Vail Daily letter: Long way home
Vail, CO, Colorado
5:10 in the morning. Up before the wake-up call. Anxiety. But what’s the big deal?
Even though I am half-blinded by transplant corneal surgery and glaucoma, it’s a non -stop flight from Miami to Denver with wheelchair access to negotiate the gates, security and concourses. Right? Not.
The taxi drops me off at the outside check-in. No wheelchairs available. “United right dere, man.” He points across the terminal to a large “United” sign. I pull my carry-on baggage, avoiding shadows and moving objects to a short line.
Great being early. Only one person behind the counter. The six people in front of me do not know how to use the e-ticket computer to get a boarding pass. I cannot see well enough to use them.
There are also two couples in front of the counter with their luggage sprawled all over the floor, re-arranging the contents to avoid over-charge for overweight bags. Holding up the whole line. As they bend over the luggage, the only compensation is the cute derrieres of the females, but my vision is not acute enough to see the details anyway to make up for the delay. Meanwhile, the knowledgeable arrive behind us, go to the computers and get their boarding passes,
I have had it! I charge to the counter and tell the lady I am visually impaired and need help.
“If you are impaired, you need a wheelchair.”
“Where are they?” I ask. She points vaguely in the direction I have just come from and says, “There.”
Back I go, avoiding more shadows and moving objects (getting busier now). In a dark windowless corner there are four wheelchairs.
Sitting astride one of them with a proprietary air is a little old lady. I tell her I am visually impaired and need a wheelchair.
“Where is your boarding pass? I need that for the records.”
“I was told by the attendant behind the counter that I could not get a boarding pass for the impaired without being in a wheelchair.”
Thus started a prolonged debate finally ending in her calling somebody and speaking in rapid Spanish. After a few moments of intense squabbling, she tells me to get in the chair.
“Data you only luggage?”
“Too heavy for wheelchair.”
“I’ll put it on my lap.”
Off we go to the counter. I shout, “Visually impaired!” as I wave my passport and locater numbers to the harassed only attendant behind the counter. She grabs them and says, “Be right back.” Two minutes later and I have the precious boarding pass!
Now off to security with the little lady pushing and gasping. Who is really impaired? I think but keep quiet. We arrive at security with pedestrians scattering in panic from my extended leg over the carry–on as she keeps shouting “wheelchair, wheelchair!”
At security I am told, “Take off sweater, cap, shoes, belt metal watch.” I need not mention that temperature in Miami is 40 degrees and air conditioning is running full blast. I take off two sweaters, sweat shirt. Place them in the plastic boxes and try to explain to the lady that I have liquids for my eyes in the top flap of the suitcase.
“No problema,” she says. “You go there,” directing me through the metal detector gate. My socks-only feet are freezing. As I step through, there is a minefield of boxes, luggage, plastic containers and people all over the floor in front of me.
“Impaired! I need help. A man in uniform gives me his rubber-gloved hand and shouts at the people to clear the floor. No response. They don’t speak English.
The guy becomes angry, grabs one of the plastic buckets, slams it on the floor three times and then places it on the end of the moving belt. They understand and do likewise. The floor is cleared!
He takes my hand and guides me to a chair. “Sit here. I’ll keep an eye out for your wheelchair attendant.”
The irony of his remark misses him. I sit and start to get goose bumps. The floor is like an ice rink. I dread somebody opening my suitcase because it took a half hour to jam all the stuff in it.
After 10 minutes, the wheelchair attendant appears with my shoes, suitcase, etc. She grumbles I had liquids. We are off!
I place my leg and foot over the suitcase like a battering ram, as she shouts, “Wheelchair!” People look and scramble out of the way. Children fear decapitation. She cusses in Spanish. We arrive at J-10. “Sit here.” And in a wink, she is gone!
When we are ready to board, I explain my visual impairment and to the gate attendant and she wants to get a wheelchair!
“No, I’ll walk if you let me go first.” She’s an angel. She gives me a minute head start. The first-classers try to get ahead of me on the ramp but I keep my carry-on weaving in and out and stay ahead. I arrive on the plane.
The flight attendant looks at my boarding pass and says, “Seat 76A, window, last row. At least, you are near the restroom.”
We take off. Breakfast is a muffin soaked in sugar and a croissant soaked in sugar and butter, $3. I wisely order milk with them. The attendant assures me a wheelchair will be ready in Denver.
The turbulence back that far in the plane makes me sick. I have to wake up the two people sitting next to me and try to walk out of a leaning chair with 6 inches of foot clearance. I sit on the middle passenger’s lap, a pretty nurse who had two hours sleep last night because she delivered a baby.
We arrive in Denver, wheelchair ready and off we go to passenger pickup. I call my trustworthy son-in- law, who is waiting in the airport’s ready area. I bribe the wheelchair attendant $10 to wait three minutes in the 17 degree doorway. The Audi arrives, the passenger seat heated and tilted back for legroom. We leave for Avon.
So much for the friendly skies