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Travels with a Wheelchair: Lessons Learned the Hard Way - Part 3 - On the Road
by Evangelina Vela

The most interesting adventures can happen when you're on the road with more than four wheels!

To paraphrase the Blues Brothers, "We had a full tank of gas, we were seven hours from home, it was noon, and I had my shades on!" It seemed like a more than normal start of a trip back home from New Orleans where we had had an exhibit booth at a local conference over the weekend. But appearances were quite deceiving.

We headed west on I-10, thinking that we might actually get home before it got dark that evening. We made good time, passing small towns quickly, almost without noticing. Then, just past Lafayette, I tried to pass an eighteen-wheeler. I pulled into the left lane, gave the rented van some gas, and felt it die! Eighteen-wheelers were the main traffic on the road at this time of day. And they were all going about 80 mph.

Somehow, I managed to find the hazard lights and turn them on. Somehow, the surrounding traffic understood that I was trying to make it over to the shoulder of the road. Somehow, I made it. Slowly, carefully, I pulled the van to the shoulder and brought it to a stop. Opening the driver side window for air was not a real option since the wind from the trucks felt like it could blow us over the beveled edge of the road, if the noise didn't deafen us first. But we could open the passenger side a bit. Turned out to be a good thing because the battery died next, and the windows, of course, were power windows.

The man from whom we had rented the wheelchair van had told us that the previous renter had had some kind of problem with the van, but that they had taken care of it before we got it. Well, the problem was back. Along with the van, we always get a phone number to call just in case we run into problems. Luckily, my cell phone was charged, so I called the number. I was put in touch with the person in Lafayette who handles these problems. From there, they got me in touch with an Enterprise car rental office and an auto shop. The leasing agent listened to our predicament and looked for an available car. There wasn't one. As we kept talking, a car came in that we could use. It was a compact car. Not my first choice given the wheelchair, but our only choice. They would get it ready and come out to find us as soon as possible. It was about three in the afternoon.

We sat and waited, wondering how long it would be before either the tow truck or the car got there. A van pulled up ahead of us. A man came over to the window. Did we need any help? Could he take one of us into town to get help? Not wanting to reveal our exact situation and vulnerability, we told him we had called for help and were just waiting and thanked him for his concern. He went on his way.

Finally, at about 4:30, the car pulled up behind us. It was small. Then, the fun began. I took the essential bags out of the van to put into the car. Then, I released the tie-downs that held the power wheelchair in place. I extended the ramp. My husband pulled out of the front passenger area into the middle of the van and turned to face the ramp. He rolled down the ramp. And kept going down the slope by the side of the road into the tall grass. The leasing agent and I pulled back on the wheelchair to stop it. After what seemed like forever, the chair stopped.

Then, we had to get the chair turned and back up the slope to the car. We managed to get my husband into the cramped front passenger seat without further incident. I drove the wheelchair back into the van for transport to the shop.

By this time, the tow truck had arrived. The driver hooked up the van and lifted it as I cringed because all of my merchandise was still in the van with the wheelchair. We found out where he was taking the van, and we all headed back into town.

Coming next, Part 4 - On the Road Again.

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