It began, if it began anywhere, at Tosca. Do I love it? Yes, I suppose. Problem is I know it, more or less by heart, which became apparent as the San Francisco Opera unfolded its version Friday night. Once you know the plot, there are no dramatic surprises. Once you know the score, the same. Lovely, altogether. But stultifyingly familiar, the strong message being time for something else. The other message, one that is oddly mine, having to do with something along the lines of disloyalty, should I ever fail to renew my season tickets to our local opera company. Madness. Utter madness. But also utterly me. Go figure.
In particular, go figure why I am lying abed at 1 AM unable to sleep, post-Tosca. Jumped up, overstimulated, despite the fatigue of an evening that included a substantial schlep to the City. And consider what the next day holds…enough to keep one awake too long. That, plus the 7 PM espresso that I felt obliged to enjoy before the performance. Oh well, that was the start, and the continuance, the Saturday, what was that? Transit, in one form or another. More precisely, wheels.
San Jose hosts an annual exposition of products for the disabled. Naturally, political correctness being what it is, the thing is called the Abilities Expo. The name is quite enough to make any sensible person gag ever so slightly, but never mind. We do not quibble. We have larger fish to fry, vis-à-vis transportation. We have been ignoring the latter for years, at least on the personal level. The vast white Ford whale that I acquired more than a decade and a half ago has been left behind in the whale dust. It is history, and my history with the Ford whale must come to an end. All histories end. Ask Thucydides. Finis.
So, you guessed it, I am boarding the southbound Caltrain at 12:14 in quest of San Jose. Though not without a self-imposed complication, which involves going one stop to Palo Alto, getting out there, and rolling into the station’s own Café Venezia. Feeling a little foolish, slightly taking advantage of the train staff who must raise and lower me from the platform. But never mind. Reaching in the direction of San Jose, my mind reaching for a rather splendid cappuccino…. And damned if the café isn’t shut on weekends. Sad, but not tragic. For the next train is one hell of an express. One-stop all the way to San Jose. Way cool. Even cooler, the exposition’s website explains that there is a shuttle every 10 minutes from the station to the hall, the Downtown Area SHuttle, DASH.
Unfortunately, once I get out to the DASH stop in front of the station, reality asserts itself. The shuttle does not run on weekends. An unfortunate bit of misinformation for disabled people bound for a weekend event. The disabled part implying an enhanced need for public transportation, not a reduced one. But the Ur vibe around transit systems, outside of a few American cities like San Francisco and New York, well, it remains primitive. Public transport is for the huddled masses. Who shouldn’t be huddling in the first place. Which explains why I throw myself on the mercy of an Amtrak clerk in the San Jose station. A nice guy, he unfolds a paper schedule, reads the impenetrable account of trams, their comings and goings, and urges me aboard the 1:21 Valley Transit Authority run to the expo hall. The latter is only two stops away. Actually easily wheelchaired, but never mind. I am there.
It is fitting, deeply fitting, that once I roll off the tram and toward the modern glassy convention center, all the niceties of wheelchair access fall away. Construction in front of the hall has blocked all wheelable routes. For an added layer of irony, disabled vans from various organizations are double parked in front of the place depositing occupants onto the curb. All of which literally forces me into the street, dodging surprisingly busy San Jose traffic in a desperate search for a wheelchair ramp to take me out of the line of vehicular fire. Once inside the actual hall, I find a queue at the single elevator. The escalator rolls empty a few feet away. He who rolls rules, that is the way of things here, the Abilities Expo.
Someone helps me fill in the registration form. There are lots of these someones around, for I am not alone in the difficulty-with-filling-in-forms department. Someone straps an expo ID bracelet on my wrist which looks just like its hospital counterpart, but never mind. I am in and looking around. Searching for love in all the wrong places? Searching for vans in the only place they are ever found together. In the only place serious numbers of disabled people are ever found together. So I am searching for whatever in the right place, though what I’m searching for, well that still eludes me.
I stop at the booth for Permobil, Sweden’s finest, maker of my wheelchair. Strange, what I find here. A friend in San Francisco with a degenerative condition needs a wheelchair that will help him stand. He has sent e-mails to Permobil, I know this for a fact. I gave him the e-mail address, now that I think about it. In some supreme irony, I am now standing before the very company rep my friend was trying to reach. That attempt at reaching him having been unsuccessful. The rep never responded. How can this be? Most salespersons are desperate to sell, all but frothing at the mouth in search of the mercantile. Strangely, this does not apply to the world of wheelchairs. Hard to say why. Are most wheelchair sales institutional? That is to say, sold by insurance companies, hospitals and so on. Disabled people don’t have any money, that is a general rule of thumb. In any case, here the guy is with his wheelchairs on display. Turns out that the company makes three separate models that stand you up, ranging from entirely manual power to battery. I shake my head in disbelief, take the brochures and roll away.
So many people in wheelchairs here. One woman overhears me say I’m from Menlo Park and announces that she is too. Jill, and now we know each other. I already know the guy from my van company, although he barely knows me. How could I forget him, this man who got me into a new era of motoring? As for me, I am easily forgettable, this new motoring era having dawned 15 years ago. Remind me of your last name, he asks. Adding, that he’d also like to know my first. Although I like this guy, actually I don’t like salespersons. Nothing personal, just a general policy. Overreaching the boundary between friendly and unctuous, as they tend to do. Nevermind. This guy’s wife is a quadriplegic, a situation that got him into this biz. I cut him enormous slack, actually. But I also cut the conversation short. I want to buy a van, I tell him. Don’t know what kind. What’s the first step? An evaluation, he informs me. He is telling me the right thing. This is where things should start, a professional sizing me up, getting the lay of the neuromuscular land. When, he wants to know. Right away, I tell him. Good, he says, promising to phone me on Monday. No doubt about it. I am on a roll.