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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lattes and Elevators

Vegas hotels are MONSTROSITIES. They’re also out to suck you dry of every penny you’ve brought with you (and those you left at home and are accessible through an ATM). Thus, there are no smile-inducing four-cup coffee makers in the rooms. Oh no. There are, however, plenty of coffee shops and Starbucks in and around the casino, happily willing to quench your caffeine addiction at 10:00am….for $4.00 a cup.

Needless to say, I made my way down to our hotel’s Starbucks a time or two, as Richie continued to sleep off his 3am poker headache. It was while there, while waiting in line for my grande raspberry coffee, that I “met” a sweet and inspiring couple. I don’t know their names, I don’t know where they’re from, I don’t know what brought them to Vegas. But, I know that they touched my heart.

I watched closely (trying not to cross the line of voyeurism) as both the girl and the guy maneuvered their wheelchairs through the Starbucks line. I admired the way they held hands and giggled while ordering their lattes. I focused sharply on how easily they were able to reach over the low counter and pay for their java. My eyes followed them to their table, where one carefully removed the dining chair, making room for his wheelchair to pull up, while the other one lifted herself from her wheelchair to the dining seat, straining her face as she shifted her weight and pushed herself in.

And there they sat. Holding hands. Sipping fresh coffee. Laughing. Glowing. Discussing the day’s events.

Just like Richard and I would have sat at the table, excitedly planning our touristy adventures for the day. Just like Richard and I would have laughed over an inside joke. Just like Richard and I would have stopped mid-sentence to enjoy the sparkle in each other’s eyes.

I was inspired. You all know WHY it was inspiring and why my heart skipped a beat. A magical moment of hope warmed my body as I watched this cute couple at Starbucks. Hope for my sweet, sweet baby. Hope that, no matter how she gets around, there will be a Vegas for Ellie. And someone to giggle with at the hotel’s Starbucks.

Since Ellie was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and I’ve started to come to terms with the fact that she’ll likely use a wheelchair for mobility, I’ve seen the world through different eyes. I see stairs. I see high counters. I see narrow aisles. I see heavy doors. I see a world that is made for the walking, and it makes me sad and angry.

Yet, in Vegas, I allowed myself to see something different. I’m not sure if my heart was softened and able to see the glass as half full, or if Las Vegas is just a lot more handicapped-accessible. Regardless, I was truly inspired by all the people who vacationed in wheelchairs, and were able (from what I saw) to get around quite nicely. The buses had lifts, there were tons of taxis with visible “wheelchair sign” decals, there were lower counters at the check-in desks, there were elevators everywhere, even the slot machines were perfect wheelchair height (they’re not DUMB!).

So, maybe there are other Vegas’ out there. Maybe, just maybe, sweet Ellie will be able to travel the world. Maybe she’ll be able to go far and away for her honeymoon. Maybe she’ll be able to wake up in the morning and wheel herself down for a cup of Starbucks while her extremely caring and ever-attentive husband sleeps in. THAT’s a cup of coffee worth $4.00.


Melissa said...

It's far too early in the morning for me to be crying but your amazing insight & views always do that to me, Chrystie!!! (darn you!!! :)
I'm like that too....I HATE to stare but I watch people in wheelchairs just to see how they "manage". I seek them out, actually...almost like a stalker. Is that bad??? I also look for moms & dads with "special-needs" strollers cause that's the road we're headed for now. Joshie does awesome in his walker but for longer distances & long days at Disneyland...he still needs a stroller & he's getting to big for the ones we have. *SIGH*....when will it ever get easy????

Erin said...

Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing that experience.

Ekie said...

Although I understand why you felt that the couple was 'inspiring', I feel that really, the word you are looking for is 'hopeful'. Because most people with disabilities don't want to be seen as inspiring, or sweet, or cute (such infantilizing terms). We just want to be seen as what we are, ordinary people living ordinary lives. Would you have been inspired if that couple had been drunk after a long night on the town, and were getting coffee in a futile attempt to cure a hangover? What if they swore or were rude to the clerks? Telling people that they are inspirational denies them the ability to be human, which includes being a jerk all the time. And if you're going to stare, do go over, introduce yourself and explain about your kid......just staring alone will only earn you hatred and assumptions of ignorance.

Oh, and the reason Las Vegas is so accessible is two-fold. 1, much of it is new construction and so has to comply with the Americans with Disablities Act of 1993, as opposed to older buildings and cities, and 2, a large proportion of people who gamble and go to places like Vegas are older, may use mobility devices or have trouble walking, and you can't take the money out of the guy's pocket unless he can reach the machine. I'm afraid it's pure economics, not pure altruism.