Hard to say what is happening with me and Stanford University, for having been next-door neighbors, lo these many years, we should be friends. In truth, I rarely set wheel on the campus. But with my new wheels, the drive there has become almost routine. Public lectures, one after the next, have brought me from one end of the university to the other.
Gun control. Dance in avant-garde cinema. And now the ethics of wealth. The latter, emanating from one of the richest universities anywhere, struck me as particularly worthwhile. I have more or less memorized a map of the inner campus. It’s no longer so hard to find my way about. And parking is easy. Disabled spaces at either end of the oval drive in the heart of the campus. Lower the ramp, and off one wheels.
…Right into Cubberley Auditorium in the School of Education. Which might as well be the School of Life, such are the academic forces arrayed for this talk. Variously Sociology, Dramatic Arts and Religious Studies, all sponsors of the afternoon’s lecture. Which turns out to be only one of a series on ethical considerations of wealth.
Only this one takes a bit of work. Statistics, screen after screen, showing how the US stacks up in comparison with 20 of its advanced industrial peers. Little surprises me here. Although even I was astonished to see that our incarceration rate is five times higher than the next biggest of the world’s jailers. The latter, by the way, is New Zealand.
Oddly, we do rank highest in one seemingly positive dimension. Civic involvement. At least, as measured by membership in organizations such as church congregations, lodges and so on. Interesting, and refreshing, to see the sociologist giving a talk so firmly oriented around one clear thesis: that the more vibrant and effective a country’s political left, the more vibrant and effective the country.
Enough to make one happily stumble out into the early evening in search of kedgeree. What is it? One of those Anglo-Indian concoctions that transplanted happily to Britain, land of smoked haddock, in which the fish features prominently. Jane was making this for dinner, and I happily rolled toward the parking space on the Oval. One of those disabled parking bays with an area crosshatched beside it. The latter is designed to allow for a ramp.
But in parking, I had not quite allowed for sufficient space. My ramp lowered to the far side of the crosshatched area, right up to the tire of the next car. A spatial problem. I stared and tried to work it out. No solution. This simply was not enough room to turn my wheelchair up the ramp and into the van.
I sat in the dark, staring at the situation, as though an answer would arise. Several people stopped to ask if I was all right. They were all right, I decided, for asking this. In fact, I have decided that I like Stanford. It can be forgiven its Business School.
If enough strong guys, members of the Stanford football team, say, just picked up my chair…. All 100 kg, plus another 75 for me…no, madness. Besides, this is a big, spread out university, and I don’t even know where the football team is. Nor would I recognize its members. A desperate thought. The police. I could call the campus gendarme. And they would do…what? Nothing, except shake their heads and suggest that I wait for the car next to mine to move. Sensible, logical. And infuriating.
An Asian woman arrived, noted my plight, and decided to wait with me. She stood beside me in the dark until Jane pulled up. We had talked this through on the phone, and it seemed a sensible plan. Using a conventional folding wheelchair that could be simply placed on the ramp…before placing me in it. Then rolling that chair into the driver’s position, so that the car could be backed out. That’s the thing about my van. There is no driver’s seat. My wheelchair serves that function. Without a wheelchair, there is nowhere to sit and drive the car.
Jane even arrived with an electric torch. The Asian woman stopped traffic while I maneuvered the van out. Switching from manual to power wheelchairs took a few minutes, but what the hell? Minutes well spent. Good teamwork with Jane. A learning experience – but then, what isn’t? That’s what universities are for.