I should have written about these adventures long ago. It is something of a secret world, these Para-Transit adventures of mime. Let me explain with some background first.
Para Transit services are available in Broward County, Florida where I live. PT services enable people like me, people with disabilities that prevent them from driving a car, to get around town for $2.50 one way. You schedule a ride, either one way or round trip, 24 hours prior and they come and pick you up in a white car, van or wheelchair van. These rides can be very unpredictable in terms of timing and the people you’ll be riding with.
Again, I don’t know why I waited until my final week of work to start telling these tales.
So anyway, I usually have a ride home from the shop scheduled daily. I usually ride into work with my father-in-law Jerry, so I only really need a ride home since he cuts out early because it is a long, hot day for him in the shop. But today, since Jerry is out of town, I had to schedule a pick-up in order to arrive at the shop at 9AM. The folks at the PT provider told me to expect my driver to arrive between 7″30 and 8 AM.
And at 7:45, a white van pulled into my driveway.
Now when a PT vehicle arrives, you can tell a lot about how your experience is going to play out immediately. In this case, it was a wheelchair van which can be a mixed bag. If it arrives and there is no one on board, you may get lucky with a direct ride to your destination. But mornings are notoriously unpredictable with people going to work, school or doctor’s appointments. Upon closer examination, I noted there was already someone seated in the passenger seat aside the driver. Crap. This is gonna suck.
I am in a situation where I am about the most functional person who has to use PT. I am legally blind, but I really kinda see the world around me ok. My vision is best described as being really blurred and uncorrectable with lenses. But I can see people. I can see cars. I know South Florida like the back of my hand, so I usually know where I am in a car. So, I really hate wheelchair vans, especially when I have to sit in the back. That is because the process, for me at least, is kind of embarrassing.
The only way to get into the back of a wheelchair van is to get onto a hydraulic lift and get “lifted in” in a ceremony befitting a king or queen. You know, it’s one thing when you need to be lifted in because of an infirmity. I am perfectly able to climb in, so it is kind of humiliating. The really should play a fanfare, though, It would add some pizzazz to the moment.
Anyway, I find myself waiting helplessly as the driver, a fingerless gloved Haitian man of about 40, efficiently lowers the lift and waits for me to climb onto the grated surface. Man this sucks. I hope my neighbors aren’t watching, especially Jose, because he’ll give me shit next time I see him. I climb on and, as is habit, I refuse to wait for the hydraulics and make the big step right in to the back of the van in my own rebellious way. There are fold down seats that run along the side, so I take my place there, strapped in by a simple lap belt (which I have to tighten a lot as the previous occupant was obviously quite large). I place my lunch bag on the floor and ready myself for today’s journey.
OUT OF CONTROL
The thing that you must surrender yourself to in my situation, not just when riding on Para Transit but everywhere, is the concept of control. As it relates to the PT rides, this means that you really are at the mercy of the dispatcher, the route and the driver. I have no idea which route I will be taking, if other passengers will be picked up along the way, what music I will be subjected to, what kind of driver I will have, or even where I will be sitting. As we leave my neighborhood, I realize that we are not done with the pick-ups as we turn north on Coral Ridge Dr. away from the general direction of my destination.
Ugh. It’s going to be a long one.
The other fellow on board is a non-descript African-American man with no obvious maladies. No cane, no wheelchair. Usually, the assumption I make at that point is perhaps this person is suffering from another malady, mental retardation, Down’s Syndrome or something my eyes can’t pick up that easily. I say “Good Morning” in a pleasant tone, but nothing from him. Mr. Personality. He doesn’t make any eye contact with me or offer a greeting, so I keep to myself and grumble inwardly as we head up towards the heart of Coral Springs.
As we make our way onto Royal Palm Blvd. and turn into an apartment complex, I seem to remember being here before. I like to play this game where I try and guess the next pick-up. You know, after riding this service every weekday for a couple of years, I know a lot of other riders who live in Coral Springs as I do. Oh, I know! It’s that old Jamaican couple. Sure enough, there they are, dressed in their finest “going out” attire and waiting for the van. With splendid efficiency, the driver hops out and proceeds to load them up, one by one, on the lift and sit them down on the side bench next to me.
Now we’re packed in. There is no more room for people to sit in this van as all of the fold down seats are now occupied. Man, this sucks. The lady is nice enough and offers a nice “Good Morning” to everyone which we all return, except for Mr. Personality up front in his comfy, non-folding passenger seat. Her husband, a wisp of a man unsteady in gate, sits next to me. He doesn’t smell to me, which is good. His shoulder is in my ribs, which isn’t. As I am at the end of the bench furthest to the back of the van, I really have no means of support when the van accelerates. I am left to grip the bottom of my seat to offset the lateral G-load of acceleration. The old man, of course, has no such problems. He has my ribs for support.
As we depart, I realize that the driver has been listening to a morning religious music program. “A Good Morning with Jesus” is the title. Various classic hymns and songs, sometimes gospel, other times Caribbean in style, break through the AM static. Once we are underway, he raises the volume a bit and sings along, off key. Within a few seconds, the old couple are humming along as well. Apparently, they have ridden with the driver before and they collectively share a love for their lord. That’s fine. Nothing I can do about it anyway. We head east, hopefully to turn south before long in the direction of my destination. I doubt it, though.
A few minutes in stop and go traffic later (which is killing my ribs), and the driver announces to us that he has to get one more passenger, someone bound to a wheelchair, at the last minute. They were very busy this morning, he explained, and they just added another pick-up to his route. We turn north in the direction of Sample Road, definitely out of my way, and come into another neighborhood which is kind of familiar. Perhaps they are picking up Danelle, a girl I know with Down’s who lives in this neighborhood. But Danelle doesn’t use a wheelchair. Hmmm.
Before long, we pull up to a house and there is a young girl in a wheelchair waiting for us. She is Caucasian, has long straight black hair and is piloting an electric wheelchair. It’s a pretty cool thing, this wheelchair. She drives the thing with what looks like an old joystick from an Atari 2600. In front of her is a clear, plexi tabletop that is perfectly positioned for her arms – it could be a desk, or a dinner table or serve whatever function she needed. Being clear, the table also offers her a unobstructed view of the ground immediately in front of her. Having never really looked at the functionality of a motorized wheelchair before, I thought it was pretty interesting. .
The logistics of squeezing her by the row of us strapped in along the side of the van is daunting, but she tells us to stay put. As she rises on the lift, she maneuvers her chair deftly, back and forth quickly executing a 8-point turn in no time. She really understands how to use those front caster wheels to her advantage. Cool. She drives to the back of the van and turns a 180 and is in place before we know it. The old couple marvel at her ability to move around in such confines. She mumbles something about being used it.
To me, she is the most interesting person onboard. I mean, the old couple are nice and all, but I have encountered many old couples on PT rides. Usually, their trips and lives are mainly determined by medical care. But this girl is young, probably headed off to school or perhaps work. She is dressed in a black t-shirt from some band. Damn, I can’t read it! It could be a metal shirt judging by the font, but who knows. She wears loose-fitting tan slacks which are too long for her legs, or whatever her lower extremities are at this point. Hard to tell. She immediately pulls out her iPhone gadget and plugs in her earbuds. The switch is flipped. She is in her own world, he music video of life passing by in the windows of a Ford van.
Her chair strapped in and the music playing, we are off again. I have no hope of getting of this van quickly, as we are now playing a game of zigzag through the streets of Coconut Creek. I watch the girl as we pull away from a traffic light as she struggles to stay upright in her chair so she can read the iPhone before her. Finally, the struggle to great for her deteriorated muscles, she gives into the g-forces and falls into her chair back, eyes rolled into her closed eyes. The music envelopes her. I can’t tell if the look on her face is from the release of her muscles, or from the emersion of music.
Just what is she listening to, I wonder? Maybe it’s metal, like Avenged Sevenfold or something like that. Or maybe she’s one of those Bright Eyes girls, all about the wonderful Conner Oberst. I should ask her about her music, I really should. I am a musician, the family owns a record store, and why not ask?
I find myself in that same place I know others have found themselves in when they learn about my eyes. So many questions, but I’m afraid to offend, afraid to say the wrong thing, like accidentally uttering the name of someone’s dead sister or lost dog. I am a weird person sometimes, so maybe I will be taken wrong. Not like it hasn’t happened before, you know. So I sit silently, only hearing the religious music coming from the front of the van.
“Gentle Savior, lead me on. Let Your Spirit light the way…”
I am so jealous of the gadget in her hands. I love gadgets and often fantasize about how much fun it would be to have an iPhone or something lie that. I love the computer, but those small screens on the modern phone gadgets are a barrier my eyes can’t conquer. Kills me, knowing full well I would LOVE them, too. All those apps, all that music. This leads to the game of wondering if I would trade my infirmity for hers just so I could play with such a gadget. That stupid idea is short lived as I imagine what it must be like for her. I mean, even going to the bathroom has to be such a goddamn hassle. Do you end up taking in the minimum amount of liquids so you don’t have to go through the process of maneuvering into a bathroom, getting out of the chair and onto a toilet more than once or twice a day? Fuck that. I’ll stay blind and leave the latest, greatest in killer apps to her.
We’re heading up West Dixie Highway now, having dropped Mr. Personality off at some strip mall clinic. Suddenly behind us, there’s an asshole in a metallic blue ‘Vette getting impatient with the van. Fuck you, dude, and your mild traffic inconvenience. Bitch about taxes some more while you’re at it, you fuck. With supreme arrogance, he sweeps by us in a thunder of after-market exhaust, convertible down revealing a flash of blonde hair and perfect white teeth. Well, the last bit about the blonde hair and teeth are just in my imagination as I can’t see stuff like that for real. Fuck you very much, anyway. Perhaps somewhere in the distance there is a telephone pole with your name on it.
“And when I reach the valley every soul must journey through. I’ll remember then how well You know the way…”
The Jamaican couple have been deposited at some apartment building, probably a friend, and it is now just me, the girl and the driver. I really had my eyes on that front seat as my back is killing me from this sideways ride through Broward County, but I feel like I would be deserting the girl and showing off my bi-pedal mobility too much. So I suffer through the final segment of the journey. The Haitian is too quick anyway, as we are off before the door is closed it seems. I realize at this point that we are heading for my stop next, so the mystery of the girl’s destination will remain as such. What IS she listening to? Come on, you moron, just ask. Well, perhaps at the point of departure I will ask. There is no time for awkward silences after that, right?
As we pull up to the shop, I realize my neighbor, a smart ass Cubano who is always talking shit, is standing outside waiting. Sigh. I have to get lowered out on the lift in front of him in grand fashion. Where’s that anthem when I need it? Oh, knowing him, he will provide it himself. Asshole.
So as I turn to the lift and take my place upon it, I finally ask the girl what she is listening to.
“The Cranberries,” she replies.
The CRANberries? Really? In a million years I wouldn’t have guessed that. I tell her that I think they’re cool, but I prefer Sinead or Clannad when it comes to Irish chick singers.
She smiles and quickly returns to her gadget.
Total Drive Time: 1:40
Direct Distance: 12.2 Miles
Actual Distance: 27.1 Miles