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Funny Bone — Toledo: Another Example of Disabled People Being Treated as an Afterthought by an Entertainment Venue

trae crowder bruce and polly gerencser cropped
Trae Crowder, Bruce and Polly Gerencser

My partner, Polly, and I traveled to Toledo, Ohio, last night to listen to Trae Crowder at the Funny Bone Comedy Club and Restaurant in Levis Commons — a sprawling outdoor shopping center. Big fans of Crowder, we’ve been looking forward to hearing him for months. We listen to his weekly podcast, along with the short videos Crowder puts out several times a week. Crowder, an agnostic, calls himself the “Liberal Redneck.” While Crowder, age 37, currently lives in Los Angeles, he came of age in rural Tennessee. Crowder attributes his liberal/progressive political and social beliefs to his family’s abject poverty during his childhood years.

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2
Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720-square-foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us.

Having grown up in similar circumstances in the 1960s-1980s, I find Crowder’s humor appeals to me in ways other comedians don’t. When Crowder talks about “white trash” or “trailer trash,” I understand. When uttered by people who have never experienced real poverty, I bristle and often give them a buffet-plate-loaded-up-on-seafood-night response. However, when someone from the poverty fraternity satirizes these experiences, I laugh — been there done that — but the trauma of those years still lurks in the depths of my being. I no longer live in abject poverty. I am more “fashionably dirt poor” these days. Roof over our heads, food on the table, bills paid (albeit a few days late here and there), and taxes up to date. Life is good, even if the Bengals are 0-2.

Crowder delivered as advertised. We got the opportunity to meet him afterward, shake his hand, and have a picture taken. We live in an area where seven out of ten voters voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020. God, Trump, Guns, and Evangelical Christianity rule the roost. For godless liberals such as Polly and I, we are foreigners in the land of my birth and the home of our six children and grandchildren. Hearing Crowder was a brief respite for us from incessant right-wing extremism.

Unfortunately, the “experience” itself was, to put it mildly, less than optimal, and, at times, downright frustrating and painful.

We arrived at Funny Bone at 6:00 p.m. Unable to find a parking space, we were forced to park three city blocks away from the venue. Neither the sidewalks nor the parking lot were ADA-compliant. We entered the doors for the club around 6:15 p.m. The doors were challenging to enter. Technically, ADA-compliant, it took Polly several attempts to get my wheelchair through the glass doors (there was no automatic door opener). Once in the lobby, we found no staff to assist us. The club itself is on the second floor. On the desk sat a sign that said there was an elevator in “back.” Back where, exactly? No directions, no arrows pointing to the elevator. Being first-time visitors, we were left with figuring out what “back” meant. Polly walked the stairs to the second level, hoping to find anyone to help us. After being unable to find someone to help us, Polly came back to the lobby and told me that she was going to walk around the back of the building to see if she could find the elevator.

With the elevator found, we thought we were home free. Little did we know, the worst was to come.

Out of the inadequate doors we went, around to the elevator, only to find more doors we had to contend with. Barely wide enough for a standard wheelchair, none of the doors had automatic door openers. Fortunately, we had the elevator to ourselves. Easy in, easy out, straight. . . to . . . the . . . venue . . . now, right? Nope, there was another door we had to enter to reach the club. Thanks to boxes stacked near the door, Polly could not push my wheelchair through the door. She had to move the boxes so we had enough room to barely navigate through the door. This door gave way to a hallway that led to the hostess station. The hallway was narrow, and ADA compliant only if there were not boxes or people taking up space. In other words, it was difficult to navigate.

Finally, we made it to the hostess station. I had called Funny Bone the night before to remind them that I was in a wheelchair and would need accommodation. “No problem,” I was told. A few feet in front of the hostess station was a transition between flooring types. Paying no need to ADA compliance, Funny Bone used a raised transition instead of a flat one. Of course, hitting this speed bump nearly tipped over my wheelchair (with me in it). Thoroughly embarrassed, Polly eventually righted my chariot, and onto the main floor we went. The Funny Bone is laid out like a supper club. They could have parked my wheelchair in any number of out-of-the-way places, but the staff decided to sit me at a table that was pushed up next to another table, near where there would be a lot of foot traffic. I spent the rest of the night being bumped into by patrons and employees alike. Telling the crippled guy “sorry” might make you feel good, but it does nothing for the person physically harmed. I suspect if Funny Bone received a spot fire inspection or ADA compliance inspection, they would have failed miserably.

Crowder was as advertised. Afterward, we waited for most of the venue to clear out before leaving. We do this to avoid having to deal with rude, thoughtless people. That and the fact that it is impossible to push a wheelchair anywhere in a crowd. So we waited to make our escape. After retracing our steps, we finally made it to the parking lot at the back of the Funny Bone. We started out on the sidewalk, only to find out it was a dead-end, running into a metal gate. This forced us to take the parking lot, complete with speed bumps to our automobile. Adapt and persevere, right?

Polly wheeled me about ten feet into the parking lot, when all of a sudden my chair stopped, Polly screamed “Oh no!” and I went flying head-first onto the pavement. As I lay prostrate on my right side in the parking lot, Polly steadied herself and came to my aid, Others were nearby, but ignored what was playing out in front of their eyes, Finally, a young man rushed up and asked if I was okay; if I needed any help. Filled with embarrassment and pride, I thanked him and said I would be fine. He waited while I climbed on my knees to the wheelchair, locked the wheels, and pulled myself up. Polly apologized repeatedly as we made it back to the car. I told her, “It’s not your fault.” While on my knees I found the culprit, a chunk of asphalt was missing, and one of the front wheels on my chair sunk into the hole, sending me flying into the crisp fall night.

For those of us who use wheelchairs, walkers, and canes, doing simple things can prove to be a challenge — sometimes, dangerously so. I am not a disabled person who expects the same treatment as able-bodied people. I do, however, expect reasonable accommodations. Levis Commons and Funny Bone failed on this account.

How do I feel today? Time for a shovel and a six-foot rectangular hole. Either that or lots of pain meds and muscle relaxers. Polly couldn’t find the shovel, so we are going the medication route. 🙂

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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    Oh my gosh! What a nightmare, and what a hero Polly is. I’m glad that you all got to see the show – I’m jealous because I love him! – but I’m sorry it was such an ordeal. You really should contact the manager and/or ADA to report it. That’s not okay.

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    Yep it’s Trump country, no question. I didn’t notice northwest Ohio being borderline fascist back in the day, it being the social norm in a sundown town and all I knew growing up. In spite of my tendency to be a misfit, the right wing social climate was so pervasive it influenced me politically to be conservative like everyone else. Education and life in the city opened my mind. All these decades later, it appears Williams County hasn’t changed in that regard. I would also be a foreigner there now. Another dang hippy.
    Hang in there Bruce. Not many of us hippies left.

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    Bruce, I hope you’ll print this out, put a stamp on it and send it to the venue. Sometimes this is all it takes to render an improvement. It IS very easy for fully abled bodied people to not see all the things you listed. I hope your warrior like tenacity is rewarded with some changes. One thing that is unlikely to be fixed is tattered asphalt in parking lots.
    I use my bicycle as a town car and carefully ride the sidewalks. I can tell you is that pedestrians and disabled are a nearly complete afterthought. For example, after it snows the streets get full groomed while sidewalks are done by individual homeowners and I don’t have to tell you how well that works. The notion of someone in a wheel chair using the sidewalks from December to April is downright laughable. Indeed, I can tell sidewalks, when replaced, add ADA features, but they aren’t universal. As sidewalks and safety paths age they are allowed to languish in disrepair.

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    This brought back memories of when my dad was in a wheelchair (no ADA then) and from when I had a job as a home healthcare worker. It’s a bitch navigating a wheelchair through the world. I’m sorry about your experience. It’s strange to me that no one helped you in the lot. I once had a client fall backwards onto his head. He screamed, and half the neighborhood came running, including the stoners from the drug house across the street. It must be a callous bunch of people in that area.

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    Karuna Gal

    I had an older friend who was wheelchair bound. That relationship opened my eyes to what obstacles he had to confront to get out and about. If abled folks only knew! So sorry to hear about what happened to you, Bruce. I agree with Troy and Amy, let the venue and the state know what happened to you.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    I am glad you got to hear Trae Crowder. Perhaps the folks at the Funny Bone (and the city of Toledo) don’t realize that impaired people like comedy: We are all equal in that we need a good laugh.

    Seriously, though, you should make sure that The Funny Bone’s management and Toledo’s city government (Does it have an office for people with disabilities?) see this.

    Polly—Bruce is a lucky man. At least he knows it.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    After my 2.5 months in a hospital in 2018 to deal with a mysteriously sick colon (docs are still not certain of the diagnosis, didn’t want to operate because I’m obese, but finally bit the bullet and took out the non-healing section) I was slow to regain any mobility at all, and ended up in a wheelchair away from home, using a walker at home. I learned firsthand that a big chunk of the able-bodied populace just doesn’t care, including those who manage things like venues. When I was finally able to get around reliably with a cane or grocery cart, I was overjoyed. But even last summer, expecting to need a lot of walking around a large furniture store, I brought my rollator walker. Had a heckuva time navigating in there, where even my nimble husband was forced to squeeze sideways at times. Loki help the company if the fire department ever inspects the place, because they’ll get a nasty fine.

    Bruce, I get your comment about “trailer trash”. My mother was raised in abject poverty in the Great Depression and the decade after, and my neurodivergent housemate endured it for a good chunk of her adult life. (Even very high-functioning neurodivergent people like my housemate often have a difficult time staying employed, because some supervisors and influential coworkers mistake even slightly different social engagement for insults.) Living in the abject poverty state is just extraordinarily hard on the psyche, as well as requiring a whole lot of compromises with life that those of us who’ve always been at least not uncomfortable might rationally understand, but not understand with our guts. Knowing that people I love/loved endured that is part of what makes me a progressive voter, because It offends me that anyone in the US must do so. Well, or anywhere in the world, but I can’t vote except in the US.

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    When I was one, my mother was paralyzed by polio, and I grew up taking care of her (and her colostomy) before the days of ADA. Even carried her up the rear stairs of a 727 as a teenager when my father’s back gave out.
    When people piss and moan about ADA, I tell them that a man in a wheelchair got America out of the Depression and fought the Axis to our victory, that you throw away talent and contribution when you throw away people. That we’re all disabled at times in life: in sickness, in vulnerable childhood, in vulnerable age….just wait your turn: it’ll come. That courage isn’t about testosteronic upper body strength, but in grit and going on when things seem impossible, that love is what matters and endures….not being entitled and taking advantage.

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    Trae Crowder is awesome! As a fellow Tennessean, though I have purged the accent, I understand what he’s talking about!

    I am sorry you had to go through that. We just returned from a trip to Japan, and we noticed how thoroughly lacking Japan is in meeting basic necessities of disabled people. Even a metropolis like Tokyo was sorely lacking, and the more rural areas had very little access.

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Bruce Gerencser