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Disabled travel is all about resourcefulness. When I'm at home we deal skillfully and promptly with new situations and difficulties on a daily basis. But home is a relatively static and predictable environment. On the road, you better eat your recommended daily allowance of resourcefulness for breakfast.
When planning our recent West Coast vacation, because of some intended side trips, it was clear that we would need some sort of rental vehicle. When I traveled on business using my wheelchair, before my disability retirement, I would routinely lease a wheelchair accessible van from companies like wheelchair-getaways.com. The Avis’s and Hertz’s of the world do not get into this business, and in fact will refer you to a local wheelchair van company when asked.
My business travel experiences with these local companies were, by and large, excellent. The only problem was the cost (which my company paid, no questions asked). These rental companies hit you up for an airport pickup and drop-off charge of $50 or $75 each way. The daily rental costs were between $100 and $120. And if you even thought about dropping off the van in a city other than the one where you picked it up, you could count on paying the cost of somebody to drive or fly to that other city to retrieve the van. Since I was flying into Las Vegas and out of Los Angeles on my recent trip, I was quoted a drop-off charge of an additional $500.
Isn’t it wonderful how rental vehicles cost more for disabled people, yet, on average we have significantly lower income than healthy people? This is just another example of the hidden, non-reimbursable, non-tax deductible costs of being disabled (especially if you want to get out of your house and engage in the world).
I couldn't afford this extravagance on my own dollar. So we became resourceful. We assumed that if we could rent a standard minivan with stow-and-go seating, then we could stow the middle row of seats and utilize our 5 foot portable ramp to get the wheelchair into the van. Even though the stow-and-go seating is common in minivans, it turns out that rental car companies don't like to be told exactly what style of car that you need (how presumptuous of us to be so demanding).
You should've seen Kim and me trudging from baggage-claim to the sidewalk outside of Las Vegas airport. Because of all my disability stuff, we don't travel lightly. Picture this: I am in balance mode in my iBot, leading the way through this busy airport. Kim is pushing my manual wheelchair with her left hand. In that wheelchair are four over-stuffed pieces of luggage. In her right hand is a 5 foot long, folding, aluminum ramp. Kim is too cheap to have allowed any of the professional porters to help us.
Quick side note: Kim probably spent less than $500 on her entire wardrobe (not just the clothes she brought on this trip), including shoes. I’m a lucky man.
Kim heaved me and all of our goods on the sidewalk, returned to the baggage claim area, and took the shuttle bus to the Enterprise Car Rental office, which was of course off-site. Thank goodness for cell phones, as we stayed in communication, fearing a potential, last minute clusterfuck.
We had been told various stories by Enterprise employees regarding the likelihood that we could get the type of minivan that we needed. Some employees had told us it was a 50-50 chance, and there was nothing they could do about it. Other, more compassionate employees had told us that they could almost certainly accommodate our needs. We chose to believe those employees. Kim, usually mild mannered, is not to be trifled with when her crippled husband is beached on the sidewalk in Las Vegas with all of our baggage.
Not to worry. The agent at the counter was very helpful and got us the exact van we needed. Or, at least we thought we needed that type of van. We had not practiced our idea on an actual van, so we were winging it.
Even though things went very smoothly with Enterprise, it still took Kim almost an hour from the time she dropped me off at the sidewalk to the time she pulled up beside me in the rental van. Because this was Friday night in Las Vegas, I was witness to all of the beautiful people overrunning Sin City for their outrageously extravagant weekends. It was people-watching at its finest. I didn't recognize any particular celebrities, but many of the people that I saw were obviously from the privileged class.
When Kim pulled up to the curb at the Las Vegas airport we surveyed the situation. I positioned the wheelchair as close as I could to the open door of the passenger front seat. I attempted to transfer from my wheelchair to the passenger seat, but I could only get in a position where I was leaning against it. Kim then lifted both of my legs off the ground and placed them in front of the passenger seat, while I simultaneously pirouetted my body 90 degrees counterclockwise- and me, never having taken a single ballet lesson.
I'm fortunate that Kim is no delicate flower. The girl has pipes- Michelle Obama style. We must have performed this elaborate transfer at least 40 more times that week.
If the passenger seat had been an inch higher off the ground, this type of transfer would not have worked. Yet, as we planned our vacation we never doubted our resourcefulness. If this plan had not worked, we would have figured something else out.
To be continued...click here