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Madison, Third and Down
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Friday night was the bad one. The one where after getting some time with my guest of honor in the bar, I dressed up and headed out with Cornelia to party number 1. We’ve got three parties that night, woo-hoo! Two dueling publisher parties several blocks away from each other and a third quasi-semi-invitational (but if you’re asked you can go) “bachelorette party” for Laura Lippman at the bar of the hotel where party #2 is being held. The first is in, I’m assured, a nice restaurant. The second, as I say, in a function room at a hotel. It never occurs to me that anything will go wrong. I had already asked about the shuttle (since the publisher had put on the invite that there was a shuttle available. But not one I could use. Of course it was the same damn hotel van.) We arrive at “the nice restaurant” and I’m still oblivious. There’s a flight of stairs at the entrance. It’s an old church. I go hither to see if the ramp is over here. I go thither. Man it sure isn’t very well marked. Cornelia, meanwhile, has gone upstairs to inquire. She does not give my name, just asks how someone in a scooter can get in and she is told “oh, Andi Shechter. She told us she wasn’t coming.”

Um. No. That’s not true. That is, in fact what we call wrong. Incorrect. I had asked about the shuttle a good two weeks before and when I was told I was SOL, and it was suggested I use my hotel’s van, I’d replied that I knew for a fact it was not accessible and expressed my dismay that no one seemed to remember that there were people with disabilities around. I had stated specifically to my contact that I realized this was not her fault, but that it was tiresome. I had said the party was, I noted, several blocks away. I’d said that I used a motorized scooter. At no time did anyone think to contact me, an invited guest, and well, disinvite me, mention that the restaurant was imopssible to get into. I said I might not be able to attend but never said “I won’t be there.” (I've still got the email.)

Of course that’s not the point either. Clearly the restaurant had been booked well in advance with no one checking on access. Maybe it was assumed – I sure assumed it. Two weeks before when a guest made it clear she used a chair to get around In, it was not passed along. It was not dealt with. I know several people who work for this publishers; some I was jazzed to see, others I so wanted to meet. This wasn’t right.

There are alternatives to shuttles; they all cost. They require advance planning. Everything in my freaking life pretty much requires advance planning. One word you don’t get to use about me is “spontaneity”. If you’ve never dealt with anything like this I’d like to suggest something: take a week, any week, it doesn’t have to be last week at Bouchercon if you went. Pick a week and then figure how you would have done everything you did. Without owning a car (which is of limited use; what I really need is a lift-equipped van). Using a device like mine, a 3-wheeled motorized scooter. Now mind you, if you’re in a damn good city as I am, the buses are all lift-equipped. Seattle isn’t so old in terms of streets and homes so it’s not like living in someplace where ALL the homes are up flights of stairs or the streets are still cobbled. Oh cobblestones are such fun using a scooter bumpitybumpityBUMPITYbumpitybumpity. Bump. Thud. (oops!). And remember please that it takes you from one to two hours to get going every day. Did you have an appointment? Did you have a date? Did you have to call ahead to be sure you could get in, or go AROUND the long way because the ramp’s in the back? When you got there, could you get into the bathroom to check your hair? Was the door so heavy, or the entryway so narrow that you couldn’t open the door and steer your scooter at the same time?

Or was it one of those “everyone drives” buildings where in order to get to the front door (have you walking types noticed this? Isn’t is annoying??) you have to walk through a parking lot because hell, EVERYONE has a car.

The scooter had to be charged up or that quick run to the grocery isn’t gonna happened. And you’re out of milk. Or maybe you had to get to the airport (whimper) by 5 am (what kind of doofus gets a 7 am flight to Madison? Erk.) so the van came at “between 3:30 am and 4:00 am. (double erk.) Sleep schmeep right?

Alternatives exist. And don’t think I’m not grateful, glad to live in the 21st century. Shuttle Express has gone from outsourcing the van to getting one that 40 to 50 of their drivers are trained to use (except they don’t use it and forget how it works but still, this is a real plus). Paratransit doesn’t run 24 hours and since it’s a shared ride system, well you can be sitting on the van an extra hour or more before getting to your destination. Did I mention erk? Sitting isn’t my best thing, especially since I’ll be another several hours on the plane (now THAT’s a comfy seat, isn’t it? Did your airline eliminate pillows? Northwest has.)

There are paratransit systems. In some cities (yay Madison) there are cabs I can use. Both require me to book in advance and if your plane is delayed, the ride may not wait. It also means you have to leave someplace sometimes before you are ready (book a return trip and be out there or miss your ride, bub. How often do you go to a party and do the Cinderella “I must go, the clock is striking midnight” bit? No matter if you’re in the middle of something, have just gotten a drink, just met that person, you have to go. Now. Because the van will wait usually five minutes and no more. It’s why I don’t/can’t go to basketball games by paratransit. What about overtime? Sure, I can leave. Would you like that? To leave before you choose to, before the game is over because your ride is waiting? It takes a lot out of having fun, of being able to just GO and DO.

My friends were great; Cornelia ran up more flights of stairs. Jay checked the restaurant before he made a reservation. And Larry Gandle and George Easter who saw my huge upset were more than willing to carry me up the stairs on Friday night. They were ready. I said no to their offer because a) god it’s embarrassing b) I weigh like 160 pounds and c) I’d never forgive myself if some thoughtful hugely nice guy put his back out carrying me. And I don’t want to fall either. And they then said “let’s find a better party” and set out with me – walked the entire way – to the Hilton. They I am sure could have taken the shuttle bus but they stayed with me and Cornelia to find “the better party”.

It would have been nice to be just like everyone else. Given the same courtesies. It’s probably impossible for many people to believe it but I often hate standing out. Standing out sucks. I also am not always full of energy and “on”. That’s how I’m seen at conventions and even on the phone where I make the utmost effort. Those who know me can tell you I’m not always up, I’m not upbeat, I’m not always strong and I’m forever tired, whiny, cranky and in pain. And the extra effort it takes simply to figure out if I can GET from here to there, can take anything from a 30 second phone call, to hours involving forms, faxes, phone calls, emails, mailing stuff out, photocopying stuff to prove who/what I am, and trying to find back-ups and alternatives in case, or if, or even WHEN, the chosen system breaks down.

I never got a hat, but I got some great boots (do me a favor, next time you see me check my feet. If I’m wearing blue suede (YES!!) boots, tell me how spiffy they are, would you? I’m still wondering what the hell I was thinking.) I didn’t get into one party, but I did buy rubber duckies. And a gorgeous jacket. I didn’t get to some things, but I had some great meals and drinks with friends. It was a really good Bouchercon for me.

But how can I go from being The Only Disabled Person who Needs Accommodation in the entire Mystery Community to just another person? I’d like that. How do we fix this so that when people plan things, this is simply another part of the planning? That there is an acknowledgement, an awareness if you will, that someone out there needs accommodation for a disability. Even if you don’t know personally; even if you’re not sure. Some people will continue to never need any accommodation. Some people manage. Some “overcome”. Some don’t mind paying for private vans or even cab fare. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to ignore their needs. This is 2006; ADA has been law for a long time and it’s been part of the American consciousness for a long time too. Don’t tell me you don’t know of a single disabled person okay? I bet you do. I don’t go a month, sometimes a week in my city without some stranger asking me about my scooter because their mother, brother, best friend, because THEY think they might benefit from getting one and is it expensive and how does it work. Even if you personally don’t know a soul – if you’ve never sprained an ankle, broken a toe, had a car accident, fallen down stairs, if you don’t live with shortness of breath, MS, arthritis, who’s post-polio or has RA, is recovering from surgery, or has something weird and unnamed (hi!! Remember me, the weird and unnamed one?) or a gazillion things that cause you to require help, don’t you think maybe you might? Some day? We’re getting older folks. We’re not all young, healthy gym-going guys who can just head out the door to the next bar and drink all night.

So what’s it going to take to raise that consciousness, huh? Because I’m just so tired, I’m just so sick of it that I have to wonder if it’s worth it anymore. I’m tired of being the exception. I don’t want to be the One Person in the World who needs this service (can you believe the concourse NEVER had anyone ask for a lift-equipped van ride before? EVER?) And when something gets to be too difficult, too tiring, and everyone looks at you funny, it’s time to quit doing it. Which may be my other option. No more conventions. That sucks but it’s becoming clear that I may have to go that way. I’ve lost a lot of ground in the last few years; it’s highly unlikely I will get any better; doctors can’t fix what’s wrong and my intake of pain meds has increased twice in the past 3 or so years. And that will probably continue. If it continues to be this difficult, if things screw up this badly, I’ll have to quit. I’d so SO hate that but you know? I’m tired and fed up. I don’t want to go through this ever again. And no one other than me should have to or should have to worry what kind of time she’d have a convention either. It’s GOT TO change. It’s GOT TO become a given that we deal with this. NOT for me, not for Andi the well-known crip fan and reviewer. Who would like it very much thanks. But next time, it’ll be someone else. At some point, it will be a beloved author – do you wonder, as I do, if suddenly things would be different?

It’s GOT to change.


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