Thursday, February 13, 2020

I'd Rather be Robbed

Larry told me he was riding the subway train and he got robbed again.

The first time Larry was robbed was about a year ago. When the train pulled up to a station and the doors opened, a youth who as riding in the same train car with Larry snatched away the cell phone mounted on Larry’s motorized wheelchair. His youth accomplice grabbed the wheelchair joystick and tried to drive Larry out of the door and off the train. Apparently that youth discovered that driving a motorized wheelchair is much harder than it looks because Larry says they quickly gave up on that part of the scheme and ran off the train with his phone.

The most recent robbery happened just last week. Larry got off the train and got on the elevator to go up to the street. Somebody got on the elevator with him. This guy wasn’t a youth. The guy opened the pouch hanging on Larry’s wheelchair and snatched his cash. When the elevator door opened the guy dashed out.

This wouldn’t have happened to Larry 30 years ago because 30 years ago guys like him and me couldn’t get on public transit buses and trains with our wheelchairs. The buses all had steps inside the entrance doors and hardly any subway stations had elevators. Back then, if we wanted to go anywhere, our only option was to call paratransit and a cripple van with a wheelchair lift would pick us up. But to try to book a paratransit ride, we had to call at 5 a.m. the day before. A thousand other cripples were trying to do the same thing at the same time so breaking through the busy signal wall was the first challenge. And if you did break through, all the ride slot might well be taken up so you were SOL. And if you were lucky enough to actually score an open ride slot, it might be two hours before or after you actually needed it because that was the only time slot available. And the cripple bus might well pick you up or drop you off two hours late. And there was nothing you could do about it.

Yep, back then, guys like Larry and me were so oppressed and marginalized, the prospect of being robbed on a subway train was a luxury, Back then, a lot of cripples bitched, protested and sued to get public transit access. But other cripples said they’d never ride the mainline buses and trains. It’s too dangerous, they said. People get robbed.

Well then the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed requiring public transit access. And 30 years later, here we are. But there still are cripples who say they'll never ride mainline buses and trains. It’s too dangerous. People get robbed. When they hear about Larry being robbed, they’ll probably say, “See, I told you so!”

I suppose someday I’ll get robbed like Larry did. I also have a cell phone and money pouch attached to my chair. And I’m sure I’ll be traumatized as a result, especially if some dickhead tries to drive my chair off of the train.

But I remember the frustration of being at the mercy of paratransit. Even if I just wanted to go a few miles down the street, I had to participate in a degrading lottery for crumbs. I remember how that made me fume, especially when I looked out of my window at the bus stop right across the street. I remember when I finally took my first mainline bus ride, like a regular fucking human being. I felt like I had wings.

So I can’t even begin to imagine being so traumatized that I would return to only riding paratransit. I’d rather be robbed.

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