Monday, October 23, 2006

Leaving London

It was 4am and I was leaving London. Going home. Finally. I had the concierge call for a Black Cab. The cabbie pulls up. An old man gets out walks around to the side of the cab where I am sitting and sees me in my chair. He asks if I can stand I say no and he starts to walk back to the driver side. I tell him he can't leave, he can bounce me in, and he then runs the rest of the way and peels out of the hotel driveway. The concierge looks at me dumbfounded, asks me why he did that. I know too well. I copied his plate down, T55 WGK: Black Dial A Cab. I ask the concierge for another cab. I get a man who doesn't speak English or know how to use his portable GPS System. He asks me if I know how to get to Heathrow. My flight leaves at 9:30am and it is now close to 5am. We arrive around 6am.

Flying British Airways to Chicago for the first time. No liquids of any kind allowed in your carry-on. You can only take one carry-on. I give the skinny, perched mouthed-BA employee my lap-top and a clear plastic bag to check. He tells me my chair will have to be checked also, as baggage. I try to tell him it was put on-board the BA flight to Heathrow from Chicago with no problem by the flight attendants and not checked, but he explains to me that Heathrow does not allow wheelchair-bound customers to be in their chairs beyond the security gate. You must use the airport wheelchair and have your chair taken from you to be put under the plane. I let him tag my chair. I now have a big sticker/tag hanging from the back of my chair, as if someone stuck a "kick me" sign on my back and I can't reach it to take it off. I go to the line for security and I am stopped by a tall, older, blonde, BA employee. I engage in a conversation for about twenty minutes with her and her in-house airport cell phone about how I must check my chair now and get in an airport wheelchair because Heathrow does not allow wheelchair bound customers to be in their chairs beyond this point in the airport. I ask a variety of questions to try and make sense of the hurt and fear I feel, like will my chair be safe? When will I get it in Chicago? Will the airport employees in Chicago meet me outside the plane? She says she can't guarantee the chair will be in one piece, I will get the chair at baggage claim in Chicago, and that the O'Hare employees will not bring the chair to meet me outside the door of the plane but put me in an airport chair and push me to baggage claim to get me chair. The last time I flew into O'Hare I was left on the plane and the pilot had to get me off, so my fear and anger is valid. All I see is my wheelchair on the conveyer belt going around and around. Hopefully no one would take it.
Systems that are set-up now work for the people who use their chairs temporarily. People who don't mind being pushed around an airport. People, who, eventually will be able to walk again, don't feel that separation anxiety when their chair is taken away. No one in corporate BA, Heathrow, or O'Hare understands this.
I took the chance that my chair might not make it on the plane, which was so politely explained to me by the tall, older, blonde BA employee with her in-house cell phone if I decided to not give my chair up before the security gate. I took a gamble.
I went through security and was met by a very angry, beautiful bag scanner. As her colleague frisked me and scanned my chair, she shouted out that she saw me roll my eyes. It was now close to 6:30am and I was tired. I knew she must be. I engaged in what she called a "discussion" but I thought was an argument about what fuckin' business it was of hers to point out my facial expressions to everyone and then be nasty about it. I called her unprofessional and she told me to have a nice flight. I didn't believe her. I sat at the airport security desk for twenty minutes to file a complaint and get the angry, beautiful, baggage girl's name. It took that long to get anyone to retrieve her supervisor. After I was told I couldn't have her name, then I could have it but her supervisor was in a meeting, I finally got to write it down. It was a beautiful Arabic name. So sad when pretty, young women are angry at everyone. I promised myself I wouldn't be, especially about this morning. So I looked around and listened. Opened my eyes to the humor. What is funny about this?
I went to Gate 7. This is where the wheelchair hand-off happens if you decide to roll the dice and keep your chair. I checked in with two young Italian employees of Heathrow and they assured me they would try to get my chair onboard the plane. It just depended on what mood the BA flight attendants were this morning. I went to the sitting area to wait. I looked around. I was surrounded my people older than sixty and those little golf carts that beep whenever they back-up. This area could be an entrance to a golf-course.
I was called up to the desk that was now being manned by an older woman. She called a tall, gangly man to escort me to Gate 4 where my flight was boarding. He told me he would get my chair on-board. He was kind. There was a playfulness in his eyes but a care. He cared and understood. I didn't need to say much to him.
We waited at Gate 4 about 45 minutes. We were joined by a middle-aged BA employee with soft brown hair and a pretty face. She promised me my chair would get on the plane one way or another. I told her what the tall, older, blonde BA employee with the in-house cell phone said about my chair not making it on the plane if I decided to stay in it past security and she said she would do it herself if she had to. She was kind also and understood.
Being nice to people in this part of the airport worked. Finally we went down the jetway and my chair go on-board. The crew seemed to be in a good mood this am. I was lucky. I felt lucky. I felt like the system only worked today because I got a good group of people. I felt that the system should have worked regardless. I didn't fell that I should have had to go through the haggling, bartering, for my independence like I did. If I went along with the airport's rules, laws, whichever, I would have lost my ability to maneuver around the airport for two hours. I would have had to be pushed everywhere even into the bathroom. You can't move the airport chairs yourself, they must be pushed. I wondered if anyone in corporate cared? I wonder if a letter mattered? After all they were fighting terrorism, taking away perfume bottles from passengers, and telling people if they rolled their eyes at baggage check. BA and Heathrow Corporates and their employees were busy making sure these things went off without a hitch. I don't think they would be too interested in my need to hold onto my wheelchair.
I arrived in O'Hare on time. Got into my chair and went through security rather quickly. I had bonded with a male flight attendant because of some heavy turbulence and he waved to me as I went to get my bags. Only my laptop arrived in Chicago. My other bag was somewhere over the Atlantic. I figured if this was the only loss for now it was better than losing my chair.
I went to fill out a form with the BA employees and met the young man who checked me in at O'Hare almost two weeks before. He told me the bag would arrive in a couple of days and let me know how jealous he was I was going back to Cleveland. He loved Cleveland when he visited. I just nodded my head. I am a New-Yorker. I don't love Cleveland as much as he does. But we are all different people, so I just smiled. He was kind too.
A few days later I got my bag or what was left of it. My belongings were bunched up in a plastic O'Hare garbage bag with Custom Stickers holding it together. I opened it up and my clothes smelled like really, cheap, stringent, lemon-y perfume. I put my clothes in the wash and found someone's empty bottle of perfume and hemorrhoid creme at the bottom of the plastic bag. I thought someone liked that smell. Someone in the world didn't have their perfume anymore or their hemorrhoid creme. But then I thought: I had my chair. I still had my chair.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Day in London

I am in London. It is October. It is around 7:30am. The concierge grabs a cab for me so I can ride to the Westminster Tube Station. The Cabbie pulls up and gets out of the Cab. He sees I am in a wheelchair. He does not make eye contact with me. He searches for the screwdriver to unlock the built-in ramp in the Cab. He scrambles through the glove compartment for about two minutes and comes around the Cab to tell me he can't find the screwdriver and he can't take me in his Cab. He starts to walk away and get in the Cab. I say to him he can't deny me a ride and that I can show him how to lift me in easily. He says no, he has not denied me a ride, and drives away. His Cab number is 43305. He is an older white man.
Ten minutes later the concierge eventually found me another Cab.
Around 9pm I waited for the Jubilee Line to take me back to Central London. I group of men were waiting for the same train about 100 feet away from me. Their Spokesman walked over to me and with very yellow teeth and a smile he asked if I would need any help getting into the train and if I did he would be happy to help me. I simply responded, no.
After he walked back to his friends I put my headphones in my ear to distance myself from any other comments.
A couple minutes later he walked over to me again and I paused my song and he knelt down beside me and said he and his friends were into Public Development. He asked if I was offended by his previous question. Before I answered I looked over to his friends and they were laughing and sneaking glances at us. I kept eye contact with their group until they stopped. I looked at the man with the yellow teeth and said yes. I sighed and moved as far away from him as I could. I rolled onto the train without a problem.
After I returned to the hotel I went out to get some sandwhiches. As I made my way to the corner Tesco a man was approaching me from across the street with great speed. He walked briskly up to me and yelled, I RESPECT YOU! LET ME HELP YOU! he went to grab my arm I pulled away and told him to fuck off. I kept going to the Tesco and he did not follow.
I bought my Ham and Cheese sandwhich, a small carton of 2% milk, and a chocolate bar and went back to the hotel.
It was 11pm.