Around and About

I decided pretty early on that I shouldn’t drive. Those who know me well believe this to be a very good decision. I think we all sleep better with the knowledge that I will never be behind the wheel of a car. I haven’t been tested for suitability to drive. That would be the first step if I were to decide I wanted to give it a go. I just don’t even want to risk it. As a teenager, I had a ‘could’ve been worse’ and certainly bad enough jet ski accident that left me with torn ligaments and tendons throughout my body as well as massive bruising. It took ages to recover. I collided with another jet ski. Naturally, there was a whole lot more room to move on the river than there ever would be on a road.

Slow reaction times, poor fine motor skills, a total inability to visualise where I am in relation to everywhere else at any given time, not being able to concentrate well on more than one thing at a time, all of these things, added to a total lack of confidence in myself, make me not having a license to drive a sensible decision in my book.

*sigh* Why am I justifying me not driving to you? I shouldn’t have to. I guess I’ve got used to having to explain to people, since I was a teenager, why I’ve decided not to drive. Well meaning people get very frustrated with me. They put it all down to a lack of confidence and something that I’d be able to do just fine if I put my mind to it. Well, maybe. I’m just not willing to take that risk. It’s not that I wouldn’t love to drive. The independence that driving would afford me would be life changing. That said, I am happy knowing that I have made the right decision for me.

If I want to get around, I have a few options. My preference is to wheel to wherever I’m going. Of course this is restricted somewhat by time and the effort it takes to push my wheelchair and it was much easier when I lived in a compact city. I’m fit and strong, so I can travel a reasonable distance, given enough time. I’ve even wheeled myself 28km in a charity ‘walk’. For that kind of distance though, I prefer to take a bus than spend all day getting to my destination only to end up a shattered wreck.

Buses have come a long way. In my lifetime, most if not all of the buses I might want to catch have been made wheelchair accessible. Last weekend, I caught a bus from Wellington Airport into the city and back again to the airport, when I was ready to leave. Everyone on the bus seemed utterly miserable except for the drivers, both of whom were very calm and professional. Luggage and smaller bags were everywhere. People heaved their oversized bags onto the large luggage racks at the front of the bus as they clambered on.

When still more passengers ambled onto the bus, struggling with their bags, they started carrying them to their seats and holding onto them in the isles. For someone who has difficulty with spatial tasks at times, I’m quite good at knowing what will fit into a space and how to stack things to use space efficiently. I wished at that time that I’d had a clipboard and a hi vis jacket. Then I would have felt bestowed with sufficient authority to instruct everyone on how to stack their bags so that the minor skirmishes over space didn’t have to occur. I watched it all with bemusement and, holding onto the vertical grip pole next to me, I smiled at my ability to get from the plane, onto a bus and into the city on my own. It can be so liberating going away on a trip that involves public transport.

I got a plane to Wellington, which is the best option I have over long distances. Buses are ok for a couple of hours but I can’t be guaranteed that longer journeys will incorporate rest stops long enough for me to find and use an accessible bathroom, nor can the provision of a wheelchair accessible bathroom be assured.

I’ve always adored flying. Not just being in the air, though that is the most fun part. I also love airports. Checking in, with my wheelchair and bags, if I have them, tagged and ready to stow, I’ll find my way to an eatery with exorbitantly inflated prices and food on a scale from terrible to fine. I’ll usually seek out a bathroom, which I know will be accessible. I might buy a book and a couple of doughnuts – one for now, one for later – then I’ll find my ‘gate’, let staff know I’m there and wait. I enjoy hanging out in institutional buildings with processes and procedures and rules and regulations, it makes me feel safe. I like doing all of this on my own. Public transport gives me a sense of independence that I don’t always feel when I’m relying on people I know to get me from A to B; people who I haven’t paid to provide me with the same service as everyone else.

I only had to take one taxi while I was in Wellington. That was a relief. Even more of a relief was the fact that my driver was just the nicest person. We chatted away and he commented on how easy it was to get my wheelchair in and out of his car. I prefer to order cabs rather than vans. I like getting out of my wheelchair into a car seat. It’s much more comfortable for me and it’s really not difficult. I know how well a taxi ride is going to go from how a driver reacts to having to fold down my chair and put it into their boot or the back seat of their car, depending on the size and shape of the car. Some, as in this instance, will express surprise at how light my wheelchair is and how easy it is to fold and take apart. Others will act like I’ve ruined their day with the difficulty of what they are faced with. This can, in turn, ruin my day.

Though I prefer to take public transport than get rides with people I know, the exception would be taxis. If I have to choose, I prefer in that case to ride with friends or family. I was a bit concerned that the taxi ride back to the hostel I was staying at might not be so pleasant. I’d been very lucky with my ride there but that was unusual, so I was very happy to accept a lift back with friends.

I was only away from home for a night but it was a really packed 24 hours for me, much of which was taken up with travel. I have some real public transport horror stories. It absolutely made my weekend that getting around was made so easy and so enjoyable. It has put me in a really good mood and it meant that I was able to enjoy every aspect of my trip. People take getting around for granted, I think. While it has taken far too long and there is still work to do, I am so grateful that there are now so many options in public transport that are now accessible to me. How well people who work in public transport are able to cope with me using their service can affect not just how I experience using a particular mode of transport but how well I enjoy an entire trip, from beginning to end.

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