OTTERS in Wheelchairs
If you’ve never been disabled, it can be hard to appreciate disability. This is where construction workers have an advantage in sympathetic understanding. Most of us have been temporarily disabled at one time or other in our lives. We’ve had to butt crawl up the stairs, or learn to use the other hand with one arm in a sling, to navigate on knee scooters and crutches.
I’ve been temporarily disabled many times in my life, but returning from a trip to Maine was the first time I’ve ever gotten to ride in an airport wheelchair. It was awesome!
The wheelchair was a necessity after I sprained my foot getting out of bed. I know. Pretty dumb. I could tell my foot was asleep when I woke up, but I had to pee and thought I could walk on it. Not! I wonder why I’d never learned this lesson until now. Don’t try to walk if your foot is asleep! Wake it up first.
I had traveled to Maine to commune with the OTTERS (Old Tradeswomen Talking Eating and Remembering Shit). We are writing a book about the Tradeswomen Movement. For the last half century we have been agitating to help women enter the construction trades and other nontraditional jobs, and now we are recording our collective history.
It was great to see and hug my old friends from all over the country, many for the first time in years. Working together resulted in measurable progress on our book. We stayed in a beautiful country house. Plus we got our fill of lobbies (the Mainers’ word for lobster)!
Then the trip from Portland, Maine to Santa Rosa, California tested my enthusiasm for airplane travel.
My long day of travel involved three airports. By the time I left Portland, on a warm muggy day, I still could not walk. My friend and Airbnb host, Marty Pottenger, loaned me a walker and, later, a cane. She suggested I call the airline to ask for wheelchair support. She drove me to the airport where I hobbled to the airline counter. She reclaimed the cane and I plopped into a streamlined wheelchair, pushed by a handsome gray-haired man. He said he was retired but worked at the airport two days a week to help make ends meet. I said, “Two days a week! That’s all any of us should have to work. The Wobblies called for a two-hour day but I think a two day week is better.” We talked about jobs we’d worked at as we crawled forward in the security line, and I realized it would have been hell standing in that line without the chair. He left me seated near the gate and went to pick up another disabled traveler.
I was relieved to be in the first group of passengers, those who need special assistance. My foot was healed enough to limp to my airplane seat without a cane.
At the stopover in Charlotte, North Carolina there was one other disabled traveler besides me flying on to San Francisco. The young dreadlocked assistant grabbed both our wheelchairs at once, one in each hand, and pushed us at high speed through the packed airport. Charlotte is a big city of 880,000 people and its airport is huge. We flew through the foot traffic with some close calls, but never hitting any walkers. I felt like Casey Jones drivin’ that train. I wanted to see the airport art but was barely able to take in my surroundings. The distance from one gate to the other was far but we got there in plenty of time to make our flight.
At the San Francisco airport I was greeted by a man holding a wheelchair and a sign with my name on it. What service! This was another long trek that required an elevator. I was deposited right at the taxi stand where I caught a ride to a nearby hotel where my wife was waiting.
I had first planned to take the Santa Rosa airport bus, which runs till midnight from SFO but it would have left me at a bus stop two and a half miles from my house at 2am. I had thought I could walk home from there if necessary. Sometimes Uber and Lyft can be problematic at that time. But Holly came to my rescue. After a good night’s sleep she drove me home from the hotel the next day. Home looked pretty darn good and I’m relieved to be back on solid ground.
Reuniting with my activist buddies was wonderful but I wonder if I’m too old and crabby to fly across the country again. Flying used to feel like a fun adventure. Now it’s just a trial, this time made manageable by wheelchairs and their pushers.