Thursday, February 21, 2013

Standing Room Only

If you follow this blog or any other web space I happen to occupy, then you know that I had spinal surgery back in May 2012 and the road to recovery has been a long and difficult one. I haven't blogged about a lot of what I am dealing with as far as mobility, pain, weight issues, etc. because I think it would just be one complaint after another and bore everyone to death. Suffice it to say, I have a tough time some days while others I feel like I could ballet dance across the world. So it wasn't without some trepidation that I booked our yearly Disney trip, not entirely sure if I was going to be able to hack it.

The fact of the matter is that I have trouble walking if I'm not leaning on something. A shopping cart is usually my best friend and sometimes I rely on a cane.  I've been exercising at the gym four days a week but I think I'm doing more harm than good and have backed off. Standing still is agony and the pain shoots down my legs after about five minutes so the prospect of walking around Disney and then standing on a line for an hour made me want to cry.
"So why go to Disney" I can hear some of you saying.  And I just have to answer that 1. We go every year and it's our family vacation and 2. I'm not putting my life on hold simply because something hurts.  I'll work it out.
I did a whole mess of research before embarking on our vacation and found that along with wheelchairs, I could also rent an ECV motorized scooter at the parks for a whopping $50 A DAY. (We were there 5 days, do the math).  So I decided to swallow my pride and rent a scooter.  Walking from our hotel room to the restaurant had put me in tears so I knew I had no other option. And so, it began.

Scooter, Magic Kingdom, Day 1:

When I walked up to the ECV rental kiosk, I was filling out the paperwork for the scooter and happened to glance over at other folks renting the same thing. Some of the people were elderly folks with canes, adults in casts, or people with crutches, but a majority of the people renting them were these ENORMOUSLY fat people who just didn't feel like walking.  And before anyone tells me I'm "judging", I'm not.  I flat out heard at least five people on scooters say something to the effect of "so glad I rented this, I ain't walkin through this damn park".  Ok fine you don't want to walk, but ECVs are in limited quantity (unlike wheelchairs which they have millions of) and by "not wantin' to walk this bitch", you're essentially making someone who actually needs a scooter, have to put their name on a waiting list and then struggle until their name is called.  So I got on my scooter and I instantly felt like an idiot.  Then I began second guessing myself. "Do I need it?", "Should I just walk?" "Do I look like Kendra Krinklesac?"


So I proceeded to enter the park with Randy pushing the double stroller next to me and that's when all hell broke loose.  People just don't look or care that someone is on a scooter and I was bumped and bashed and eye rolled at more than I could count, but the worst parts were the comments.  Because I am not visibly "disabled" people assumed I was just ridin' dirty and the things that came out of some of their mouths was certainly NOT what the "Happiest Place on Earth" would deem appropriate.  "You're one fat, lazy bitch", "Looks like they'll give any fat fuck a scooter here", "Wow could you be any lazier?", "Hey instead of dyeing your hair freakish colors why not hit the gym?", and so on and so forth.  It was horrible and it certainly did not make the start of my vacation pleasant.  So I decided to return my scooter and go with just pure adrenaline and use the stroller as my leverage.  But, I knew I wasn't going to be able to handle standing on long lines so I opted to get the Guest Assistance Card (something I had researched and heard about prior) which would not automatically move me to the front of a line for an attraction, but would allow me Fast Pass entry to the rides that offered it.  Most people who use the GAC are folks who have back problems, joint issues or children with special needs that don't require a wheelchair.  I brought my medical records in the event that I was going to use the GAC but it turns out that I didn't need them because by law, Disney is not allowed to ask why you are asking for the pass.  Bad move, Disney.

As it turns out, the line for the GAC was longer than the line for Pirates of the Caribbean.  Every Tom, Dick, and Harry was on line asking for one of these cards. Some folks visibly needed one (like the family with the "Make A Wish" package and their little boy), others didn't, but because I wasn't walking around with a hole cut in the back of my shirt showing off my neat scar, I naively assumed that they had back and joint issues as well.  So I got my card and they wrote my name on it and how many people were in my party and stamped it with the "use alternate entrance" notation and we were on our way.

Let me say that the GAC, for people who really need it, is a wonderful wonderful wonderful thing.  If lines were more than 20 minutes long, I used mine.  I didn't want to abuse it so I gave myself that 20 minute window to stand.  As it was, 20 minutes was ROUGH for me to stand in line for, but I did it because I saw so many people abusing the GAC that I felt bad.  For example, Dante and I went to the line for Soarin' at Epcot.  The Stand-by line was 90 minutes long. There was no way I could do it. The Fast Pass was 5 minutes. I showed my card, they asked my name and how many people, and we were whisked through.  In front of us though, were four girls, the oldest was twelve.  They had a GAC pass and were put through as well.  All four of them SPRINTED through the maze of tunnels leading to the ride, then proceeded to sit on the floor, gossip, and put on makeup while waiting the whopping 5 minutes.  It took me TEN MINUTES to walk to the ride from the entrance by taking baby steps and holding on to the railing.  We were letting old ladies with canes pass me.  Yet, these little girls had a GAC and ran the Olympics to get to the ride?


I saw so many more instances of the GAC being used by people who didn't really need it that I really think Disney needs to change its policy on getting one.  I don't mean that they should have to ask for a full medical history, but at least a doctor's note explaining why you should get one or what problems you have.  We would not have been able to do most of the rides at the parks had we not had the GAC because it was busier than normal (dance competitions, twirling competitions, soccer teams, and Kelly and Micheal were taping their show there) as I would not have been able to stand on line for that long.  In some instances where the Fast Pass or alternate entry was not available, I was allowed to sit and wait for Randy and the kids to catch up.  I thought that was fair.  

Because the Guest Assistance Card is a "Disney secret" that some people use to their advantage, I did get some inquisitive looks from Disney cast members when giving them my pass. No one was ever rude to me, but you could tell that sometimes they were saying to themselves "Oh great, another one of these" when I showed it to them.  Their doubts were soon allayed, though, when they saw that it took me 6 years to get from point A to point B and I needed to lean on walls in between.  Nevermind getting into the ride itself with the whole stepping down into the seat thing taking me another 5 years.

I also found that in talking to other folks who had a GAC card, that they would instantly get defensive with me and start rattling off their many ailments.  While my initial motive in bringing it up in conversation was to find out if they had been getting any slack from people calling them "line cutters" (since I had), they thought I was questioning them as to their validity of owning one.  Which I wasn't, but in thinking back on it, why would they get so defensive if they weren't hiding anything? But then again, I did the same when someone would comment on mine.  One man even went so far as to lift his shirt up and show me all of his bullet holes and scars from his surgeries.  I was like, thanks dude, I believe you.

I never did use a scooter again on our trip and we did a lot of walking.  The double stroller was very helpful in aiding my walking but I was in constant pain (thankfully I remembered to pack my muscle relaxants for the end of the day), but the added privilege (and it really should be a privilege and not a "perk") of having the Guest Assistance Card made my experience at Disney so much more bearable and manageable.  I just wish people had more integrity to not abuse such a necessity for people who really need it. 

By far, the "best" example of the "disability abuse" that we saw had to be the woman in a scooter on our bus ride back to the hotel one night.  She was in a rented ECV and used the handicapped ramp to board the bus.  In order to do this, the bus driver has to lower the bus, then open the special doors, lower the ramp, close a section of the bus and strap the scooter (along with the rider) into a special set of buckles and belts to keep the ECV and its rider safe.  This takes about 6 minutes to do. While he was doing this for her, she, in a very frail voice, thanked everyone for their patience and apologized that we had to wait.  Everyone on the bus, of course, was accommodating and kind. I mean, this woman is disabled. What are we going to do, yell at her because we want to get back to the hotel now?  Of course not.  So she gets strapped in and the bus gets to her stop (we were getting off there too) and the process of letting her off begins again.  And again, she in her frail voice apologizes for the delay then scoots off on her ECV into the building.  About 30 minutes later, we are sitting at the same bus stop waiting for the bus to take us to our hotel room (we were at the resort restaurant) and as it pulls up, we see a woman and child SPRINT to catch the bus.  I mean, full on running at full speed.  They get to the bus and then start jumping around like crazy.  Randy turns to me and says, "Look at the lady". And I say, "Yea so?" and he says, "Look closely at her".  Wouldn't you know it.  It was the frail "disabled" woman from the bus ride earlier.

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