Local Blogs

By Paul Bendix

Secrets of Disabled Travel

Uploaded: Mar 12, 2014

The ironic love of travel, seemingly shared by disabled people everywhere...what else explains why I am hopping the 8:32 AM Caltrain to San Jose? To board Amtrak's daily run to Santa Barbara, of course. My British wife, who has never been there, will fly down later in the afternoon. We would fly together, but for one bitter truth of disabled travel: never put a large wheelchair aboard a small aircraft.

Disunited by United Express, I rumble south, thoroughly enjoying railside views of parched Central California. Late in the afternoon, the tracks leave San Luis Obispo and hurl themselves west, revealing rolling moors, then dunes, then marshland...and the Pacific, 100 rail miles of it, from here to Ventura. Amtrak, my off-road vehicle.

Much of disabled travel actually occurs online. Getting from the Santa Barbara train station to our friend's house...a couple of miles...has proven epic. Research suggests that local paratransit may, or may not, be reliable. Santa Barbara buses don't run everywhere. The one taxi company with a wheelchair-accessible cab charges $150...and I am about to bite this bullet...when a miracle saves me. Our friends know someone with a disabled van.

Which takes me back to the train station a couple of days later...when Jane flies home, and I head for Phoenix where my sister lives. Direct flights...on Apache Airlines or whatever it is...involve planes with dangerously small holds. So I'm off to Burbank Airport. It's a relic of an airfield, but it's got location, location, location. And Amtrak California stops just across the street. In Phoenix I take SuperShuttle's wheelchair van to my hotel. And it's too bad about the hotel. My sister's house simply isn't wheelchair-accessible. I am resigned to the Mission Palms.

Homeward. US Airways still flies big planes. And what really speeds me on my way is the big passenger to my left. He is flying to a Microsoft confab in San Francisco and lets me know how much he hates the city. Homeless people assault him there. Next time a vagrant approaches, he's going to teach them a 'how we handle things in Phoenix.' The man orders a double gin, and I seriously consider ordering him a third.

At SFO, there's a nervous moment when I turn on my wheelchair and see the control lights flashing. This could indicate an electrical fault...airlines are notoriously brutal with wheelchairs. But it doesn't. The clutch needs to be engaged. That's all there is to it. Delirious, I over tip the baggage guy and roll toward BART. For days now, I have had to do many things on my own. I can still do them. That is one important thing. And it's so good to be home. That is the other.