My independence has taken quite a few hits over the years, but one inability irks me more than any other. I can handle being unable to write by hand. I’ve grown accustomed to having my food prepared for me. And I can’t really say I mind being unable to work. If a genie popped out of a bottle to grant me only one wish instead of three, I’d certainly wish I could walk again, right? Wrong. I’d give anything to sit behind the wheel in bumper to bumper traffic.
I sympathize with a whole different generation now. Senior citizens. To finally have a concerned family member tell you your driving days are over — ouch. Driving is independence. Being able to get from point A to point B on your own, without asking anyone’s permission. That’s huge. It’s why my neighbors always see me tooling around town in my wheelchair. It’s why I actually had bald tires. It’s why I’ll spend half an hour to go half a mile for coffee with a friend. Freedom.
One of the worst things about not driving, particularly if you’re relying on public transportation, is the waiting. I’ve spent so many hours outside Publix with my groceries, I should be on the payroll. Official meeter and greeter. Twice I’ve given up. Publix kept my power chair till I could arrange to transport it later, while me and my soggy groceries bummed a ride. The problem, if JTA will allow me to say so (and if they won’t, oh well, here goes) is this ridiculous rule they have about spending a certain amount of time at your destination. (That and broken down vehicles and drivers with schedules so packed there’s no way they could stay on time.) I’m not allowed to take 30 or 45 minutes to do my shopping. I have to take an hour. With half-hour pick up windows, it’s not uncommon for me to be waiting outside Publix for two hours.
Now, I can wait an hour with no problem. An hour and a half gets interesting. I’m used to it. But two hours and I’m like the prisoner in solitary confinement who first tracks the passage of time with a rock and then finally goes ahead and loses it. Most people know me as a polite person who would never yell. Hopefully, those people never catch me after waiting two hours. When this happened recently, I could see the attention I was attracting out of the corner of my eye as I said loudly into the phone, “Another 40 minutes? I can’t do it! I just can’t wait anymore!” Then, after hanging up on the poor woman, I called my mom, practically in tears, to come pick me up. At first, I contemplated driving all the way home in my wheelchair. I decided against it. I’m adventurous, not death-defying.
The woman at JTA called later to tell me she’d found a solution. I could take the Community Shuttle for just 75 cents with no waiting. Since I had largely recovered at that point and all frozen goods were now safely stored in my freezer, I decided to give it a shot. I still had to get my power chair from Publix. Mom would take me there and the shuttle could bring me back.
It’s true there was no waiting. But when I saw that big bus barrel into the parking lot, I knew there was going to be trouble. This was no short bus. This was not your quadriplegic’s mini-bus. This was a full-on, mac daddy, watch-your-clearance, city bus. This was a regular bus with regular passengers, who were none to happy to be veering off route for the likes of me. I listened to them gripe and wonder where they were as we bounced down the streets of my neighborhood. I hadn’t even had the right fare (it was a dollar,) but the driver let me slide.
I read in the pamphlet later, that they will do “premium curb-to-curb service,” but it’s obviously not the norm. Those buses are ill-prepared to handle disabled passengers. The ramp was so steep the driver had to be there to make sure I didn’t fall out of my chair when I came off.
So my hunt for decent transportation continues. Dial A Ride isn’t bad, but they only service the beach and don’t run on weekends. So, if you see me in front of Publix, I’m sure I’ll smile and greet you pleasantly. Unless it’s the weekend and past the two hour mark. Then sorry, no promises.