Although I’ve visited every continent and set foot in dozens of countries, I though I might make my next adventure a little more close to home. Seeing America is a rite of passage that every American goes through at some point in their lives. We might not be leaving our country or even taking any flights, but the truth is our country is huge and there are just so many places to see that it makes little sense to go travelling anywhere else.
As much as I’m always attracted to the notion of travelling to a foreign country and getting truly lost in another person’s culture, there’s plenty of opportunity to do that on home soil – you’d be surprised how alien this country can appear sometimes! After so many years of travelling around the world, I’ve come to the realisation that travelling is more about uprooting yourself culturally than actually travelling that far.
The key to my happiness since my accident hasn’t been the miles that I’ve flown, but the novel situations that I’ve found myself in and the different people that I’ve had the opportunity to meet. With that in mind, I’ve been having fun making loose plans as to where I’m going to visit on my grand American tour and the things that I’m going to do whilst I’m on the road. Rather than come up with a strict itinerary that might well limit my experiences, I’m going to have a start and end point then simply make a list of things that I’d like to do on my way through.
Although my British friends might balk at the idea, I’ve always loved the idea of jumping into an Improv class. Improvisational comedy is a great American tradition that has given birth to numerous comic stars not to mention Hollywood idols. There are comedy clubs all the way through the country, so there should be plenty of chances to attend a quick class!
Sure, you can buy BBQ food throughout the country, but if you want a real taste of the Deep South then you kind of have to head down there yourself to try it. The Southern states aren’t as far out the way as you might think, so I’m definitely considering dipping down there to try some of the most iconic foods of America, the way that they’re mean to be eaten.
There’s something so disingenuous about a city-dwelling person singing bluegrass music, but I feel like I hear it all the time! Just like true BBQ, the spirit of bluegrass belongs in the Southern states, maybe I’ll get a chance to hear some whilst dropping into Texas, where I’ll also have the opportunity to taste some honest-to-God bourbon too…
The Greyhound bus service has been running for over a hundred years, although it’s been idealistically presented in Hollywood movies, the spirit of travelling across the country for just a few bucks is still very much alive and well. I’m hoping to take one of the longer journeys through the country and make the most of the cheap fare.
I’ve always loved kung fu movies, they were the background to my childhood and the accompaniment to my teen years – but I’ve never got the chance to see one in the cinema. Luckily, there are plenty of other people, just like me, who’ve dreamt of seeing a kung fu classic on the big screen – there are programmes of these movies playing in niche cinemas across the country.
The wide expanse of a desert is both awe-inspiring and terrifying. For a period of my journey I’ll be travelling through the hot, dusty south – I’m hoping to meet some outdoorsy people that can show me the camping ropes and take me for a night out in the desert.…
Back when I was living a more reclusive life, the beginning of a new year meant very little to me. During the Christmas period I would see all my friends and family. Far from being a comforting experience I would often find that this left me feeling even more crushed and despondent about the state of my life – very festive, I know. When you’re living a life that has stagnated somewhat, these Festive periods, where everyone is happy and life is moving on, can be excruciating. They were times that would make me despair at the state of my life and often send me into a self-obsessed spiral of depression.
After taking my first trip back in 2015, I’ve grown in confidence and have massively expanded my horizons, as well as the expectations I have of my own life. Unfortunately, I can’t always be gallivanting around the planet. I’m not made of money and I miss this city, so there are fallow periods where I’ll spend a couple of months at home, whilst I plan for my next trip.
Every time I return home, I have a niggling worry that I might slip back into bad habits. My apartment holds so many dreary memories; endless hours spent drinking and smoking with Jackson, my old familiar arm chair, which I’d fallen asleep in so many times. Then I roll through the front door, remember that I threw that armchair out (along with the TV) a long time ago and that I’m not that person anymore.
Around this time of the year it starts to warm up a little bit in the city; us New Yorkers begin to shed off one or two of the dozen layers that we carry like shells on our back and start to feel little bit more comfortable travelling around the city. That said, its still cold and no one’s daring enough to willingly spend a whole day out in the open, unless they’ve got a damn good reason to…
Yesterday, after receiving some valuable materials from Timber Packing Cases, I set to constructing a Recycling Box that would be placed alongside the refuse bins at the bottom of our apartment block. Most of us in the building are pretty conscientious Eco-warriors, Recycling is the law here in New York so its not like we have a choice. Still, its important that we keep our facilities tidy and in order, so that we can make it easier for others to do.
I know what you’re thinking: this is the kind of job that a Super should be doing. You’re probably right, but there’s a certain satisfaction that I get out of planning and completing a task. The job itself wasn’t exactly a difficult one, boxes are simply a matter of measuring, cutting and hammering. Still, it felt good to be outside in the back yard, making a mess and getting a job done. Its a simple contraption, a large wooden crate with a hinged lid that has a clear plastic label, reminding people that this was not a trash bin.
The job ended up taking the whole day and I ended the day feeling like I’d really accomplished something.
When travelling to less developed countries, wheelchair users can run into serious accessibility problems.
These worries aren’t completely unfounded, some of the major tourist destinations in the world are still nigh on impossible for wheel-chair users to enjoy. Take Egypt, for example, is home to arguably some of the most iconic tourist attractions in the world, however wheel-chair bound users (who do not have the mobility needed to transfer from chair to seat easily) can be stuck with hiring bespoke vans that can set the hapless tourist back up to $1,000 a day to hire.
In a country, with a population of 82 million people, we can only feel sorry for the disabled population that lives in Egypt. There are other destinations, however, that have put a lot of investment and thought into making the lives of resident wheel-chair users (as well as visiting) a great deal easier. Chief of these, in my humble opinion, is my home city: New York.
The city that never sleeps has only changed imperceptibly (on the surface at the least) over the three decades that I’ve been living here. Our Subway system is affordable, dirty and efficient. Although it has been criticised for not featuring the same accessibility that is boasted in other major cities, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, there are still plenty of stops accessible via lifts and ramps. Where the Subway system fails, the people of New York will always be on hand to help you out, should you need it.
New York was once considered an unfriendly place at one time; the financially fruitful days of the 90s made the city a playground for entitled ‘yuppies’ with six-figure salaries but economically unviable for anyone else. You would think that all of the stresses of the Financial Crashes that have rocked the city over the decades, starting with the Wall Street Crash in 1929, would have left the recumbent population of New York somewhat belligerent. However, the opposite is in fact true. Any New Yorker worth their salt will bend over backwards to help out a visitor in trouble. There are even more bonuses in store for visitors who are using wheelchairs.
It has been the norm now, throughout the United States from Airport Security to Disney World rides, for wheelchair users to skip to the front of the queue. Although this is simply seen as a courtesy now for the majority of the American population, you can’t underestimate the impact that this policy has had on cultural norms. Whereas some countries are still struggling to provide standardised access to basic amenities for disabled people, here in America we look to aid and assist those people as much as possible.
If you don’t fancy taking yourself around the city on the subway system then you can always hail one of the 13,000 or so yellow taxis that are constantly circling the city and its surrounding areas. These cabs are required by law to pick up those with disabilities and are mostly suitable for those who are comfortable transitioning easily from chair to car. For those that prefer to stay in the chair, there’s the alternative option of ordering a cab ahead of schedule directly from the dispatch centre. By calling 311, texting (001 646 400 0789) or using the free ‘Wheels on Wheels‘ app, wheel chair users can order a cab straight to their location, Uber-style.
Often it’s the dialogue that runs back and forth in our own minds that proves to be the most distracting of all things. Those who spend a great deal of time by themselves will often find that their interior monologue, that runs constantly throughout all our lives, is the voice that they are most familiar with. The back and forth nature of their own minds, means that it can be a real challenge to have a live conversation with a real person.
There’s no need to feel out of place or isolated because of this. Put simply, the art of being social is something that needs to be practised. Now if you were in a similar position to me about 5 years ago, I had very few windows of opportunity for actual conversation. For a decade I met only a handful of new people, my main source of socialising was Jackson, my carer. The dialogue that we developed over the hundreds of hours spent together was considerable, but if you’d dropped in one of our conversations – the chance is you wouldn’t be able to keep up with our conversation.
Now, we weren’t discussing anything particularly complex, it’s just that our shared frames of reference were extremely localised to not just New York City, but also to the television shows and commercials that coloured our day-to-day existences. We’d spent years developing a very unique, insular form of dialogue that was almost like a language unto itself. As much as this was a veritable lifeline for me, it wasn’t healthy. Jackson knew this, that’s why he hooked me up with the internet as soon as he could and started setting me up with some social media accounts.
Facebook has been an ever present social networking site for the best part of a decade now, if you’re wheelchair and house bound then this can be a great tool to reconnect with old friends and make some new ones whilst you’re at it. The complex algorithms and programs that make up it’s ever-changing database is tailored to finding you friends, all you have to do is type in your email address and a mobile number. Within seconds your phone and email accounts sync up with Facebook’s database linking you with tonnes of possible acquaintances, friends and family members. It’s an inclusive community, where members are often a great deal more social online than off.
From here you’ll find it easy to start traversing the internet. The Facebook news feed gives you a constantly rolling update of the sites, videos and articles that other are sharing and commenting on. This brings us nicely to the next section of the internet: forums.
Yes, this can be the most toxic part of the internet. The home of trolls and self-righteous fools alike, forums make up a huge part of online communications. Anyone can start a thread on any number of servers, the population of the internet can then throw in any suggestion, link or argument that they please. The sky’s the limit and whole online communities have been formed from the answering of a simple question, or the discussion of a film.
You may even find that, taking part in a forum takes your online writing to a strange new place: the land of blogging. Although famous YouTubers have run with the blogging platform to turn it into a huge money-making machine, old school bloggers are still out there. There are many reasons to blog, and plenty of styles to blog within. This can be a great cathartic activity for anyone living with a disability – your thoughts and feelings can be shared to the world. More than likely, you’ll make connections with similar writers and gain some sense of perspective, as others pitch in on the topic. If your Blog gains real traction then you can always turn to an internet marketing company to help you get some more attention, before you know it, you could have your own online celebrity status!
Throw in Twitter, What’s App, Tinder, Reddit, Skype and the many other social communications apps together – and you have a complete arsenal of social tools at your disposal. With these you can reach out of your small life, and affect some change in someone else’s. Don’t think that this is the kind of social interaction that will stay limited to the online sphere. If you’re in a big city, meeting in a public place is always an option and you can soon start to build a real life circle of friends.
I understand that wheel-chair bound people have been flying for decades, but it wasn’t so easy for me up until recently.
Just the notion of rolling out of the front door to pick up my mail felt like an impossible task for me. With a state-provided carer that saw me every day, I had no need to leave. Jackson brought me all my groceries, the newspaper and my mail (not that I ever received that much of it).
If this sounds familiar to you, then you might well be living a depressing life of an alcoholic. Regardless of you disability, this is no way to live a life – I know.
Since then I have been confined to a wheel chair. For about a year and a half afterwards I pretty much stayed inside. I lived in the dark, I over ate, I smoked and I drank. That was my life. I got hairy and smelly and gross.
One day I was looking out the window of my 2nd floor walk up and I saw a group of people coming down the road. They were young excited people living their dreams in New York City. They were smiling and laughing with each other, holding each others gaze for little moments and looking around themselves at the city they found themselves in. One of them was in a wheelchair. He was in a wheelchair and he was part of the group. If they got to a curb or something one of the others would just help the chair up. It wouldn’t even be mentioned. They all just carried on. That day, I decided that I could carry on, and I have.
…because I don’t think many peoples lives are all that.
But I’ve managed to get a life, which I didn’t have when I was stuck in that flat.
Actually, I’ve got more of a life now than I had before my accident. Now, does this mean I am somehow grateful for my accident? Do I see it now as a catalyst for a change that has made me a more fulfilled person? Well, no. It seems pretty sensible to think that I would have transitioned into a more mature person with my legs as well, plenty of my friends have managed it without having to sit down permanently for three years.
But either way, everything that has happened to me has led me to a point of something resembling happiness, and I am grateful for that.
Is traveling in a wheel chair easy? No, but is travelling ever ‘easy’ when it’s done properly? NO! Have you tried walking through Bangkok trying to find your well hidden hostel? Have you tried finding parking at Doncaster airport without any help (though there is <<<<<<< help available!)?