Day 29: The Kindness of Strangers

Well, friends, I am back from my Miami trip. Ultimately, it was largely successful and uneventful but I definitely learned how challenging travel can be when you have mobility issues. Being non weight bearing generally makes most activities take two to three times more effort. When it comes to travel, it’s more like five times more effort.

I wish I could say I had figured out what to expect with airport security but I have not. In Tampa, I went into the TSA pre -check line, put my bags in the scanner, held on to one of the agents to hop up to the metal detector, and then hopped through without setting it off. The agent on the other side then told me I had to actually walk through it. That was obviously out of the question. I explained that I could take the boot off and put it through the scanner but apparently my hopping and not walking meant I had to go through the “special screening,” i.e. the full body pat down and swabbing for explosives. I truly despise having to be screened in this fashion as it is both undignified and, I’m fairly certain, does nothing to enhance security. Unfortunately, the only choice you have in the matter is how you react. I will say all the TSA agents were very courteous and the woman tasked with the “special screening” was very professional and seemed to feel badly about it. A parade of people passed by rolling their eyes or shooting me sympathetic looks. In an intensely divided nation, frustration at airport security procedures is a uniting force.

Leaving from Miami today, I expected to have to endure another round of special screening but things went differently. Once again, I went through the pre-check line and put my bags in the scanner. This time however the knee scooter went through a little gate and got swabbed for explosives while I was allowed to hop through the metal detector and was then on my way. So, the moral of the story here seems to be that you can’t know what to expect. The one certainty seems to be that things are not set up to be clear or easy for the disabled.

Getting onto the plane was less difficult but largely because I was seated in the first row on both flights. I scootered up to the plane door and then hopped to my seat holding onto the wall and then a flight attendant for balance. The knee scooter was gate checked, i.e. stowed in the luggage compartment but returned to the door of the plane when we arrived. I had to hop to the restroom mid-flight on both flights which was pretty easy given how close I was. The narrowness of planes is helpful in this scenario too as there is always something to grab on to. The flight attendant on my flight back to Tampa was particularly helpful in making sure I got back to my seat safely. So, ultimately both flights went pretty smoothly. If I had had to take a longer flight and sit further back in the plane, things would have been more difficult.

It was raining yesterday, so I ended up Ubering two blocks to get to our Miami office. Our firm has a trial at the moment with a number of Tampa attorneys and staff involved, so I ended up seeing more of my Tampa colleagues than I have seen in my two office days last week. The deposition ended up being in a building across the street. I navigated my way there and back in the rain successfully after borrowing a raincoat, an umbrella not being a good option as I needed both hands on the knee scooter.

There is continual construction in downtown Miami and the sidewalks are hit or miss; either it’s smooth new concrete or unpaved rubble. I was almost back to the hotel yesterday evening, when the sidewalk suddenly ended without warning and with a drop off. The only way forward was to step into the extremely busy street for a few meters. The problem was there was a sizeable curb. So, I stood there for a minute trying to figure out how to avoid backtracking and finding another route on a rainy evening when I was only half a block of my hotel. Fortunately, a man came up behind me and helped me get down into the street with the scooter.

This last incident was emblematic of what has been key in getting around the last couple of weeks; namely, the kindness of strangers. One of my worries since I started venturing out in public on my own has been whether people will be helpful and patient. Since I’ve become reliant on others to help me get around, carry things, and open some doors, it’s made me feel vulnerable. When you can’t get up the steps by yourself, you worry that no one will want to help you or that they will only do so grudgingly. I’m happy to report that people in general have been pretty great so far, almost shockingly nice. I feel there is more hope for society than the news would suggest. It would be disingenuous though not to acknowledge that there is probably no other demographic more likely to be on the receiving end of help in public than white women. I wonder if my experience would be the same if I were male and very overweight or a person of color.

I was again reminded on this trip of how interactions with others in public are different in Tampa and Miami. Miami is famous for its lack of courteousness. This was true when I lived there years ago and, if anything, has only become more pronounced. Some of it is just due to being a big city, but I believe a lot of it has to do with the transient nature of much of the population and the many recent arrivals from different places which drives a lack of social cohesiveness. It always seemed to me that people have their own small social circle but no outer layers of community beyond that. Everyone shares the same sun but not much else. Tampa, on the other hand, comports itself quite differently. Living in Tampa requires that we all adhere to a certain level of polite interaction. It’s customary to say hello to people when you step into an elevator. When out on a run, not to smile or nod at another runner would be considered quite unfriendly. People generally are happy to let you change lanes and move into traffic when your turn signal is on. Miami not so much. These days everywhere I go in Tampa people want to know “what happened” and to share their story of their cousin’s ex-boyfriend who ruptured his Achilles and was in boot like mine. In Miami, while people were kind if I asked them for help, I was largely invisible. Sometimes I like that kind of big city anonymity where I can be in the crowd but left alone. For now though, I’m happy to engage with others and receive their good will.

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