Friday, April 25, 2008

A Few Minutes Later

OK, get ready to suspend disbelief because this really happened.

Joe and I have decided to approach this trip a little differently. We usually get in the car and ride hard, without stopping, until we get to the destination. This is Joe's preferred way of travel and I've slowly given into it over the years. We stop for gas and for the bathroom and that's it. Even then sometimes stopping for the bathroom is an issue, "There's another rest stop in 72 miles, can you make that one?" But we decided because it's beautiful weather to be more liesurely on the trip.

We stopped and shopped at duty free in Sarnia, chatting with other travellers, getting green tea from the coffee shop they have there. In general, lazing around. I was very proud of Joe that he didn't come apart at the seams. After finishing in East Lansing we drove to Avon, Ohio where we stopped for the night. Then yesterday we drove the remaining 6 hours to Baltimore. When we stopped for gas, I asked Joe to get the chair out cause I wanted to wander into the little stores in the Service Area. I could see the pain in his face (this is going to slow us down) but he got the chair out and I managed to pick up a couple things in the store and just generally relax. Back on the road I pointed out to Joe that me getting out, him getting gas, me getting in took all of 13 minutes. Ted, our GPS, records 'stopped' times.

So we were in Pennsylvania when lunch rolled round. A rest stop was comming that had a pizza joint and a Starbucks, I suggested we get off for lunch. I went in and picked up some cards from the store, then went to choose something to eat. I got a piece of mushroom pizza and Joe got some veggie pasta dish. When I told the woman that we would 'eat in' so we didn't need 'take out' containers. Joe's sigh had a catch in it but he said nothing.

We grabbed a table and Joe went off to get cutlery, some hot pepper flakes for our dishes and some napkins. In that time I chatted with a couple from Ohio who were travelling, all excitedly, to meet their new grandson. They were over the top. I congratulated them and then we chatted briefly but warmly about the weather, other drivers and the price of gas. Joe returned so I went back to our conversation. Joe pointed out that in all the years of travelling we'd never eaten in a place like this, we usually grab our food and eat in the car. 'Yeah, it's nice isn't it?' I say to Joe's stare.

On the way out I stop at Starbucks to get a tea for the road. Joe says, "There's a line up." I say, "Yeah, I'll wait." Joe waits off to the side, inwardly counting every second I was in the line. Then we head out, Joe carring my tea in my spiffy new container, I wheel myself down the slope to the car. Joe takes the chair and I stand for a few seconds beside the car. I don't worry about falling because I've got a good grip on the vehicle. The couple comes out and is about to walk by me without greeting. I say, "Hello," and they look at me startled. Like I was a wierd stranger talking to them.

"Hello," she says with hesitance."

"I hope your time with your grandbaby is wonderful," I say.

They both look at me, really look at me, and say, "Oh, you were the man we were talking to in the restaurant, we didn't recognize you ..." they didn't want to say, 'standing up.'

I was thrown by this. I mean, it's not like I'm an average kind of guy. I'm hugely fat, the hair I've got is unruly and always has two peaks on each side of my head, I'm perpetually tired so I have dark circles dotted with orange around my eyes. I'm like God's experiment with surrealist art. People don't often forget me, once they met me - and not because of the force of my beautiful nature. But this had been minutes ... minutes ... and they didn't recognize me.

Know why?

They didn't see me. They missed the weight and the hair and the multicoloured eyes ... the winged hair, the swollen feet and the narrow shoulders ... they missed all that. They just saw the chair. It must be because that's all that was missing, I was standing without my chair.

Standing without my chair.

And became invisible. Or visible, I'm not sure.

Seen and unseen.



Anonymous said...

I recognise the syndrome only too well!! Been there quite a few times myself. Even when I was in my electric wheelchair I was not wheelchair bound in the sense that I could always walk - stamina and other issues were the problem not the physical capacity to walk. So many people would pass me by if I was 'on foot'.


Anonymous said...

I think it is like seeing someone out of context. I know it always takes me a lot longer to recognize someone if they are somewhere I dont' expect - the receptionist at the doctor's office in the grocery store or a child's teacher at an Art Show. Sometimes there is a niggling that I should know them but it takes time to search my memory banks before I "know" who they are.

I have known people who I don't see regularly either completely change hair colour or lose or gain substantial sums of weight and it is the same thing - I have a picture in my mind of what they look like and when this picture does not match what is in front of me, I have to really search to recognize them.

It is the same for mothers - if you are always seen with your children (particularly if you have more than 1 - I have 4 who are now grown up but I remember those days), people don't always recognize you if you are childless.

I think it is something to do with a "package deal".

Cindy B

Anonymous said...

Yeah, really. WOW. It breaks my heart that people are really this out to lunch. We're categorized by our defining feature (whatever that may be) and unrecognizable without it even if we have a personal conversation and connection? Yikes. IMO this is why all the political claptrap is happening in the US right now. People see a black man and a woman running for the Democratic ticket. They don't see an established veteran or a hopeful idealist. They see the sum of the parts.

Heike Fabig said...

To them so full of their grandchild, and many others, so full of their own lives, you were just the guy in the wheelchair.

But to us - and to the two staff in the black shirts - you are amazing Dave. Whether you're stitting or standing, or twisting to look at your behind in a hotel mirror, you're still the same inspirational guy to us!

Anonymous said...

Maybe you looked taller than they expected?? ;)

I also agree with Anon- I used to work in a pharmacy and it is very often hard for me to place people outside where I know them from- school or work.......

Eg a lady who used to come to the the pharmacy- I KNEW that I knew her- after a few times in I said to her- do I know you from somewhere else? And her son used to go to the same class as my eldest son!!I just couldn't place her. Same as when you have kidlets with you-if you are known as Brannon's mum, tis sometimes hard for you to be placed when they are not with you (now I have aloud voice, so most people place my by that :) )

Aussie Leis

Ettina said...

I'm mildly prosopagnosic, so I can certainly relate to having difficulty recognizing a person in an unexpected context. I'd probably recognize you in that context, both because you were beside your chair and you are rather distinctive looking - as I saw in your Ethics of Touch video - but very often with disabled people the visible signs of their disability are pretty important to me recognizing them. For example, I know a young Oriental-looking woman who uses a wheelchair and looks fairly normal (although she usually has her eyes half-closed and often her head lolls) and if I saw her outside the context of the program she's in *and* not in her chair (she can stand with assistance) I might not recognize her.