It’s a lot of work to get to Paradise, but we kept making progress…
The boarding of our Baltimore to Nassau flight went well, and 2 1/2 hours later we landed in the sunny Bahamas. In Nassau, the transfer from airline seat to the aisle chair went okay. We were then informed that my iBot would not be brought up to the mouth of the plane because it weighed 290 pounds, and there was no elevator. No elevator? I had to remember, I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. So, in the jetway I transferred from the aisle chair to an ugly manual wheelchair, and an airport employee pushed me the long, long way to customs, and then to baggage claim, all with no air conditioning.
When we arrived at baggage claim we handed the exhausted wheelchair pusher some greenbacks and he disappeared. It took us a few, unsettling minutes to find both of my wheelchairs (my babies). I transferred from the manual wheelchair to the iBot, and Kim and Andy began to reassemble my spare wheelchair, including reinstalling the batteries. I asked an employee where the nearest bathroom was and he pointed me to one nearby. I hadn’t emptied my bladder in hours. I went inside the bathroom and found that none of the stalls were wheelchair accessible. I was disappointed but not surprised. The ADA is not an international standard, after all.
I returned to the baggage claim area and saw that my team was making good progress, so I decided to seek out the Sandals desk where we were supposed to check-in for our ride to the resort. I found them, gave them our names, and then asked if there was a bathroom nearby. They pointed me in the general direction of a small food court. I cautiously entered the bathroom and was relieved, literally, when I found a wheelchair accessible stall.
All that remained was a 15 minute ride to the resort. Simple enough, right?
When I was evaluating resorts several months ago, I liked how Sandals provides complementary transportation from the airport. I wondered if that would include wheelchair transportation, and I was informed that it would. Then, later, Sandals told me they had made an error and that I would need to contract a private transportation service, and that fee would be $150 each way. I, of course, did not stand for this and reminded Sandals that I had chosen them in part because their package included transportation from the airport. They eventually agreed, but you can appreciate why I might've been a little nervous about the ride that I was about to embark on. As it turned out, I was right to be nervous, but for a different reason.
A very large and kind gentleman named Bubba led us out to the wheelchair van. The lift was already lowered for me, and I drove my iBot on. Bubba picked up the control panel for the lift and pushed the UP button. Nothing happened. For the next five or ten minutes several employees of the transportation company crawled all over the lift trying to figure out why it would not work. Finally, Bubba pulled out a tire iron, inserted it into the lift’s gearbox inside the van, and started manually raising the lift like you would raise a car to change a tire. As I said before, Bubba was a very big man, so I was up and into the van in no time at all. We then disassembled the spare wheelchair into as many pieces as we could, and the employees lifted those pieces into the van. There. It looked like we were finally on our way to the resort. Not so fast.
The driver, who was not Bubba, put the van in gear and pressed his foot on the accelerator. Nothing happened. The driver, and all of us for that matter, made the false assumption that whatever had caused the lift to not operate was also causing the van to not operate. Classic troubleshooting error.
After crawling all over the lift mechanism again, the driver stepped outside of the van and called someone smarter than him. My dear wife, Kim, had been patient all day. She had endured all of our challenges with grace and calm. But this one put her over the top. She looked back at the three of us, me, Andy, and Karen, and let fly some observations, expectations, and ultimatums, all wrapped up in colorful language uncharacteristic of such a lovely lady. Luckily, we were out of earshot of the driver at that moment.
After ending his cell call, the driver sat down in his seat, disengaged the parking brake, and drove us away. The freaking parking break! We all laughed at ourselves and donned smiles that rarely left our faces for the next six days.
The only other odd thing about the trip from Portland, Maine to the Sandals resort was that as soon as we pulled into traffic in Nassau I noticed we were driving on the wrong side of the road. As it turned out, everybody on the island was making the same mistake the very same moment, so no harm done.
When we finally arrived at Sandals, the lift decided to work, and I was lowered to the ground where we were all greeted with chilled champagne and cool, wet face towels with a lemony scent. Here is a picture of Kim applying said towel to my face. That’s Bubba with his back to me. He had followed us all the way over just to make sure everything went well. His level of personal customer service was the rule, not the exception, during our stay in the Bahamas.
What a long day, but worth it!
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