When a small-town girl tries to navigate the big city, a new injury, and the Vancouver transit system, things take an unexpected (and utterly hilarious) turn.
I come from a small town of 1,000 people spread between three communities. We have dirt roads, and no traffic lights. It’s a place where everyone knows everyone and can get around by either walking, biking, or quadding, or by using a car or a truck.
I used to have a standard car. But then I was in a motor vehicle accident a year ago, and had to move from the small town and into the big city for the first time in my life. As if that wasn’t change enough, let’s add a spinal cord injury at the T-10 level, and throw in some paralysis while we’re at it!
Well, it’s been a year, and I’m not quite comfortable enough to be in the driver’s seat. I know I can use hand controls but not using my legs to push the pedals is something that, for me, will take some time to get used to. That doesn’t mean I’m never going to go for my license again—I’m just not comfortable yet. So what do I do to get around this ginormous city I moved to? Well, I take transit…
I decided that if I’m going to live in a city I know nothing about, and not rely on the GF Strong Rehabilitation Center anymore, I’m going to need to find my own way to my doctor, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy appointments, as well as to other important meetings that help me live the new “wheelchair life.” So, I started taking transit.
Now, the first time I took transit was quite interesting because I had never taken a city bus before—let alone been on a city bus in a chair. With my luck, my chair was an inch or two too big, so I would literally get stuck on the ramp going up. I could hear the bus driver telling my occupational therapist, “His chair is too big, he won’t fit on the bus.” (This bothered me, but I didn’t say anything…yet!) Of course, on the way down we also had a bit of an issue, this time with my push rings getting stuck on the outside of the ramp. On top of all of the chair commotion, I had short hair, with a baggy t-shirt and jogging pants on, hence the driver mistaking me for a boy.
Well that did it for me—he said I was “too big” and he called me a “he”?!
As I was leaving the bus, the bus driver commented again: “He’s too big to come on the bus, he needs a smaller chair.” Well that did it for me—he said I was “too big” and he called me a “he”?! I decided to half-jokingly, half-seriously yell to the driver: “I’M A GIRL!!! CANT YOU SEE MY BOOBS?!” Well, the entire bus exploded with laughter, because they all knew I was female, not male. Then the bus driver apologized. I too got a laugh out of it, and continued on my way.
(Since that day, I have lost enough weight so that my chair goes on and off the ramp with no problems. And, I even got a smaller chair! But that’s besides the point.)
Here I was in the city, for the first time, and I didn’t know how to get around to go out and do things. Then my friend told me about the Transit app, and the Radar app that you can get on your smartphone: you enter in your address, and where you wanna go, and bam! The easiest bus routes are found! Plus, the radar app lets you know when the bus will be coming to the specific stop you are at. PERFECT! Now I’m a lot more comfortable with getting on and off the bus and Skytrain in the city.
So, for everyone that is new to the “chair life” or even new to the city or transit system, it has its ups and downs—just like everything else in this crazy thing we call life. But once you get on the bus the first time—whether your experience is a good or bad one—it does get easier! You won’t always have that one grumpy bus driver because he hates the morning traffic and you won’t always have to sit by that one person who forgot to put some deodorant on in the morning. When it comes down to the just of it, the beautiful city of Vancouver has some seriously accessible transit systems, and it can only get better from here!