I rolled into the store, like I have many times before, I was greeted, warmly. This stands in stark contrast to my first visit to the store. On first entering, that first time, people weren't rude, but they clearly hadn't seen a man of my size, in a power wheelchair, going about his business. I was gawked at by several of the store employees. No one was outright rude, but no one was outright welcoming either. When I purchased something, that first time, I chatted briefly with the clerk who had that, "Wow, he's kinda like everyone else," look of surprise on her face.
Now? Well, now is different. I'm part of the neighbourhood, part of their customer base. Some know me by name, all know me by sight. I'm greeted always, gawked at - never. I've gone through the transformation from extraordinary to everyday ordinary a thousand times over. In my home neighbourhood, the construction guys building the condo next door simply say 'hello'. They no longer nudge each other and whisper comments to each other as I pass by. The folks at the grocery store know me too, the manager always immediately looks to ensure that the accessible aisles are open because he knows, if they aren't, we'll be chatting about it ... again. The gay guy at the liquor store always has a joke for us. Pretty much everywhere I go, when I go alone, pretty much everyone says, "Where's your partner?"
We've created a few blocks of welcome simply by being out, and doing what we need to do, and engaging people in polite, humorous, banter. They've come to think of Joe and I as 'those nice men'. I'm thought of, I'm sure, as someone who's pleasant but who also expects accessibility and who isn't quiet when it's not available.
We're about to go away for a couple of weeks, we'll be in 9 different cities, not all for work, some just stops on the way from and to, and I need to get ready for the trip. Of course there's all the organisational stuff that needs to be done. But there's also the psychological preparedness. I'm leaving a neighbourhood where I've become ordinary and going to places where gawking will be the norm, discomfort will be the tone of many interactions. Beyond that, I KNOW, inside and out KNOW, every access point to every place that I want to go. I'll be going to places where this is all unknown. Most websites don't mention accessibility. It's all up to chance and a thousand phone calls.
This isn't to say that I don't want to travel or don't like to travel. I'm looking very much forward to the trip, very much forward to the work. It's just that I've got to get ready. Joe will be packing our stuff. I'll be packing the resources I need to cope with being the odd one - out.