Since 2007, I have either walked with a cane or been wheeled around in wheelchair by my wife or one of my children. I am the human version of a slow-moving vehicle, the kind that irritates people in a hurry to get wherever they are going. I am cognizant of the fact that my slow pace forces other people to alter their path or to wait until I pass. I do my best to not get in their way…
Some disabled people think that they should be able to do anything, anywhere, and at any time, that non-disabled people do. I am not such a person. When I go out in public I try to pick times when I won’t get in the way of other people. I don’t plow through store aisles not caring who I get in the way of. I have seen more than a few disabled people who were thoughtless, not caring one whit about anyone else but themselves. That’s not the kind of person I am. I am quite reserved in public and I don’t like drawing attention to myself. I prefer to blend in rather than stand out. (which is ironic since I spent 25 years as a public speaker)
It’s hard to not stand out when you are in a wheelchair and everyone is else is walking or running by. People look, people stare…I know what they are thinking. Pity. I wonder what is wrong with him? Too fat to walk so they have to wheel him around. Their eyes, their looks, their aversion, tell me all I need to know.
On Monday, my two oldest sons were tasked with pushing me to and from Great American Ballpark. We had driven to Cincinnati to attend Opening Day for the Cincinnati Reds. We arrived early so we could watch the Findlay Market Parade. We parked about five blocks or so from Great American Ballpark, unloaded the wheelchair, and headed out to Fountain Square.
Much of the route to Fountain Square was up hill. My sons took turns pushing me up the hill and both were winded by the time we got to flat ground. I remember Polly trying to push me along a similar path a few years ago. She couldn’t do it, so I had to get out of the wheelchair, brace my body against the street front buildings, and walk to the top of the hill. I looked like a drunk man who couldn’t stand up.
While Cincinnati street corners are wheelchair accessible, their sidewalks are not. The sidewalks were rough and there were many place where metal grates covered spots in the sidewalk. Rolling over these grates pounded my body from head to toe. We finally made it to near Fountain Square, I say near because a thoughtless UPS driver, there to watch the parade, had parked his truck on the corner, blocking the wheelchair access. For a moment, I wanted to give this thoughtless person a piece of my mind, but I decided not to. No need to ruin the day.
I really didn’t get to see much of the parade. People lined the streets, so I was forced to sit with my back to a building, away from the crowded street. Even then, every few moments or so, someone would walk by and bang into the leg rests of my wheelchair. A few people said sorry but most of them ignored the cripple in the wheelchair. In their mind I was just an inconvenience that they need to get around.
Several elementary classes were there to watch the parade. The children were overwhelmingly black, kindergarten/first grade age. Ironically, all but one of the teachers were white. As the children filed by my wheelchair I couldn’t help but notice their stares. Unlike adults, they have not yet learned to avert their eyes. I smiled back at them, said Hi, and a few of the children politely talked to the stranger in the chair with wheels. Some of them even waved to me when it was time for them to go back to school. Their innocence and politeness warmed my heart.
After the parade, my sons wheeled me to Great American Ballpark. We couldn’t find the wheelchair ramps so I was forced to get out of the chair so I could walk up the steps. Again, I don’t like being a spectacle and I could feel the looks of those around me as I slowly navigated the steps. We entered the Ballpark via a gate that was made wider for wheelchair access, and in short order we made it to section 109 where our seats were.
At this point, I had to leave my wheelchair behind. I left it with the usher and asked him to make sure no one took off with it. He looked at me funny and then I told him about my last trip to the Ballpark when one of the ushers gave my wheelchair to a family so they could transport their elderly mother. Fortunately, one of my sons saw them doing this and stopped them from making off with my wheelchair.
Our seats were about 21 rows down, so I walked every-so-slowly, sideways down to our seats. Normally, I buy handicap seats, which the Ballpark makes me pay a premium for, but since my ticket had been given to my son by a vendor, there was no thought of one of the recipients being disabled. I was just glad to go to the game, even if it meant dangerously walking to my seat. My sons were nearby just to make sure I didn’t fall. (I have fallen several times in recent years at sporting events)
The Reds lost the game 1-0. Like I always do, I waited until most everyone cleared out before I made my way back to the Ballpark concourse. Other people in our row got tired of waiting and climbed over their seats and exited. This was one time where I thought, tough shit, if you don’t like it, go the other way. Several kind people stopped to let me out but I told them to go ahead. I appreciated their kindness. I knew my descent to the concourse was going to be slow and I didn’t want to hold anyone up.
My wheelchair was right where I left it. I sat down in the chair and my sons began wheeling me out the Ballpark. This is usually the worst time for me…people are in a hurry and they don’t want to be slowed up by a fat man in a wheelchair. Countless people walked in front of me, walked back into me, and bumped the side of my wheelchair. Out on the street it was even worse. Near the Toby Keith bar, five men looked at me, mentally flipped me off, and walked right in front of me. The last man saw how unkind the actions of his friends were, so he stopped. I motioned him on, telling him he might as well join his dumb ass friends. He said nothing and I suspect he agreed with my assessment of his friends.
By the time we got to the car, I felt like I had played 60 minutes of hard-hitting football. I will feel the effects of my trip to Cincinnati for days to come. I knew it would be this way, but I determined that I was willing to put up with the thoughtlessness of others and the beating I received so I could attend Opening Day. I know that I may never have this opportunity again.
Some of the beating I took was unavoidable. It is the price I pay for wanting to be alive, to experience life while I can. So far, the benefits outweigh the costs, so I continue to go to sporting events. I suspect there is coming a day when I will no longer be able to do these kind of things. I know that someday I will no longer be able to stand the beating I get at public events, that the physical price will be too high. But, for now, I can rest, take narcotics, and hope that the pain will return to its normal level.