TRAVEL

Accessible Puerto Rico

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

Kris Gulden

In the beginning

I used to envy people who travelled a lot, but good God, flying these days is a nightmare.  On Sunday my mom and I had an 8:15 AM flight from Dulles to San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Utilizing my home computer, we checked in, printed our boarding passes, and paid to check one bag the day before departing.  In spite of that, we still felt it was necessary to arrive at the airport by 6:00AM on Sunday.

Around the corner

We entered the terminal and saw four employees behind the United Airlines counter.  A short line of passengers waited for assistance, but things seemed manageable.  There was no reason to feel stress or angst.  A woman from United calmly asked how she could help us.  Mom said we needed to check one bag.  Upon inspecting our boarding passes and ascertaining that we are not Premier Access members, the woman told us we should go to the ticketing counter “around the corner”.  Around the corner.  The message was clearly received.  “Around the corner” is code for “you belong with the heathens on the other side”.
We lugged our bags “around the corner” and found ourselves at the intersection of hell and civilization.  While three referees wearing United Airlines uniforms attempted to supervise the activity in this mosh pit, Mom made like MacGyver and fashioned a lock out of two pieces of string so that the broken zippers on her bag would hold together.  Octogenarians wielding luggage the size of big screen televisions struggled to print their boarding passes at the self-service kiosks.  Toddlers wailed as their parents applied baggage tags to strollers and other miscellaneous pieces of precious crap.  Golf clubs.  Surfboards.  Wheelchairs. Hundreds of people stood in haphazard formations that made it impossible to tell if they were forming a meaningful line or plotting their escape, and each time I turned around to try to collect my bearings, I felt like I was stuck in a maze from which there was no escape.  I thought this was supposed to be fun.

The pleasure and the pain

Fortunately things improved once we landed in San Juan.  After retrieving Mom’s bag and finding my brother Rick and his son Roger, we took a taxi to the hotel and devised our itinerary for the week.  From Isla Verde to Aguadilla, Mayaguez and Cabo Rojo, Rick drove us everywhere and anywhere we wanted to go.  Not once did he utter a negative word, and we found - once again - that the island of enchantment is all it claims to be.

Swimming with a sea turtle while scuba diving at Crashboat Beach.  Parasailing in Rincon.  Snorkeling on the surface of the glass-smooth water at Boqueron beach where limited underwater visibility was eclipsed by a stunning coastline, beautiful blue sky, and a perfect breeze.  Discovering that Boqueron had a beach wheelchair available for guests with mobility impairments. Eating mofongo at restaurants in Joyuda and Isabela.  Family vacations are like team sports, and the more I travel with this team, the more I love being on it.  Mom is always up for an adventure and good for a laugh.  Rick manages to give miles and miles and miles without ever taking an inch.  And then there’s Roger.  He’s the captain, the MVP, and the glue that holds us all together, and at the end of the week there was no doubt in my mind that the pleasure was worth all the pain.

I am who I am

When we returned to Dulles last night, I was the last person off the airplane.  By the time Mom and I got to baggage claim, all of the other passengers had retrieved their bags and moved on to their next destination.  I circled the carousel until I found the bag I needed.  Several remained, but only one was ours. It’s black and has wheels, and its resemblance to so many others prompted Mom to concoct a clever and inexpensive way to make it stand out.  When I finally saw it, I immediately recognized the strips of blue painter’s tape on the sides and the hot pink duct tape wrapped around the handle.  I guess maybe I do belong with the heathens in the mosh pit.

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