There are days entered into cautiously. Days where the probability of either humiliation or discrimination is heightened. These fears, which can border on the paranoiac, are real. Getting up into a morning of airports and airplanes is getting up into a morning of fear. I am a fat man. I am in a wheelchair. I am entering into hostile territory. Where seats were made for those with narrow hips, where aisles seem long and where bathrooms are tiny. So I take a breath, remind myself why I do what I do, remember that I love doing what I do, and thus fortified, I get up.
We arrived at the airport in Toronto and were met, in the area for customers with special needs, with kindness and a willingness to help. I have to say that I think Air Canada is exceptional at giving exceptional service to people with exceptionalities. When offered a push to the gate, I refused. I'm much better at long distance pushing now and made it to the gate with little to no assistance. The folks at security were accommodating and, again, kind. I asked the guy who patted me down if he hated doing it as much as I hated it having it done. He said, 'I don't like to have to do this to passengers, but it must be twice as difficult for you. There is a difference,' he said with a wisdom that surprised me, 'between touching and being touched.' I nodded, surprised at how his understanding moved me.
The people at the gate were also terrific. They let me tell them what worked for me and didn't suggest that they knew best what help I should need. What I like is a bit out of the rule book, but the guy nodded and said, 'if that's what works for you, then that's what works for me.' I wondered if he knew, that all night I had feared him, that I had prayed that I'd get someone like him, someone with both ears and a mind. I thanked him and as he turned I looked to see if I could see God's fingerprints on his back ... the one's that pushed him into my orbit that day.
The only blip was when going to get breakfast, we went into a restaurant, empty except one table. The waitress near freaked out and only manged to squeak out, 'Do you want breakfast?' Like she was surprised I ate. We nodded and headed to the table we usually sit at for breakfast. She pointed at a table way off at the side and said I had to sit there. Now, first, I couldn't get there because there was no room to get by all the tables between where I was and where she wanted me to be. I asked why. She told me that I was a fire hazard. I told her I'd eaten there before and not one got flamed. But, no, she wouldn't serve us unless we went to the tables that we couldn't get to.
Frustrated we headed to another restaurant and got breakfast. Suddenly, in front of me, appears ACW (Air Canada Woman) who helped me out once at security. She rescued my wheelchair tools from an eager, and very, very, pompous, security guy who seemed to think that I'd be able to disassemble the plane with my allen wrench. I've seen her since and she's always friendly. We then had a nice chat about accessibility and she told me of having rescued a passenger with a service dog - security wanted to take his harness. We figure that she's got the cause, now she needs the cape. We laughed. It was a tremendous break from the silliness of the waitress.
But, here's the thing, and I don't like it. Everyone was wonderful to me, except her. Everyone treated me with dignity and respect, except her. Everyone listened and helped when needed, except her. We arrived in Vancouver having had a great flight, a flight that was completely at variance with the one I feverishly had imagined in the night.
I will remember her, and the restaurant that wouldn't serve me.
I will remember being deemed dangerous to the health and safety of others.
I will remember that act of exclusion even though I was surrounded by acts of welcome.
How do I change that?
I need to change that.
Cause, a while from now, I'm flying back. And I want a good night sleep beforehand. It's like when I want to change the setting from 'anticipate horror and horrible treatment' to 'anticipate helpful people and pleasant interchanges' my mind screams DON'T TOUCH THE DIAL - prejudice and humiliation will be right back.
Has anyone learned how to change the channel?
If so, give me hints.