Although my house is set up for optimum comfort and accessibility, I am occasionally (ok, often) compelled to leave the nest and venture out into the real world. Sunday was one such day.
We've established an annual tradition of attending a New England Patriots football game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Each of the last three years we've made the trek with our good friends Preston and Nancy. This year we had sunny skies and ridiculously warm temperatures – in the mid-80s in mid-October.
When four people outfit themselves for a day of tailgating and football, it is truly a complex undertaking. But when you incorporate a cripple like me into the equation, the level of coordination rivals that of a shuttle launch. Suffice it to say, there were Excel spreadsheets involved.
The first order of business was food (in my 20’s it would've been alcohol). Friday and Saturday were all about cooking and shopping. The list of edible delights included: chicken, ribs, hamburgers, hotdogs, chili, chocolate chip cookies, very chocolaty brownies, special party mix, etc. Although I've become a calorie counter out of necessity, I declared a diet holiday last weekend.
On Sunday morning we staged everything just outside the van – food, drinks, coolers, chairs, folding table, grill, and more. But we couldn’t pack many items because most of the floor space needed to be left open for my rather elaborate loading procedure. My station in the van is that spot normally occupied by the front passenger seat. We fastened the iBot to the floor with four heavy-duty tiedown straps. Then we fastened me to the iBot using the seatbelt. Only after all of this fastening occurred, did we pack the gear in behind me.
We made it about halfway from South Portland, Maine to Foxboro, Massachusetts, before it was time for a pee break (for everyone). Since we forgot a couple of items – my spreadsheets are still a work in progress – we stopped at a grocery store to kill two birds with one stone. We unpacked much of the van, took off my seatbelt, unhooked the four tiedown straps from my wheelchair, and I rolled down the ramp. Then, before we could go into the store we had to temporarily reload the van and lock it up. We went to the grocery store, did our business, and then repeated the entire process in reverse.
You've just got to be patient, and we were.
When we arrived at Gillette Stadium I did the iBot equivalent of stretching my legs by immediately going into balance mode. While the others unpacked and set up, I surveyed the large handicapped parking lot that we had been directed to. I got the feeling many of the vehicles in this desirable parking area didn't contain any disabled people at all. Yet, since many disabilities, including some manifestations of MS, can be invisible to the naked eye, I couldn't suspect any particular group of having cheated. Oh well, I didn't give the issue much thought, as this day was all about feasting and fun.
Several hours later, on our way from the parking lot to the stadium, I took a detour to the bathroom. As I approached the handicapped stall, I noticed that the door was closed, but I could not be certain if there was anybody in the stall or not. So I reached forward and gently pulled on the door. It opened. Immediately, a gruff voice shouted "Jesus Christ!" He got up off the toilet and angrily closed the door. Then he yelled at me, “Thanks a lot!”
Oh boy. Game on.
First, this healthy person decided that he needed to take a dump in the only handicapped stall in the bathroom. I know that some of my disabled brethren have no sympathy for healthy people who use the handicapped stall under any circumstances. I, however, take a softer stance. I only feel wronged if someone chooses to use my toilet when there are other toilets that he could have used instead. In this case, there were waiting lines to every stall, so I can assume that he didn’t pass over a normal stall for my handicapped one. I would have typically waited in a semi-patient manner, but he screwed up.
Second, he sat down on the toilet without latching the door. If you do that, and someone opens the door, then you just smile sheepishly and say, "Oops. I'm sorry. I'll just be a minute." But not this asshole. He acted as if it was my fault that he had failed to latch his door.
I positioned myself in such a way that he would have to be deaf and blind (no offense to my deaf and/or blind readers) to not realize that the person he had just lashed out at was a wheelchair user.
I responded to his "thanks a lot!” in my most forceful and sarcastic tone with my own "you're welcome!”
There was silence, and I have to guess, some amount of mental backtracking by the asshole.
I sat outside the stall with arms folded, staring straight at the door, silently rehearsing my speech. But this moron did what most of them do when confronted with irrefutable evidence of their deficiency. He barged out of the stall and somehow managed to slither by me without even making eye contact. I hope I ruined his day, but somehow I doubt that I did.
The Patriots beat the hated Jets 30 to 21. Yea! It was simply a wonderful outing- good weather, great company, hometown win, and the electric atmosphere of an NFL rivalry game. But when 70,000 people attempt to funnel out of a stadium all at once, it's not so different from watching a herd of cattle get squeezed through a narrow gate. I find it best to be in balance mode in these instances, otherwise my face is at ass level, which can be largely unpleasant. Also, in standard wheelchair mode I am unable to see above the crowd, which is a slightly helpless and somewhat claustrophobic experience. I must admit though, my mood can become a bit frisky, even aggressive in this setting. If I spot an opening, I go for it.
Sometimes, in the helter-skelter of a mass exodus like this, minor collisions occur. I was going straight. He was cutting from left to right, and moving against the flow. It could be argued, no doubt, that I was accelerating too quickly for the conditions, although I’m not promising that I’ll behave any differently in the future. I hit him pretty hard on the shin with the corner of my wheelchair. He exclaimed immediately and in this order, "ouch," and then "I'm sorry." That's right. I ran into him, and he apologized to me. (I started to apologize myself, but before I could even get it out of my mouth we were lost to one another in the mob.)
To be fair, I encounter a lot more people like the second guy (who instinctively blamed himself) than the first guy (who instinctively lashed out). If this were not the case then I probably wouldn’t enjoy leaving the nest and venturing out into the real world as much as I do.