Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Walking a mile in my moccasin....er, boot.
In short, I have joined the ranks of the disabled. And the view is rather different!
I'm an active person, noted for my fast walking pace. Not now…. I can't walk fast, and I'm restless with enforced inactivity. At work, I use a standing desk… not now, since I can't stand comfortably for extended periods, so I have to wedge my laptop on a table in my office and sit. At home, I am the gardener… not now, as it's difficult to navigate the pots and the hose on the patio. My routine is streamlined so I know exactly how long it will take… not now, as taping my ankle in the morning and my reduced mobility make everything take longer, from getting dressed to walking to the bus.
But where it's really striking is on my train commute. Normally, I take Amtrak (I have a blog about that too). The Surfliner is a large, two-level train, crowded with commuters. At every stop, the conductors recite the mantra "downstairs seating reserved for seniors and disabled" which I've always heard as background, as I troop up the narrow stairs with the other regulars. We whip out our computers, and the trip is accompanied by the tap-tap-tap of the keys and overheard business calls on cell phones. We check our watches regularly, bitch when the train is late (it almost always is) and position ourselves for a quick get away when we get to our station.
But downstairs, it's not commuters. It's not regulars. It's mostly retired folks, and the occasional person with serious mobility issues. There isn't a computer in sight and almost no one under 50. Folks chat down here (trains induce conversations), look out the window, talk about their destinations or their family. They don't care if the train is late (as long as they still make their connection). When they ask "where are you going?" they are surprised to hear "work!" as they don't really connect the trip with commuting.
After experiencing that demographic difference, I then discovered that my commuter regulars are impatient with me as I go down the stairs from the platform slowly, a step at a time. In the rush of people in the station tunnel, I'm leery of being bumped into and knocked over. I have found that escalators are challenging in a boot. And the steps into the bus are narrow and awkward. I never noticed that before, when I lightly ran up both with ease. And when Amtrak substitutes an older trainset, one that isn't level with our low west coast platforms, but uses rickety folding steps to reach them, it's actually hard to get on the train.
On my first day back at work, I took my big, powerful laptop in my commuter backpack as usual. Not again-- the big heavy bag is awkward to wield when one hand has a cane and balance is uncertain. Now I'm streamlined with my little MacAir and a small bag. I can't use my regular desk anyway, so it doesn't matter that I can't plug in my big monitor.
I'm a fortunate person and I'm counting my blessings. I have a good job and excellent healthcare. My ankle will heal, eventually. I'll recover the ability to navigate and my speed. But I hope my experience will stay with me. The view is different from here. It's a good thing to experience that.