We had an extremely busy weekend mostly dealing with issues involving Steve's Dad. Lots of logistics at play there. Last weekend was the same and though I promised Maggie a trip to the mall, it never materialized. That meant we HAD to go this weekend. Maggie really doesn't ask for much in the way of outings, so it's the least I can do. Saturday afternoon we were going to be moving my father in law's stuff, Sunday was the game (I didn't realize it started so late). If we were going to get a mall visit in, it had to be Saturday morning. One problem. Steve was using the van to take his dad out. We cannot fit two wheelchairs in the van. What to do?
I know. Easy peasy. We will take the bus. Steve could drop us off downtown on his way to get his dad. Maggie and I could hit the fancy malls downtown and take the bus home. The San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) is handicapped accessible. We have done it several times on the metro (trains) but had never tried the bus. I've seen others in chairs on the bus and know many of the buses are equipped with lifts. We can take any of four bus lines from downtown to here and have only a two block walk. If one bus isn't accessible, the next one will be. We can do it! It will be an adventure.
We waited at a stop serviced by 3 of the 4 possible lines. (5, 21 and 31). I hoped for a 31 because it was not an electric trolley. Those trolley's are kind to the planet but are very jerky for the riders. First bus to appear was the 31. Wish granted! And it had a lift for the chair. This was going to be easy. As a bonus we had the nicest, most accommodating driver in the City. We're off!
The lift takes a few minutes to do and we were taking a while to get settled. I maneuvered past another wheelchair on the bus. That man was giving me directions on fitting past him. No problem. The driver had readied a spot for the chair, flipping up a seat to reveal a place to lock in. I got her chair into place and realized only then that the left brake was broken on her chair. Not GOOD. I tried to hold it in place with only one wheel locked but could not maneuver the straps. A kind passenger from the back of the bus came up and put a seat belt around her chair. I decided I would have to just stand behind her and hold the chair in place while holding on to keep from falling myself. Not good. And also not terribly effective. She wasn't rolling around the bus or anything. One wheel was locked and there was a seat belt, but she was pivoting around on the unlocked wheel with me trying to hold it steady. My wrist still hurts from that.
The driver stopped the bus and came back to lock her chair in better. I feared the broken brake would put us on the streets, but that was not a problem. There were giant tie downs, but I could not get them to move. Neither could the driver. Again, I thought we were out of luck. Another passenger, a lady with two different shoes on, started giving the driver directions. Push that BUTTON, right THERE! He listened to her and voila! the tie downs unlocked and Maggie was secure. I thanked the driver and the lady and the man in the back and I sat down wiping sweat from my brow. Now we could have the regular adventure of riding a bus across the city, which is more than enough, believe me.
The man who originally helped me got up to disembark. He was getting off the back of the bus and the driver yelled at him to come up there. I watched warily. I thought if that guy didn't pay his fare or something I was going to do it for him. If he was going to get in trouble I was going to intervene. Not to worry. I heard the driver say "Thanks for your help before" and hand him something. I don't know if it was a pass for another bus ride or what. As the guy walked past me I said "Thanks again" and he just nodded. Nice moment.
I thanked the lady with the mismatched shoes as she left too. She just waved it off. Nice people on the sometimes rough 31 Balboa on Saturday at noon.
Maggie rides buses all the time and was non plussed by the entire thing. In fact she fell asleep while I sat on the edge of my chair for the entire 20 minute ride - made 30 minutes because of us.
Finally we arrived at our stop and I could not undo the tie downs. The driver said, "this is your stop." I said "I know, but she's stuck." I thought we were going to be like Charlie on the MTA and never return. (Listen to this great song below.) The driver readied the lift and then came back to help. At first he couldn't do it either. I longed for the mismatched shoe lady, but she was long gone. Suddenly the driver got it and Maggie was free.
I went to get off, thanked everyone on the bus for their patience, thanked the driver and told him I needed a drink. He said, me too, but I can't for several hours yet. Fortunately, this is the store between the bus stop and our house. It's actually called "Drink Liquor." I didn't partake, but it's nice to know it's there.
I know I am spoiled having our van. I know there are hundreds of people who go through this every single and I am very very glad not to be one of them.
I am not used to relying on the kindness of strangers, but I had to on Saturday and the good people on Muni came through for me.
Here's Charlie and the MTA. I've been singing it all weekend.