This is our 2nd, but introductory, post. Thank you for taking the time to read it. You’re wondering why I started it. I’ll tell you. I’m formerly a type 2 diabetic. At one time, I had an ulcer on my right foot big toe which wasn’t healing. I went to a then-local ghetto hospital (Truman in Kansas City), which refused me service due to lack of insurance. After the non-treatment at Truman, I boarded a Megabus for Richmond, Virginia and 2 days later I had arrived. I walked up the steep 4 block trek up the snowy, icy hill from the Megabus stop on Main St. to the Emergency Room of VCU Med. Ctr. I registered with the triage nurse and that’s all I remember. The next thing I remembered was waking up looking up at the ceiling from a hospital bed to the sound of a loud CNN anchor blaring that Whitney Houston had died the previous night. The evening of 2/12/2012, the SECOND thing that was true that hadn’t been previously was that I had my right leg amputated below the knee.
I spent the next month as an inpatient rehab with a MANUAL Invacare Tracer 4 wheelchair. I took to it like a duck to water primarily because my best friend in college in the late ’70s, the late Robert Bennett, was a paraplegic, and we were usually joined at the hip on campus. The irony about us is that we were attending college in California, and I’m from Philly and he was from Trenton, NJ, 30 minutes north of Philly! In fact, he and I ran for President & VP of the Student Government and won! I learned all the intricacies of using a wheelchair, including assembling and breaking it down for transport. I also became sensitized to the needs and issues of people with mobility and special needs issues through my relationship with him. Little did I realize how he would impact the rest of my life. (Thanx Robert RIP) By the time I was released from the hospital, my new mantra was WWRD (What Would Robert Do?).
My primary source of income since July 2000 has been as a travel agent. In fact, I actually was coordinating a group I had on a Carnival Cruise out of New Orleans while I was still hospitalized. I could NEVER stop doing travel. It’s my passion. Which leads me to the creation of the Wheeling Traveler.
In the fall of 2013, I made a presentation at a Travel Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. My first non-local travel experience in a wheelchair. The Southwest flight to FLL was nice enough. The airport staff were cordial and escorted me to the bus stop where I visited the Broward County Transit bus to my Youth Hostel housing for the trip. BCT Travel is VERY NICE, has accessible buses, AND GOOD WIFI. My first hitch came when I arrived at the Deauville Hostel on Ocean Blvd. The bus stopped right there but they had those concrete parking lot abutments so I couldn’t get to the door to get in!
One of the hostel guests alerted me that one of the abutments was movable, so he helped me move it and I rolled into the hotel courtyard only to find that my Tracer 4 was too wide for the door to my room. So, in my survivalist mode, I crawled out of the chair, folded it enough to get it in, climbed back in, and rolled back to my bed. That was my regimen for the next 3 days. Other than that, the trip went well. My whole days were spent at the Broward Convention Center, which was TOTALLY accessible, so I had no problems. Hey, ya gotta do whatcha gotta do, ya know?
Leaving Ft. Lauderdale, I headed to my next destination, Miami International Airport, on the Tri-Rail train, a clean, quick, and comfortable ride. My companion, Michele, was flying in from Portland, Oregon, and was meeting me at the MIA Hotel inside Miami International Airport Hotel on Concourse E. We were flying out to St. Croix, US Virgin Islands the next morning.
The hotel was nice enough for our needs. Here's the King Accessible room we stayed in at the MIA Airport Hotel in Miami. NICE!
The next morning, we had a short flight from there to the US Virgin Islands, specifically, Fredricksted, St. Croix, for 3 weeks. I was the guest of a 70+ friend who had a timeshare, so the first adaptation I had to deal with was getting up to a 2nd-floor landing in the wheelchair. She was a good sport about it. (Thanx Michele)
I spent a significant part of the days in the house because I was taking training webinars for my travel agency, but whenever we went out, the chore of folding up the chair and getting it down a flight of stairs was always on her, which I felt bad about, since she WAS in her 70’s at the time.
She took me on various tours around the island, including to Point Udall, which is the behind me and locale for my profile pic. That is the easternmost point of the U.S. and is named for the former Secretary of the Interior (and Presidential wannabe,) Morris Udall.
Getting up to the Point was no problem. Just getting around every day along the cobbled streets of St. Croix? THAT’S ANOTHER STORY!
I had several occurrences of getting my wheels stuck in the mud at street festivals held in parks, so I stopped going, or I’d wait in the car. We went down by the cruise ship port and I was able to get around in that area and to the various local vendors and restaurants immediately within proximity of the cruise port, but venturing around the island among the locals on your own in a chair??? NOT ADVISABLE. I’m really surprised since it IS a U.S. Territory. I thought ALL US grounds were required to abide by the ADA…..I guess they didn’t get that memo all the way in the Caribbean.
The interviews I did with the local vendors who set up for when cruise ships come in were interesting, although, they were destroyed in transit. The crux of them said they depend heavily on the influx of tourism dollars whenever they come in. In fact, the cruise arrival schedule is posted daily in the local papers, and on the local TV stations.
The St. Croix Airport was a trip. At that time, they're still walking out onto tarmacs so they rolled me onto a crane which lifted my chair up to, and earlier down from, the jet entrance. I felt like an Apollo astronaut making the walk to the launch gantry, which was kinda cool since being an astronaut was my FIRST life profession dream as a kid.
Truth be told, they HAVE been doing improvements over the last 10 years. Don’t get me wrong. St. Croix IS a beautiful place, and I wouldn’t discourage OTHERS from visiting, but other than getting a beach wheelchair (which, YES, I can get for you.) to cavort in the water and on the sand, there are NOT that many places here where accessible travel can be commandeered OTHER than coming by Cruise Ship.
They have created a transit bus service now, VITRAN, which runs fixed route accessible buses on St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas and the ferries inbetween the islands. Those with disabilities can ride the fixed route buses for free, but the Paratransit srevice available, which is a door-to-door operation, is virtually nonexistent for tourists because it takes up to 3 weeks to get processed as a rider. EVEN THEN, it costs TWICE AS MUCH (2.00 as of March 2021) for the paratransit service as the fixed routes. Go figure.