remaining days in Santa Barbara.

I had taken two major, solo trips with no difficulties. You might think that my travels in a scooter, using a wheelchair accessible van, could be embarrassing or leave me feeling conspicuous in some way. At the very least it must have been a huge pain in my ass, right? In fact, it was quite the opposite. Here I was, a guy with MS, traveling all over the country on business and pleasure, just like a normal person. These trips made me feel engaged in life.

Sometimes when I traveled alone in my scooter, and later in my wheelchair, airline attendants, hotel clerks, or car rental agents would ask me, “Are you traveling alone, sir?” I loved it when they posed that question, because delivering the response was so gratifying.

“Yes I am,” I would reply with great satisfaction.

Piece of cake.
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