Travelling with a wheelchair is one of those things not for the faint of heart. It’s a challenge. It’s annoying at times. But in the end, it’s still travel and you get to leave your home and go see something new. So, while sometimes a true pain in the ass, traveling is something I believe everyone should do – including those who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices.
This past weekend I left my home in Phoenix to go on a wine touring adventure with four women I went to high school with. Yes, you heard me – we not only graduated together and still keep in touch – but we actually get together once in awhile to travel to some really cool places. I wouldn’t trade these women for anything. We’ve been there for each other for weddings, births, deaths, job changes, moves, you name it. So while going anywhere is fun, going anywhere with these women in just plain awesome.
We chose to spend our trip in Sonoma wine country. That meant flying to San Francisco, renting a car and driving for two hours to get to some of the most drop dead gorgeous scenery you will ever see. But, first you have to get to the freaking plane. I chose (wisely, I might add) to carry my small wheeled suitcase on the plane. I say that was a wise choice because the day I left sunny Phoenix, the baggage system basically self destructed leaving pretty much everyone who checked bags naked in their next city. For days the bags sat in a parking lot in Phoenix sun until the situation resolved itself and the luggage (and likely some melted cosmetics) found itself back in the hands of the owners who missed it so. I had no idea that was happening (or did I? Perhaps I am psychic after all) but I carried my bag on anyways.
Now for most people, carrying on a bag is a bit of a pain. You have to drag the bag through the airport, take it through security, remove all your liquid belongings in their sad little ziploc bag and then get x-rayed (you and your bag) to prove that the only thing you have that could be construed as a weapon is a faulty eyelash curler that occasionally attempts to blind you. For a person in a wheelchair it’s a bit more… exciting. For example, where most people pull those wheeled suitcases like a wheelbarrow behind them, I instead push mine with one hand while I propel the chair with the other. Sometimes I go straight. Other times I start spinning in a circle as my suitcase/dowsing rod is held out at arms length making me look a bit like crazed one-seat merry-go-round. Pushing a wheelchair with one arm is doable but spinning in a circle is always a possibility, and sometimes a welcome option.
Then, once I have managed to shuttle myself and my bag (and don’t forget your personal item – which for me is a large purse that holds everything I hold dear – except my husband who refuses to try to fit in that purse no matter how nicely I ask him) to the security area the next step of the travelling circus begins. Now, I get to hoist (sometimes more like throw) my suitcase onto the conveyor belt, remove my shoes, and wait patiently until some poor female TSA agent loses a game of Rock/Paper/Scissors and is forced to be my “pat down buddy”. TSA is where, should I ever be single again and decide that I’d like to try out my skills as a lesbian, I am going to start looking for dates. Screw eHarmony and Match.com. After a pat down by a TSA agent, all that’s missing is a candlelight dinner, a glass of wine and a cigarette. The TSA amour in Phoenix was no different. She may have actually been a bit more zealous in her attempts to find dangerous items on my person. This wasn’t mere patting. This was exploring. Fortunately, after the groin search and the hair follicle test (I may or may not be joking about that) I was sent on my way to hurtle towards the gate with my dowsing rod suitcase and a nagging feeling that I would forget the TSA agents name. (I did. I apologize for forgetting your name little lady with the faint mustache and the smell of garlic on your hands. We had developed quite a relationship and though I won’t be able to find you on Facebook, you will live forever in my heart.)
The gate is less exciting. By that point I am so tired from pushing my bag down the ALWAYS uphill incline to get to the gate (who builds airports with hills in it? What is the point? Is it to provide a kind of amusement park environment as people careen into each other with their bags rolling at high speed down hill? Nothing else is built with all these uphill inclines, so I’m not sure why the Phoenix airport has them) that I am practically dripping with sweat and simultaneously thanking all the deities who look out for stubborn women in wheelchairs for not allowing me to die on the trek to the gate. This is my cardio exercise for the weekend. Maybe for the week. Or the month. Once I recover I’ll let you know. Now I get to gate check my chair which is basically just giving someone that I don’t know my legs and saying “ummm… please don’t lose these” as luggage is being tossed like frisbees into the belly of the plane. I then move from my wheelchair onto the torture device known as an “aisle chair”. Now, lets just think about the concept of a chair that fits in a plane aisle for a moment. When people are corralled like cattle down the aisle into coach class like the dregs of humanity that we are, people actually walk sideways. Watch them. The aisle is too small for people’s knees to be able to walk comfortably down the aisle. Sure there are some tiny women who I am certain have only eaten one lima bean since January who can fit down this tiny funnel into hell, but normal people don’t fit in the aisle. Now, put a person’s ass in a chair and drag them down the aisle. It’s awkward, it’s bruising and… well, it reminds you that dieting is probably in your future. Once I finally make it to the seat, I am so happy to sit in that tiny little child size plane seat that I practically launch myself from the aisle “chair” to the seat. And now… we are off.
To be continued…