My favourite part of the Toronto airport is the long, long, long walk to get to the gate. In most airports, this is the part I like the least. But in Toronto I like them because of the moving sidewalks. Yeah, we have those 'no strollers, no carts, no wheelchair' signs on the moving sidewalks too. And, yeah, I am a fairly compliant person to rules that actually make sense to me. I have an active imagination and can imagine the catastrophe waiting at the end of the sidewalk. I think the phrase 'ass over tea kettles' would fit nicely there.
What I like then, more specifically, is the moving handrails. The black handhold strip that the few who stand, to the right would you please, hold on to. By necessity, it moves at the same speed as the walkway itself. What I do, at the earliest convenience is to pull up beside the walkway. This takes some skill and practice because I have to be just far enough away from the base of the walkway, which juts out a few inches, so that my chair can run smoothly along side. Then I grab on to the handrail, hold my body straight and use my body position to steer the chair directly along side, and then - ride.
It's terrific. I'm going at a rate that is just a wee bit slower than people walk but much faster than I can push. I have a strong arm and a good grip and can hold on for a very long time. The walkways are such that they come to an end, then there's about ten or twelve feet of area to push over and then the next one starts. I can make it all the way from security to my gate with no assistance at all. Because only my arm is working, I'm not winded and can chat naturally as I glide along. It's very cool. It's independence with a bit of defiance thrown in. A 'gotcha' to the world that's designed for all but me.
Well, now that I write this I realize, that that isn't my favourite part, it's probably my second favourite part. My favourite part is the looks on the faces of fellow travellers as well as airport staff. Most are approving, few are not. Flying Friday, I was at an early gate but managed to ride all the way there. As the gate was midway along the ride, I know that if, upon approaching the gate, I turn my body slightly to the right and guide the wheelchair in the direction of the gate, I can slowly lengthen my arm and use the propulsion to give me speed that I can pick up with with quick strong pushes on the wheel when I break away from the handrail. I've done this move a thousand times. There was a young teen boy there with his dad. They were openly watching, not staring - there is a difference, me travel along and then make the maneuver as a flourish at the end. The kid looked absolutely jealous, like he'd like to throw me out of the wheelchair and give it a try himself.
I knew that, as I saw them talking excitedly as I headed to the desk to check in as a wheelchair user, they were talking about the wheelchair, the handrail and my ability to put the two together in a unique combination. I liked that momentary flash of envy in the boy's eyes. I liked that dad and son both thought that what I'd done was cool. I hoped that they'd go away with a different story. Different than the 'you should have seen the fat dude in the wheelchair we saw' one they'd probably tell. I'm sure that, because they saw me doing what I did, being who I was, the story was a bit different.
There needs to be new stories told about disability and difference.
I'm hoping that my ride on Friday, becomes one of them.