“Cup” is the unimposing name of the café down the street, the one run by the Palestinian Sam. It was there this morning, all of us patrons baking in the hitherto extraordinary San Francisco heat, that something happened to my wheelchair. The electronic screen that normally displays such interesting details as speed and battery charge, began flashing its red thunderbolt. Warning. Something terribly wrong. Oy fucking vey.
Thing is, this was a sort of nightmare come true. I bop about this town, all blithe and easy. But never quite forgetting that the entire experience hangs by a neuromuscular thread. Or worse, an electromechanical thread. My redoubtable Swedish wheelchair hasn’t failed me yet. Unless one counts the times it has been savaged by some of the world’s great airlines. I am afraid one does have to count that. No matter. Most of the time, that is to say far from any airport, it works splendidly.
So this flashing thunderbolt not only caught my attention. It caught my imagination. Which, as is its wont, immediately shifted into catastrophic high gear. I could see a number of negative factors converging. I had just had not only coffee but a bottle of water, meaning that now that the wheelchair was broken and I would be confined to Sam’s for some time, the need to pee would soon be upon me. How would I get into the toilet without wheels? And in fact, how would I get home?
Could Jane push me up the considerable hill? Would someone volunteer? And, if so, who would that volunteer be? I had worked through these dire scenarios in my mind rapidly. And now I saw one possible factor in the catastrophic wheelchair failure. The bag I use to carry various of my earthly possessions, such as my phone and money, was hanging off the wheelchair control, depressing the joystick. I removed it. Nothing changed. I turned the wheelchair off, then turned it on. It reverted to its flashing.
It was an abnormally hot day, after all. And particularly hot if you are a wheelchair from Sweden. Maybe you have decided that your circuitry is going to give up the Scandinavian ghost, such was the outrageous heat. I turned the wheelchair on and off again, and this time the flashing stopped. It didn’t stop in my mind, of course. I kept eyeing the little screen, just waiting for things to go electrically awry. But they didn’t. Conditions had stabilized. The catastrophe was over. I could go home, turn on the air conditioning and forget about the whole experience.
Which I won’t. Vulnerability being part of the experience.