Friday, November 08, 2013

A Bite of The Apple: A Place Aware of Space

We arrived in Manhattan last night, fighting our way through traffic, and arrived to find the hotel on a one way street going the wrong way. You see we've got the MV1 which is an accessible vehicle and the ramp comes out the passenger side. The hotel was on a one way street and cars pulled up on the driver's side. There was no way we could pull the ramp down to get out, we'd block the whole street. So we drove until we found a spot, at some distance from the hotel, where there was space to stop and get the ramp down and me out.

There were two traffic control police officers there and they were shooing people away from stopping where we'd stopped. I rolled down my window and called to them one strolled over looking like he was ready to blast us for stopping. I explained the situation, said that we just wanted to get me, in my wheelchair, out. Could we have a few minutes. He looked in, examined the fact that I was sitting in one wheelchair and saw that my big power chair was in the space behind us.

"OK," he said and then indicated he was talking to me, "get out as fast as you can. And you," indicating Joe, "then get the hell out of here." Gruff, but then that's what he's paid for, but reasonable. I managed to get out in good order and then Joe drove off to go around the block and back to the hotel. I've never been in NYC in my power chair before and it was quite the experience. Usually when we're here, I'm in the manual chair and Joe and I both work to get me where I'm going.

I got to the corner and was surrounded on all sides by people waiting to cross the street. I crossed with them, simply going with the flow. I had to cross again, and the same thing happened. There were people everywhere and though they didn't seem to see me they were deftly stepping around me and by me like they were with each other. Getting where they were going seemed more important than some guy in a wheelchair on the street.

After checking in the hotel, we went to look around a wee bit and found a cool kind of resto-deli and went in to investigate. Again it was packed full of people and I found I moved with relative ease. I had to be careful, as I always am, but they were all being careful too - with me, with the food they carried, with each other. It was like everyone had run into others often enough to know to be aware of space theirs and others.

My space was simply granted, in a crowded store, on a crowded corner or in a crowded street. I liked it. I would have thought that in a city that never sleeps people might have been a little more testy. |But no. We didn't have much time, we didn't go far, but I took one big bite of the Big Apple yesterday.


Moose said...

That is NYC for you. In Manhattan, everyone is a roadblock to be ignored. On the streets, the only people who pay attention to other people are tourists. :-)

Jayne Wales said...

Maybe the impersonal works when your life takes on just that getting through a place is a means to an end. Hope people dont just step over someone who bas collapsed though. Mind you having seen the help given to everyone in the scenes from 9/11 maybe underneath all that are some of the bravest and truest people in the world.

Penelope said...

I think I was actually probably in NYC (and possibly the same area) as you were having this experience. I was in Wednesday afternoon/evening to meet a friend who works in the Times Square area.

I think NYC is an interesting mix. I lived there for two years and go in regularly from where I live now (90-120 minutes by MetroNorth trains). In general, I would say that my experiences were largely positive. My biggest people problems were with hailing cabs (with a manual wheelchair, I don't even bother with cabs when using my powerchair), but often a stranger would step in and do what I called the "hail-and-switch". He or she would hail the cab and I would get in it. Otherwise, I was rarely run into and when I was, it was either someone on a mobile phone or a tourist looking at something. The tourists apologized and it was hit or miss with the mobile phone folks.

I never saw someone collapse in NYC so can't say for sure, but I know when I was visibly having issues somewhere, people stopped and asked. In general they even asked before trying to help with things like doors. The only real issues I had were when a stranger would come up behind me and start pushing my manual wheelchair and being stopped so someone could say they'd pray for me/some similar religious sentiment. The religious comments were far more common than the pushing. I think in general there's a sense of "you do your thing and I'll do mine", unless there's something wrong.

As a white woman, I'd say that other than actual physical access barriers (of which there are plenty in most of NYC), my experiences were largely similar to other white women. This included both the negatives (i.e. receiving catcalls) and positive/privileges (i.e. not being looked at suspiciously when shopping). Otherwise the only real reason I got any "special" treatment was just because I was more recognizable due to the wheelchair. Places I went regularly remembered my name sooner than they would my friends' names, for example.