Thursday, October 14, 2010


We were getting gas. It took a second for both of to notice but we did, at exactly the same time. The white van ahead of us had it's side door open and a ramp lead down from the interior of the van to the pavement. Precisely when we noticed the ramp we saw a guy come out of the small pay booth in a wheelchair. He popped a wheelie from a stop position and then, with his feet in the air, used arms with muscles straining to lower himself down the step. It looked smooth, as if he was strong enough to control even the pull of gravity. Once down he continued to roll.

I looked for the cut curb, sure enough there was one. But gas stations seem to cut curbs only for the use of dollies to carry up wiper fluid which is deposited right at the top of the ramp, filling up all the space so that even those who walk need to step down to get around. It's like many smaller gas stations think that people with disabilities driving and wanting to pay are like unicorns - a hat rack imagined by government. It took no figuring to guess that this guy had gone up, the same way he came down. Sheer physical force.

He was with a man, I'd figure his father. He was also with a boy, I'd figure his son. They were chatting and the boy was laughing. I knew they weren't talking about access, about wiper fluid, about lousy curb cuts. Those subjects don't make small boys laugh. When they got to the van, the wheelchair guy rolled up the ramp easily, the boy followed him up the ramp and the older man got into the passenger seat. Then we watched as the ramp folded up and they drove away.

Others, we noticed, were watching too. All with a wee bit of awe in their eyes, I'm guessing it was in ours too. But what was very cool, wonderful actually, was that it wasn't there in his boy's eyes. It wasn't there in his father's eyes. They didn't see anything extraordinary, anything more or less than a son and a father. They were used to his regular every day competence. They were used to how he simply did what he did.

It's a wondrous thing to be different but become ordinary.

It's great that little boys see Dad as simply Dad. To step down a curb with feet while Dad stepped down with arms, and to not notice the difference.

It's great that fathers who probably cried at the news, get in the passenger seat of a car, and be driven into the future by a son he probably feared had none.


Rachael said...

I'm hoping to be the dad. Well, I'm a mum actually, and my daughter was born with the condition that means she now uses a powerchair. And she's only twelve, but I spend a lot of my creativity, emotional energy and personal resources trying to create a life now, and for the future, where she can do what she wants, as part of an ordinary life.
I don't manage it every day, and I've certainly cried plenty - but most days, it feels like it's happening, at least sort of.

Tokah said...

You don't really curb hop up with force... momentum and balance, instead. You go mediumish-speed at the curb, and just before you get there pop your casters up. Your back wheels hit simo (if you lined up right), and their momentum plus the momentum of you throwing your head/upper body forward carries the chair up the curb, the casters land atop it.

I have a progressive disease, so I am no longer a manual wheelchair user, but I'm quite glad no one who knows me find that kind of thing unusual or impressive anymore. You are right, it is awesome when it is just getting business done, the way you get business done.

Kristin said...

What a great story. Thanks for relaying it Dave.

Liz Miller said...

And now I'm all verklempt.

And knowing you, I'm guessing you went in and gave the attendant what for for blocking the curb cut with jugs of washer fluid.

Anonymous said...

The wheeliecrone says -
Those of us who work in the "disability sector" see so many family groups that are toxic in one way or another, or in every way possible way, or in ways that you never even thought possible.
It is so wonderful to see a family group that is accepting and loving. I live in a family like that, and I am thankful every day for it.

Cynthia F. said...

Love this post, particularly the last sentence. Have you ever tried writing poetry Dave? I think you could do some great ones!

Dave Hingsburger said...

Cynthia, funny you should ask about poety. I took a creative writing course in university and had a professor who stated that my prose would improve if I gave it up for several months and simply wrote poetry. Not to publish but to focus more on imagery and use of words. I did that. My poetry is shockingly awful. I did manage to publish one or two pieces many years ago but now write it only for my own edification. I don't even show it to Joe. When I'm struggling to say something, I stop, write some poetry about anything that strikes me. It seems to help. Hmmmm. I never thought I'd tell anyone about that aspect of my writing, thanks for asking and thus giving me the courage to come out as a poetry kind of guy.