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Anne Wallingford, WordSmith


Flying Solo,
May 2003

'Twas a lovely Sunday in May, so I “screwed my courage to the sticking spot” and took my first solo ride in my little red sportsmobile, aka my power chair. It was a beautiful day, that Sunday, and I just wanted to get out. I'd spotted Doritos on sale in the Sunday Walgreen ad, so I thought "maybe..." I hesitated at first, but then decided “It's now or never, girl.”

The destination was just the excuse—what was important was the fact that it was time for me to go somewhere completely by myself. The store, about a mile from the house, is on the far side of two major city streets. There was no way I'd have attempted this on a weekday, but there was little traffic on that Sunday afternoon.

Members of the million-mile-club would have chuckled to watch me do this, though.

After my niece brought my chair out from the garage and helped me in, I started off. I'd go a block, rest, and study the next street/alley crossing. I kept telling myself "I'll go one more block then decided it I should turn around and go back." When it was time to cross Milwaukee Ave., I pulled out slightly into the street and looked both ways about three times. There were no cars in sight. But I wasn't taking any chances—I put the chair in high gear, on its highest power, and scooted across the street as if the banshees were chasing me! When I reached the other side, I just sat and panted—you'd have thought I'd run the race, not the chair! (I won't even admit publicly that not even a single car had come down the street while I was crossing.)

The die was cast, full speed ahead! To go back now meant I'd have to cross Milwaukee Ave. again, right away. Nope, I wanted some time before I did that!

The sidewalk on the next block was smooth and straight, so I went down the block at high speed. Why not? It was fun to feel the wind in my face!

I was a bit apprensive about crossing the next major street even though there's a streetlight at that intersection. The side street is extra wide at that intersection and I could recall, from back when I drove a car, how drivers would zip around the corner making their right turn on red. I lucked out, though. As I waited for the light, a car was also waiting for the light to change. The driver waved at me to go ahead and cross and he held up traffic on the side street until I zipped across.

I didn't have the same luck crossing the major street. I waited for the green light, just as a pedestrian would wait, and started across when the light changed. Fortunately I had been watching traffic carefully—I spotted a van speeding up as his light turned to yellow. The van went through on a red light. Because I had started across slowly this time the van whizzed in front of me, not through me. Hmmm. Maybe the powers-that-be need to put one of those traffic video cameras at this corner.

Once across the street I only had one block to go. Smooth sailing—I thought. As I was merrily traveling along, I heard a "plop." I'd been carrying a water bottle in a plastic bag on my lap; actually, the bag was between my leg and the side of the chair. Somehow, with all my maneuvering, the bag had shifted and slipped out the small space behind the chair arm. I stopped, turned, and went back to retrieve the bottle. Fortunately, the plastic bag stuck up just enough so I could bend over in the chair and reach it. Just barely, but I could. And I didn't even fall out of the chair. Of course, I wouldn't have fallen out because I was wearing my seat belt. Yes, my power chair has a seat belt!

Bottle retrieved, I finished the trip to Walgreen's. I knew from past experience, back when I only used canes, that folks shopping at the store were nice and would hold the door for me. I wasn't mistaken. As I turned and lined myself up to enter the store, a street vendor selling Streetwise came over and held the door for me. This Walgreen's has those metal security bars just inside the doorway (to prevent store theft, not terrorists) and I only grazed one bar as I entered.

This is a small store, which is why I shopped there while I was still somewhat ambulatory. At Christmas time I wouldn't be able to go down the aisles because of merchandise, but there was no problem on a slow Sunday in May. I did a bit of window-shopping, practiced navigating in narrow spaces, and worked my way over to the snack aisle. A very nice lady shopper wearing a smart red jacket and black skirt handed me two bags of Doritos when I asked for her help. (If she had declined, or no one had been in the aisle, I'd have found a store clerk.) I also made a mental note to take my grab-it stick with me the next time I went out somewhere.

I had thought maybe I'd check out at the camera counter where I had plenty of room, but that wasn't necessary. The wide checkout aisle was open. The cashier even came around to hand me my bag because I couldn't quite reach up and over the counter for it. With my on-sale Doritos firmly wedged against me with my purse, I headed out. I lined up with the door and waited for someone to come into the store. (I'm pretty good at guessing which people will help.) A gentleman halted his rush into the store and went back to hold the door open for me. Using a trick I'd learned from a previous outing, I looked into the distance and aimed for a spot in a straight line from where I was. This time I didn't hit the security bars! After thanking the man, I headed back home. Only I decided to try a different route. What can I say? I was feeling cocky!

I headed down the street towards Devon Ave., another major thoroughfare. On one side of the sidewalk is the street, and on the other side is the store's parking lot. A chain link fence separates the parking lot from the sidewalk. I was halfway to the corner when I thought I heard a noise, and a car slowed down and honked at me. Uh oh. I stopped. I moved forward slightly to test the chair. Seemed ok. I turned around slowly. Also ok. Then I saw the problem. One of my canes had come loose and fallen onto the sidewalk. (I keep two canes fastened to the back of the chair, with Velcro. If I ever must get out of the chair, I need the canes.)

Now this was a problem. I rolled back to where the cane lay on the sidewalk and looked at it. Unlike the water bottle in the plastic bag, the cane was too low to the ground for me to bend over and reach it. My mental note to bring my grab-it stick wasn't doing me much good because I needed the stick now! As I sat there trying to figure out how I could jerry- rig something to reach the cane, a young man who had just parked in the lot called over, "Do you need help?" When I said “yes,” he jogged down the length of the parking lot, around the fence, and then back up the sidewalk to where I was. Not only had he gone out of his way to help, he even refastened both canes securely to the back of the chair. I gratefully shook his hand and said, "God bless." He looked surprised at my thanks, waved them off, then jogged back to the store. There are a lot of good people in this world.

The rest of the ride home was uneventful. I made it back across all the streets and wasn't nearly as nervous as I was at the first crossing. When I reached home, I called my niece on my cell phone and she came out to help me into the house and to park the chair in the garage.

I did it! Hooray!!

Copyright © 2003 Anne Wallingford. All Rights Reserved.

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Saturday, January 24, 2004 00:40