Random encounters while wheeled

The other day at Hyde Park Pier I was out with the kids to look at the historic ships. It was pretty awesome. We looked at the steam engines and the huge wood shop for shipwright work, tried the block and tackle, read all the signs and sat around staring at boats coming in and out of the harbor while eating ice cream.

I had a funny random encounter. We were loafing around eating our ice cream cones. Me in my manual chair and the kids standing around right next to me. Close enough to be jostling me by bumping into my wheels. I was looking down in my lap at my phone. Some lady swooped into my field of vision, like bent over me with her face looming up between where i was holding my phone and my face. (You have to picture how sudden, awkward, and intrusive that was!) She put something on my shirt, saying “Here you go” in a syrupy voice. OK, what the fuck! I looked down and it was an admission sticker to get on the historic ships. “Uh thanks but…. Ummm….” I tried to talk with her but she walked away too quickly for any reaction to happen. With one hand full of my ice cream cone and the other on my phone, I wasn’t going to be able to chase her! She had whitish grey hair and I think sunglasses.

Ticket lady, if you read this, I’d like to ask you: Seriously, what the fuck was in your mind at that moment?!

I’m trying to imagine what was happening in her mind. I get where you might want to give away your admission pass to a park, or your bus transfer. But would you go up to a total stranger and stick it on their shirt front without any interaction?

No!

Not unless they’re a wheelchair user in which case I guess all bets are off. Kind of like petting a stray dog isn’t it!? Or like, oh hey, it’s the Hyde Park Pier crippled stranger petting zoo!!!

So also, there wasn’t like some indication that I was wistfully gazing through the railings at the park exhibit that was too expensive for me to afford with the kids (who god knows she also probably pitied incorrectly). It was just a plain old pity move full of really weird and offensive assumptions. Like a combination of class assumptions based on my being disabled, and, an assumption it is just OK to come up and lay her hands on some stranger in a wheelchair, and run off. I think in her mind it was an act of beautiful charity. It probably made her day. But it filled me with rage and I couldn’t do anything about it.

I couldn’t bring myself to mention it to the kids as I didn’t want to spoil the mood of our nice day.

If she had just said “Oh hello would you all like a free pass”, that would have been fine but I would likely not have taken it.

I was pleased to find one of the ships had a ramp and was mostly accessible. No one was checking tickets, since it was the end of the day.

liz and milo on a wooden ship

On our way out of the park I told the rangers how nice it was to find an unexpected ramp and get to go onto a ship. They told me to come back another day to the ticket booth and I could get a lifetime discount park pass good for the state and national parks (I think) which you can get if you’re disabled or blind. That was helpful (and nice).

That kind of park pass I will happily take, though I’m also happy to support the park system by just paying admission. Since usually I can’t get around parks and exhibits very well, and making them accessible probably will never happen, the discount or a free pass seems fair !

Another random encounter that came out better than expected. I was greeted by someone who works in a local store I often go to. She apologized for asking and then asked why I have a wheelchair. I swallowed my stock of snippy answers and explained my medical history in front of my child while we hung out outside some bar on Mission and I was covered in grocery bags. *eyeroll* She was asking because her hands and feet go numb and she is worried and wonders what things will be like if she ever needs a wheelchair and how she can tell; her doctor told her probably it is because she uses bleach when she scrubs and cleans. I opined that was bogus and the good thing about doctors is you can go to another one and get a second opinion. It is sometimes easier to forgive the questions inspired by fear and personal motivations when it is truly personal.

But I’m so tired of being a rolling public diplomacy and information booth. I then had to explain to my son that, as he may be aware, I don’t normally explain my medical issues to strangers on the street but in this case I made an exception and felt that she could use a friendly word.

The other people asking me lots of questions lately are cab drivers. Because my smaller size scooters have been broken and the big one I use to get around the neighborhood is too big for the bus, I’ve been taking cabs. Drivers are universally astonished that I have a job, that I’m out by myself, etc. (Even though obviously they drive by people in wheelchairs all the time who are “out by themselves” – invisible ones????). Sometimes they want to know about the folding scooter because they have an older relative.

Welp, it’s complicated. I think the buildup from being patient with most people comes out in wanting to punch Sticker Lady right in the snout though it would have been a waste of good ice cream . . .

Perhaps this rant about minor annoyances will educate a random stranger on the internet and thus save some other person on wheels some hassle!

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3 Responses to Random encounters while wheeled

  1. Jesse the K says:

    That sticker lady take the cake … at least she didn’t take your ice cream.

    I’ve got a handy script for when strangers ask about my medical issues Is there a particular reason you’re asking? Then they can jump to the start of their list (where do you test drive wheels? what about my grandma? etc. etc.) without me needing to do the Incredibly Long & Boring Med Dump.

  2. flask says:

    hey, hi!

    so, because of the way we met, the first thing i knew about your medical issues was that you have an allergy.

    but you know, if there are people who are generally polite and treat you like a person and have questions about your mobility, it might be a thing that translates into a few more bipeds thinking about what it takes for wheeled people to get around and how to not be a hatwipe to you all.

    i know, it’s not your job to be the wheeled ambassador to the bipedal world, but sometimes if you have the patience, it could be a service to everyone. a nice guideline is simply to treat everyone like whole people who have the right to move about, but some of us just don’t have a clue unless we ask.

    conversation’s a good place to start.

    when i go to the supermarket, i clear used shopping carts from the blue stripey place at handicap parking spots. i don’t do this because i thought of it myself. i do it because a wheeled person explained to me why that space is so important for van access.

    on the other hand, i don’t give stuff to wheeled people and assuming that they are lesser or needier than me.

  3. Skye says:

    “I think in her mind it was an act of beautiful charity. It probably made her day.”

    You’re probably right, that’s what’s so frustrating about it. She’s thinking only about her own experience.

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