My Way

Nothing like camping at the start line when you have to run a race. Thus my last evening at the Paddington Hilton, Jake residing in the adjacent room. And so it came to pass that shortly after 7 AM, the communicating door opened, and my cousin’s son emerged. To help me with my socks. And to pack those last noisome items. This concluded, all was concluded. There was simply nothing more to do but enter a lift in the hotel and emerge onto the platform, almost. No more than 30 meters to the Heathrow Express. Jake even boarded with me. The whole thing a glorious sendoff for anyone who appreciates trains. The usual 15 minutes of effortless 100-mile-per-hour gliding, making the 22-mile journey seem like nothing. Which it is. Jake even took me into the Virgin terminal. Goodbye and good luck.

At which point I remember surveying the unfolding day…the longest day of this new year, eight inexplicable hours longer…and making certain prescient decisions. Among these, folding my Super Shuttle reservation into a handy size, then tucking it inside my wallet. Shortly thereafter, abandoning my British mobile phone in favor of its American cousin. Already exchanging money. Patting my California house keys quite affectionately as I entered Her Majesty’s Border Service. Not to mention jettisoning all encumbrances. Yes, sad to say goodbye to The Guardian, but eminently practical. There is a reason for calling them broadsheets. No broadsheets in a narrow seat, I always say. Things where they should be, none where they shouldn’t, and what I lack in foreskin I make up for in foresight. Forearmed, forsworn, foursquare.

The Virgin experience featured three trips to the toilet. Not at all bad, when one considers. Each of them an adventure. I cannot stand up on my own, that is clear. Hauled to my feet by one of the stewards whom I then instructed in the fine art of walking the quadriplegic down the aisle. The last trip being rather tiring, I must confess. The sort of thing that makes one want to have a cup of tea. What else is one to do at tea time? Time for teetotaling, tea-wise, but being unwise and throwing caution to the quadriplegic winds, I down a cup. Yes, six ounces of diuretic beverage with the American border in sight, landing less than two hours away. So I spent the entire balance of the flight worrying about having to pee one more time. And thus consumed in fears of incontinence, so ended my journey.

No sense in getting too cozy with the flight personnel. Yes, they have helped me, and I now manifest my gratitude toward them with appreciative remarks upon exiting…along with a few others. For now I am all business. I insist, spelling out the terms, that someone employed by Virgin…not its wheelchair-pushing subcontractor…accompany me to the customs hall. I don’t want to screw around trying to find my wheelchair. Because, this is the reality, for reasons that are obscure, my wheelchair will not appear at the aircraft door. Rules, they say. Whatever. So, I present my passport, breeze on into the luggage area, and there she is, the Virgin rep, and there it is. My wheelchair.

Which is a good thing, because I am currently jammed into a manual wheelchair, pushed by a uniformed airport helper. My knees are touching my chin. But never mind. Getting closer to the chair, I see a major problem. One of the footrests has fallen off. The lights don’t work, another problem. I show the Virgin rep how to jam the footrest back in place. I get into the wheelchair and begin demanding. I want the footrest fixed. I show her where the bolt that tightens it should be. Problem is, it is impossible for me to see. This is a location under the wheelchair, something revealed when I hit the recline switch and tilt the whole thing back. The woman can’t see a tightening bolt. Compare one side to the other, I tell her. I want this fixed, I tell her again. I say this another annoying time or two, and she finally gives in and phones her boss.

He arrives. I run through the whole thing again. A bolt has fallen out, I insist. He calls the baggage supervisor who promises to look onboard the plane. This is taking time, taking time away from a day that has already had too much time added to it. I am running out of time, of which there is this surfeit, while I also run out of patience. I give the supervisor a demonstration of the tightening bolt, urge him to note its absence…then demand a mechanic be sent up from the apron. Well, the man says…we have to get our plane back in the air to London. I say goodbye rather snappishly and head for the exit. He follows, vowing to make sure that my footrest doesn’t fall off between Customs and Super Shuttle. The man seems very pleased when it doesn’t. His work is done. Thanks ever so much, I say, desperate to get home.

Hours later, Jane explains the mechanics of footrest tightening. How there is no visible bolt. The latter being a figment of my imagination. In fact, there is the opposite of a bolt, a hole into which a wrench may fit. In short, I had been giving the Virgin people all the wrong information…and in not the nicest tone. And for this I must commend myself. I mean things never degenerated into the insulting. Overall? I was insistent, pushy…and this is not a bad thing for a disabled person traveling alone. Charming most of the time, annoying near the end. Okay. Could be worse. I did it, as Frank Sinatra says, my way.

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