Sunday, March 30, 2014

Biloxi Trip Part 2

Marguerite and myself at MacElroy's Restaurant having lunch.

Outside the restaurant, notice the shrimping boats behind me.
Ok it looks like the website is cooperating so I can continue writing about my trip. What made my trip so special was that my friends went out of their way to make things as easy and comfortable as possible for me. Paul made some makeshift ramps to help me get from the garage into the house and from the house to the screened in porch. They even went so far as to give me their master bedroom and bath to make it more comfortable and easier to use the bathroom not to speak of more privacy.

I did something I have not done before while in Biloxi, as you know I like to workout and I was a little concerned about missing an entire week of exercise while on vacation. I went to a regular gym, not a gym for persons with disabilities, but a regular gym,  not only did I go but I wore my short legs there also. You need to understand what an accomplishment this was for me. To go to a gym that is designed specifically for persons with disabilities and wearing short legs is not really a big deal because the other gym patrons have a whole host of problems from MS, paralysis, blindness, etc., however, in this case I was the only person with an obvious disability and then wearing those short legs also. 

I ended up going there three times with Paul and it was nice to be able to use some of the machines not offered at the gym I normally go to in Chicago. Not surprisingly I was able to master most of the machines I wanted to use with a few exceptions. I really enjoyed it. I remember Paul mentioned to me toward the end of my visit that it wasn't so bad going, he  did not notice anyone staring at me, I quickly interjected I did notice people staring although they do it on the sly. I guess you would have to be in my position to understand but nonetheless, I am glad I did it and the people at the desk in the gym were very nice and friendly.

A strange thing happened the last day Paul and I were at the gym, as I mentioned in Part 1 of this 2 part blog post, I had forgotten to bring my handicapped parking placard, that meant we could not park in any of the eight designated handicapped parking spaces. What I did was to stay in one of the handicapped spaces in my wheelchair donning my short legs and wait for Paul to pull the car around to pick me up, no problem right? Bear in mind that there were eight spaces provided for disabled persons, on this particular day as I was waiting for Paul to pick me up, all eight of the spaces were vacant. I am sitting in my chair waiting and a woman pulls up in her car and proceeds to pull into the space where I am. I had to move in order for her to park there, all the while there are seven other vacant spaces where she could have parked! I did notice she had a placard hanging on her rearview mirror, I was dismayed at what she had done.

I mentioned it to Paul and he immediately got out of the car and confronted her asking her why she had forced me to move when there were many other spaces available. She claimed I had moved when I saw her pulling in. Paul said of course he moved he didn't want you to hit him. She said it was just a misunderstanding, but you would expect more from a person who is allegedly disabled herself. After it was over, I told Paul he did not have to do that, he said yes Glenn I did, it needed to be addressed. I thanked him for addressing the situation and he said I would have addressed it regardless, but I was sure glad it wasn't a 6'2" bodybuilder. We both laughed. My point is that people are often just oblivious to what is going on around them, or they just don't care, either way I mention this because I want you, my readers, to be aware and realize things similar to this happen all the time.

On a much lighter note, Paul and Marguerite have this zero radius riding lawn mower that has hand controls and I ended up driving it around their three acre yard, it was a blast. After I figured out how to get on the thing, I was tooling around all over the place. It really gave me a sense of freedom. Actually the entire trip gave me a sense of freedom and accomplishment.

After we were a few days into my visit, Marguerite looked at me and said, "You know what we should do?" I asked, "What?" she replied, "We should make this an annual trip. What do you think?" I responded by telling her I would really like that a lot.

Although there were many more things we did and said to each other on my visit, suffice it to say it was a really fun and relaxing trip and I loved spending time with my dear friends and through it all, I experienced a lot of things that I might otherwise not have experienced. I am truly thankful that although I have suffered through a lot of losses in my life, I also have be blessed with really special friends. Friends I know I can always count on through thick and thin. It doesn't get any better than that.

This is that zero radius riding lawn mower, so much fun to drive.
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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Biloxi Trip Part 1

I have been back from my trip to Biloxi Mississippi for about nine days. I had a wonderful time full of excitement, fun and relaxation. As planned, I flew into New Orleans, my friends Marguerite and Paul met me at the gate and we spent the afternoon in New Orleans.

As you recall this the first time I have flown alone since the loss of my second leg, as expected, and with precise planning everything went forth without a hitch. The airports, Chicago O'Hare and the Louis Armstrong in International Airport  in New Orleans, both were quite accommodating with respect to traveling while in a wheelchair.

Both coming and going through both airports I did not have to wait to receive my own wheelchair upon landing. I touched upon the procedure of boarding a jet in my last blog post but now after having experienced it I feel I can elaborate more exactly what to expect. As I was told you have to transfer from your own wheelchair to what they call a "aisle chair." This aisle chair is a mini wheelchair of sorts, much more narrow than a standard wheelchair and you must be pushed in it as it does not have the large wheels that allow you to propel yourself.

Moreover, you transfer chair to chair on the jetway right before being wheeled into the plane. I was surprised about the number of belts they use to strap you in the aisle chair. They use four belts, one across your legs, one around your abdominal area and two that criss cross your chest. The toughest part of that for me was getting across that 3 or 4 inch gap between the jetway and the actual plane itself. I suppose this is  because I am so used to doing things myself and am not accustomed to being pushed or not being in control of the wheelchair. When I arrived at my seat, it was the very first seat in first class and I remarked to the flight attendant, I felt like I was strapped in for a trip to Mars.

The flight went well and I did have a couple of Mimosas in the last hour of my flight being conscious of the necessity of not having to use the bathroom by drinking too much of anything too soon. I am still unsure how a bilateral amputee would navigate using the bathroom. I know they have an aisle chair on the plane and would wheel you to the door of the restroom but the problem lies in the fact that even if you could (and I am not sure) fit through the doorway,  I don't think you could possibly turn around to position yourself to transfer to the toilet. I guess I will have to figure that one out when the actual opportunity presents itself, although that seems a little too late.

One of the many things I enjoyed on my trip was that I actually got in my wheelchair and rolled down the sidewalk in New Orleans and got a real feel for the area. God bless Paul for all the times he took the wheelchair in and out of the car for me. We went up on one of the levies and I looked at the mighty Mississippi River, a vast expanse of muddy water with beautiful bridges and various vessels.

Before I forget if you are embarking on such a trip, don't do what I did and forget to bring your handicapped parking placard. I could have kicked myself a dozen times for that faux pas.

We had lunch in New Orleans at a place called "Two Sisters of the Court" an old building that like so many in New Orleans have courtyards in the center of the building. Great food, beautiful outdoor ambience, typical of New Orleans and just the type of place I wanted to experience.

I took this pic right after I got out of the car in New Orleans, I knew I would use it in this blog.
One of the things I loved about New Orleans was of course its old world charm, many of the buildings are old and famous for their balconies decorated with ornate scrolled wrought iron railings.

This is typical of New Orleans architecture.

For some unknown reason I cannot get this to cooperate and go back to the font it is supposed to use to continue writing, I think this is a good opportunity to sign off and continue this at a later date. Stay tuned for the rest of my trip to Biloxi part 2.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Flying Solo

I had this photo taken at the RIC gym last week.
Ok, so I have already blown it with respect to the fact I was going to write more regularly than I did last year. I did not write anything last month,  however,  in my defense, or to offer up an excuse, I have been painting a lot lately. I guess it is all good and all a means of expressing myself, whether writing or painting.

Good news, I am going to visit my friends Marguerite and Paul in Biloxi next week. This will be the first time I have flown since the loss of my second leg over three years ago. In fact this will be the first time I have flown alone since the loss of either leg. Back in 2010 as you recall, I went on that cruise with my friend Shawn but we flew together from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale. This time I will be entirely on my own.

Fortunately my dear friends M and P are giving me this trip as a belated Christmas gift and to make it even more wonderful, I will be flying first class. I have never flown first class, I think the main reason they opted for first class was to make this trip easier for me. I will have more room, it will be more comfortable and it is a direct flight. I am actually flying into New Orleans where they  will pick me up and we will spend an afternoon in New Orleans then afterward we will make the 90 minute drive back to Biloxi.

With the help and advice of some friends I think I have all my bases covered. I actually called American Airlines, spoke to someone in "Special Services" I explained about my being a wheelchair user and I wanted them to explain step by step what and how to do everything.

When I arrive at the airport, my assistant, Frank will let me off in front of American Airlines and I will do a curb side baggage check in. I am going to download my boarding pass from my computer before I leave home. I will ask the skycab person to get me an attendant who will take me to security and wait while I am checked through security and then the attendant will take me to my gate.

I am not sure, having never flown first class, whether or not I will preboard 30 minutes early because I am flying first class or because I am a wheelchair user. Nonetheless, I was told I will transfer from my wheelchair to a smaller wheelchair that will fit down the aisle, then I will transfer from that smaller wheelchair to my aisle seat.

Fortunately this is only a 2 1/2 hour flight so I am not that worried about having to go to the bathroom. If it were a longer flight I am not sure how I would handle the bathroom aspect of the flight. There are so many more things to take into consideration when you are in a wheelchair than when you can walk freely.

If you are in a wheelchair, my advise to you is to mentally play out the trip in your mind before you embark. Call the airlines in advance with any questions or concerns you may have and be prepared, taking time to make sure all aspects of your trip are taken care of in advance. As you may know most anything is possible even though you use a wheelchair, it just takes more time and more planning.

Most airlines make exceptions about friends and family meeting special needs individuals, allowing them to meet you at the gate  (like the old days) and take you to baggage claim. It is probably not a good idea to drink too much before and during your flight to eliminate the need to deal with having to use those cramped airplane bathrooms. My plan is to wait until about an hour before we land and then have a little something to drink.

I know all of this may sound almost childlike but sometimes we forget and have a couple of cups of coffee and that could turn into a real nightmare. Of course if you are an amputee like me, there are all those things to remember to bring, like in my case, I am taking my short legs and wearing my long legs, my long leg charger, walkers, canes etc it seems endless sometimes.

With a little forethought you can have a pleasant flight both coming and going. This will be quite an adventure and I am looking forward to sharing how it all went when I return...until then take care.

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