After approximately thirty minutes in a Paratransit minivan, we pulled up to the Southwest gate. My driver, Al, unloaded me and my luggage and rolled my bags to the skycap as I slowly followed while carefully observing my surroundings. The gate attendant let me know he would have someone take me through security all the way to the gate, where I would board the plane. A few minutes later, the gate attendant, Mike, introduced me to Susan, a coworker who would gladly take me wherever I needed. I instantly asked if she could take me swimming in Scrooge McDuck’s bank vault; laughing loudly, she said sorry, but no. As we weaved through the airport, the first place Susan stopped was the part of security checking for identification.
When I handed the gentleman with Bob on his name tag, my TSA-approved Veterans Administration ID, he accepted it cheerfully. However, when he scanned it through his machine, the red blinking light and loud buzzer quickly shouted access denied. Bob then asked for another form of identification, so I held up an expired state ID, but before I could explain, he swiped it from me and ran it through the machine. This time the device simply screamed, denied, so he tried both forms of identification before calling his supervisor. Finally, Bob handed his boss my VA ID card, and she stared at it for a few seconds and, quick as a hiccup, loudly said: Looks good. I instantly said thank you, I will take that as a compliment, as I smiled coquettishly. She laughed and said thank you for bringing some badly needed levity to my day.
Southwest Susan then took me to the security pat-down area, where she helped me remove my shoes and empty my pockets. I could not see the TSA agent’s name tag, but I think it said Mike or Mark, who would do the pat down. Before he did the screening, I began my explanation of every non-typical item connected to me and my chair. The list did not need to be so extensive, but I made sure that no one made mistakes and that they did not call security. In addition, I always make sure that when I interact with someone in public, I make a joke or two, signaling not to assume about people in wheelchairs. I do that because otherwise I get treated poorly, ignored, and shunned, while some assume mental challenges, all because I am in a wheelchair.
Susan and I continued to move through the airport as she pointed out places I needed to know. She identified the convenience store, explaining that I could get something from the magazine racks, snack packs, or Tic Tacs. Susan also shared that many things were available from the gift shop, whether Ohio State t-shirts, sweatshirts, ball caps, or wrist straps. Oddly, she pointed out every, and I mean every, bathroom along the way, reminding me that there was one closer to my gate. The busyness of the airport went in waves and depended on planes landing or taking off because people moved fast through the airport.
My wheels went from the hard surface airport floor, which turned into carpeting, making it harder and draining to roll on. Thankfully Susan told me this was my gate, and she went to talk with the gate attendant, Pam, sharing with her my details. She must not have said much to Pam because the gate attendant came over and spoke to me like I was five years old. I quickly spoke up and made a joke which made Pam smile but no laugh, telling me there was a challenge to make her laugh. Although I tried in the time I had, all I could get was a smile, a smirk, but not even a snicker at my silliness, which usually draws laughter. Since I have a short time here, I have to accept this as a loss as I could not make her laugh.
At five minutes till 10 a.m., I wanted to be sure that I went to the restroom before this flight that would last over two hours. I verified with Pam that per the ticket our load time was 11 a.m., meaning I had one hour to run to the facilities and grab snacks. She told me that boarding would start in 20 minutes, and I had time to take care of my two tasks. I had a jolt of panic run through my mind because it was implausible that in 20 minutes, I could take care of business. There is typically a wait for the accessible stall, as most love them, meaning my pre-flight business would become post-flight business. I sat quietly at the gate until they came to take me to my seat on the plane.
They rolled me carefully down the Jet Bridge as it was bumpy and steep as we waited for someone else to arrive. Finally, a guy from Southwest came and looked like a maintenance man in his overalls and was ready to help. Maintenance man Jim slowly backed me onto the plane, parking me next to the front seat, asking if I was okay. Jim grabbed under my knees, and a gentleman behind me grabbed under my armpits, and I quickly said, “do not worry, I am not glass.” Once they carefully placed me on the seat, I spoke loudly and said, “look at that, nothing but net. Thank you, guys.”
They say that when things are going well, life will say to give it a second, which will change. Once they placed me in my seat, I moved very little, fearing waking the monster called chance. The first half of the flight day went off without a hitch, causing more fear and trepidation. I know that being scared of this possible mythical beast called chance seems silly to some. However, in my situation, I have faced this ugly creature many times, ruining my day. The vile possibilities raise the hair on the back of my neck.
My new home awaits while I inch closer and closer.