Dylan let out a deep breath and loosened his tie. The presentation had gone very well, or at least that was what he had surmised from the resounding round of applause that followed his closing statements. Dylan allowed his shoulders to sag and he slumped down slightly in his wheelchair.
"Nice job, Sheehy," said Bob Addams, practically grabbing Dylan's hand off his armrest to shake it. "What can I say? You blew me away. I smell a promotion. Fuck, I hope you don't get my job."
Dylan smiled, "Thanks, Bob." Truth be told, he had been gunning for Bob's job all year. He was hoping the result of this presentation might be enough to push Bob out and get Dylan in. But he couldn't let Bob know that.
"You need a ride to the airport, Sheehy?" Bob asked. "I got my rental car."
The last thing Dylan wanted to do was accept a ride from Bob Addams. Bob wasn't nervous at all about the effect that Dylan's presentation would have on his own career, and Dylan knew it was because Bob thought there was no chance in hell of losing his job to a guy in a wheelchair.
In part, Bob was right. Dylan would have had Bob's job and probably a lot more if not for his disability. He had landed himself in a wheelchair back in 1996, a few years after college, thanks to a car accident that resulted in a spinal cord injury. He spent the next few years moping, but then he realized that if he didn't change his life, he was going to wind up a loser on disability living with his parents. Dylan didn't want to let that happen to himself.
"I've got a shuttle to the airport," Dylan said to Bob. "I'll be fine."
Bob beamed down at Dylan, "Really great job, Sheehy."
Dylan grinned back at Bob, wondering what Bob would do if he knew Dylan was sleeping with his wife, ever since the Christmas party.
Dylan hadn't flown much since he had become a paraplegic. He hated flying with his wheelchair, simply because it was such a hassle. Luckily, his job didn't require him to fly often, but this particular conference was in Canada and it was crucial to Dylan's career. He couldn't say no.
Dylan booked his tickets with a travel agent, because he hoped that would make it easier to specify his special needs. Unfortunately, the travel agent seemed to know absolutely nothing about planning trips for wheelchair users. He asked her to let the airport know that he would be traveling with a wheelchair, that it was a manual wheelchair, and that he could do the transfer himself. He told her that they needed to have an aisle chair available for him at the gate and upon arrival at his destination.
Dylan made sure to confirm all of this, and even called the airline a few days before, just to make sure everything was set. The airline assured him that there was a note by his name that he needed a wheelchair.
Before leaving for the trip, he had purchased a legbag, extension tubing and a half dozen exo-catheters (basically like sticky condoms). He also made an attempt to reduce his fluid intake for the previous 12 hours, which was fairly difficult, considering how much alcohol was being passed around during the conference. Dylan knew there likely wouldn't be any chance to hit the bathroom during the trip and he didn't want to take any chances.
He arrived at the airport a full two hours before the departure time. He arrived at the check-in counter for his luggage, and handed over his e-ticket to the young, pretty desk attendant whose nametag read Sally. "Oh, we see in your files you need a wheelchair," she chirped. "There's one waiting for you here!"
Sally pointed over at an old, clunky airport chair. Dylan sighed and squeezed his hands into fists, "I appreciate this, but as you can see, I already have a wheelchair."
"Oh," Sally said, perplexed.
"What I need is a gate check for my wheelchair and an aisle chair to get onto the plane," Dylan explained.
Dylan had a very bad feeling. He didn't want them to screw things up so that he wouldn't be able to board the place, or possibly lose or damage his wheelchair. It wasn't a good sign that he had just arrived and already there was massive confusion.
Eventually, everything was sorted out, and Dylan headed for the security check-point. Once again, it was a mess, but Dylan expected it this time. For starters, the gap of the metal detector was too narrow for his chair to fit through, and even if it hadn't been, it was sort of ridiculous to go through a metal detector in a metal wheelchair.
"Can you walk at all?" the security guard asked Dylan.
"No," Dylan told him.
"We need a male pet-down," the security guard said into his walkie-talkie.
Dylan had been through this before and it was never pleasant. A guard had to come over to pat him down in front of everyone. First they asked him to spread his arms to his sides, then they patted down his arms, then his sides. Then they went to his front and patted down his legs. Naturally, the guard looked confused when he felt Dylan's legbag under his pants, so he quickly explained in a low voice. When it was over, Dylan noticed that everyone was staring at him.
Everything was clear, so Dylan headed into the concourse, toward his gate. He had his briefcase with him, filled with work to look over, considering he likely had a long wait ahead of him.
When the counter finally opened, Dylan requested being moved to bulkhead, which was easier for transfers. The bulkhead are the seats behind the partition that separates first class from regular seating and they just generally have more "footroom". He also wanted to make sure that the aisle chair was available, after all the fuss he had been through.
The good news was they were able to shuffle someone to give him bulkhead seating. The bad news was that they weren't aware that an aisle chair needed to be there. "I spoke to them about this at check-in," Dylan said, barely restraining his anger.
"Don't worry, we'll get one for you," the girl at the counter assured him. "Just don't wander too far. We want to board you first."
It took twenty minutes for them to get the aisle chair and call for Dylan, but alas, there was no staff available to help him with it. It took another ten minutes for the staff to show up. Finally, he wheeled to the gate of the plane, where he transferred to the aisle chair.
Aisle chairs are quite narrow and furbished with many straps. One strap kept Dylan's paralyzed legs and knees together. Two straps went across his chest in an X pattern. "Mr. Sheehy, please cross your arms over your chest and keep your elbows in," they instructed him. Dylan did his best to keep his arms close to his body because the aisles were very narrow.
They brought him into the plane facing forward. If he had more flying experience, he would have realized sooner that this was a mistake. Doing the transfer would have been impossible. They wound up having to take him out of the plane and do the whole thing over going backwards this time. Dylan noticed they were holding other passengers at the door until he was settled in. He hated having that sort of attention drawn to himself, but he supposed it couldn't be helped.
Dylan found that the flight crew was much more helpful and nice than the staff in the airport. They helped him stow his cushion and carry-on bag in the overhead bin.
Unfortunately, the flight had a layover in Chicago. To make matters worse, the next flight was in only an hour. When Dylan had booked it, an hour sounded like more than enough time. But what he hadn't counted on was that they didn't even come in with the aisle chair until several minutes after everyone else had gotten off the plane, which took a while in itself, and at that point, he had only twenty minutes to get across the entire airport for his next flight.
Dylan wheeled like he was sprinting in the Paralympics and made the flight with seconds to spare. Everyone was aboard already and he was the last one there. Dylan overheard the flight crew apologizing to the passengers, saying that the delay was due to waiting for a "guy in a wheelchair" to arrive. Dylan was furious when he heard that and debated whether or not to lodge a complaint.
The rest of the flight was uneventful, until he arrived back in his home airport, where neither the aisle chair nor the staff to assist him with deplaning were available. Dylan waited for over forty minutes, as the airport crew came into the plane to begin cleaning it for the next flight. He felt so stupid, just sitting there, waiting.
Dylan had arranged for an accessible shuttle to transport him the 75 miles from the airport to his home, but thanks to all the delays, he missed the shuttle. It was nearly midnight and there was no one around to help him. Finally, Dylan located the airport staff that might be able to help him.
"We'll contact the shuttle company for you," the staff member said.
"I already did that," Dylan tried to tell him.
"Don't worry, Mr. Sheehy, we'll contact them."
It always bothered Dylan that just because he was in a wheelchair, people thought he was incompetent. Never mind that he was perfectly articulate and he was wearing a business suit. Finally, the staff informed him that the shuttle company was closed, which he had already known.
Since it was so late, Dylan agreed to allow the airport to arrange for a hotel to stay the night in. He was furious about this, but he supposed it couldn't be helped and a cab ride of that distance would cost a fortune.
Back in the hotel, Dylan left a message for his boss that he wouldn't be able to make it into work in the morning, due to delays at the airport. The whole thing got him angry, because he knew that people like Bob Addams were undoubtedly able to get themselves home today without a problem. Dylan worried that this could compromise the promotion he had been hoping for. But he supposed these were just things that he would always have to deal with.
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