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Midlife vehicle provides freedom and independence

June 05, 2010|By KATE COLEMAN

Red sports cars often are seen as symbols of midlife crisis.

I've been fortunate to drive nice cars, but I've never considered them more than transportation.Vehicles have had very little to do with my self-image.

However, at age 50-and-a-few, when I was advised to trade in my dependable, Camry with its 100,000-plus miles and need of some costly repairs, I yearned for something sleek and snappy. Oh, yes, with a sunroof, leather interior and a good sound system, too. I was able to purchase a classy, used Infiniti G20. I drove that car for more than six years and really loved it.

Fast forward to 2009.

My midlife crisis came in the form of multiple sclerosis. Actually, I don't consider it a crisis. Really, I'm fine. But my need to use a wheelchair most of the time collided with my overpowering desire for independence.

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I am blessed with many friends who transport me and my manual wheelchair -- a gift -- anyplace I need to go. But, as much as I love them and enjoy their company, I like to do things by myself.

My good friend Sally has used a wheelchair since 1986 when she was injured on a snowy mountain road in Austria. She's been driving for years -- conversion minivans adapted to her needs. She is my "roll" model.

I decided last summer that it was time for a change.

I shoved aside my aesthetic reservations and bought a used, wonderfully equipped red minivan. With the push of a button, it "kneels" as the side door automatically opens and the ramp extends to the ground. I ride my electric chair (also red, also a gift) up the ramp, do a neat 360, shift to the driver's seat and go.

My midlife vehicle might not be as sexy as my little black car, but it provides the freedom and independence I cherish.

I've run into tight spots -- literally -- a few times. Although most parking lots have Americans-With-Disabilities-Act-required striped access aisles wide enough for people using wheelchairs to get in and out of a car, van-accessible spaces with wide-enough access aisles are harder to find.

More than once, I've had to depend on the kindness of strangers to back my van out of the space so the ramp can drop and I can get in.

Not all strangers are kind, however. Although a couple of experiences have not served to confirm my faith in humanity, they've provided me with lots of laughs.

One took place on my second outing in the van. My friend Sherry, who's provided me with plenty of transportation, rode with me. At our destination, there was just one designated accessible parking space left. It wasn't van-accessible, but Sherry thought it would work if I backed in.

Oh, dear. Not having driven a minivan in years, I carefully - and admittedly very slowly -- proceeded to park.

A guy in a totally different area rolled down his window, stuck out his head and yelled: "You need to get your driver's license. You're a bleep-y driver!"

(Because this is a family newspaper, I can't use his exact adjective.)

I was laughing so hard that it took me several minutes longer to park.

More recently, I arrived at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. The handicap accessible parking spaces were filled, but there were several empty spaces in the next row. I parked in the middle of two so I could extend the ramp and get inside on time to read a student's poem at The Big Read awards ceremony.

After the event, my friend Dominic spotted a piece of paper on my windshield. Thankfully, it wasn't a ticket, although I might have deserved one.

It was a handwritten note -- and, again, I censor: "Learn how to park, bleep-er!"

I am thoroughly enjoying this show on the road.

Kate Coleman covers The Maryland Symphony and writes a monthly column for The Herald-Mail.

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