Whew, I’m back in Madison after another trip. I’ve been away seven out of the last seventeen weeks and have been disoriented about the month and season as a result.
This latest trip was to Berkeley CA, to celebrate my aunt and uncle’s 60th wedding anniversary. A family reunion of sorts, with all of my siblings, all of their kids, my first cousins on my Dad’s side, and their children; with spouses I think we were twenty-six. It was in some ways an extension of our gathering at the end of May to bury my father’s ashes. As my aunt put it, it didn’t feel like we were done gathering to commemorate his life. Nor had we finished making up for three years of not seeing each other because of the pandemic.
My stepdaughter Sarah came to CA in May, so this trip was her twin brother Sam’s turn. Traveling with a person with a physical disability is different in many ways, some of them having to do with time. In Critical Disability Studies this has a name, “crip time.” Despite having traveled together for five days already, I failed, yesterday, to account for it.
We’d had a lovely visit with family, including lots of eating (carryout, restaurant patio, leftovers, and even some cooking), walks by the Berkeley marina during a kite festival, playing a cooperative version of “Nano Fictionary,” and reading letters my father had sent to my mother during their courtship. One of these, written on the boat to France for his junior year abroad in 1958, ended with: “P.S. How many children do you want?” Could he have imagined that sixty-five years later his offspring would be reading these words?
Two days ago, getting to the airport for our trip home went smoothly enough despite the stress of navigating traffic in an unfamiliar city. On the trip out Sam had struggled to walk on to the plane, so we decided to ask for an aisle chair at the jet bridge as well as a regular wheelchair to navigate the airport. Using a wheelchair in the airport means skipping the line at security, one of the only places crip time is faster. An aisle chair, on the other hand, requires two staff and only one was available for pre-boarding, so we ended up boarding last.
As it turned out, that extra time in the terminal was a blessing, since our plane sat at the gate another two hours waiting for baggage delayed by a broken machine. We eventually took off without all the bags. Do they have an algorithm to decide what the right moment is for departure in situations like this? I imagine it recalculating as each second ticks by and as each bag is loaded, how much will be lost by having to deliver bags versus having to reroute people. Somehow, our family ended up with the worst of both worlds – too late to catch our connecting flight that night, AND only one of our two suitcases. At least Sam’s checked walker made it to Chicago, so we didn’t end up needing the loaner provided by the extremely competent woman at “Special B,” O’Hare’s Special Service Office in the B concourse, where the extremely kind wheelchair operator took us.
After some sleep in the so-so United-Airlines-selected hotel, we decided to take a bus home instead of a plane. We had, I thought, plenty of time for a nice brunch. I found a highly rated place with gluten-free pancakes, and we took a Lyft there. Don, having seventeen years more experience than me of traveling on crip time, was nervous about this, and sure enough, due to Sam’s needs and Chicago traffic, we almost missed the 11:00 am bus. We could’ve just relaxed and aimed for the 12:30 one, but after an extra night away, we were eager to get home. When the second Lyft got us to the station at 10:57, I ran to ask the bus driver to wait.
I had to argue and explain and cajole. “No, absolutely not, this bus has to leave to make room for another one,” said the stern older white guy running the show at the station, and “Why doesn’t he have a wheelchair, we have wheelchairs!” He did eventually agree to let the friendly young driver wait the extra four minutes it took Sam to do his version of running. Then it took Sam another three minutes to make his way up the five curved steps of the bus. This extra time allowed three other passengers arriving later than us to board as well, so we felt vindicated.
I am a bit sore from the running, and mindful of the carbon costs of such travel, but happy to have made the trip successfully and to be home only one day later than anticipated. I’m grateful for the time with family – and that my parents decided sixty-five years ago to have kids.