Thursday, September 10, 2009

Observations from Camp Randall: UW v. Northern Illinois 9/5/09

If this blog were a late night talk show then this would be the part where I would say "And now we're introducing a new segment." This one being called "Observations from Camp Randall," wherein I briefly delve into the funny, interesting, aggravating, etc. things that I encounter as I make my way to and from my seats at the stadium on Badger football game days.

Observation #1: As I was rolling down one stretch of sidewalk on my way to the stadium before the game I passed a few college students sitting on the brick steps in front of their house. As I went by I overheard one drunken guy say to the girl next to him “Should that guy get a ticket for driving on the sidewalk?” Regardless of whether he was being cleverly inquisitive or ignorantly intoxicated, that was one of the funniest wheelchair-motorized vehicle lines I’ve ever heard. Good stuff.

Observations #2 and #3: First a little background. Since the completion of the stadium renovations a few years ago Camp Randall now has an elevator that takes patrons to all seating levels. But as nice and convenient as it is for me to have the means to avoid taking the multi-level spiral style ramps, one of the most frustrating things about every game day experience is waiting for the elevator to take me up to the 72nd row where my seats are (they’re awesome, by the way). It’s not just that there is a wait, it’s that the more people that have discovered the elevator each year, the more people that use it. And I would say that on average roughly 80% of the folks that I wait in line with are able-bodied and appear perfectly capable of walking up either a few flights of stairs or said ramps. It’s also clear to me that the stadium personnel tend to do no disability screening to assure that only the people that truly need it use it, as intended.

The other aggravating thing about it is how entitled many of these people get to using the elevator, even seeing themselves as equal to its use to mine. Thus no one ever lets people with wheelchairs or others who deserve “priority” usage go to the front of the line, as should be proper elevator etiquette. So more often than not I end up waiting for the second or third cart load to go up to my section. In many past instances, if me and a buddy are running behind, and the elevator line is too long, we’ve just taken the ramps. But starting last year I decided that my chair was too old to keep chugging up the ramps, so a little extra waiting time is worth less abuse on my wheels.

All that said, observation #2 is that while waiting in the hallway outside the room that houses the elevator (approximately 30 people in front of me) I overheard a completely able-bodied man in his 40’s chatting with another able-bodied person barely a senior citizen say: “Well we may have to wait a bit, but at least it’s better than walking up the ramps.” Ok sir a) if you’re perfectly capable of walking up the ramps then you and your crew of four shouldn’t be snaking a ride in the elevator when people with physical disabilities are also in line, and b) the next time you make such a triumphant declaration stop, think, look around, notice the gentleman in the wheelchair five feet behind you (i.e. this guy), and keep your mouth shut. For me elevator use is a necessity, not a privilege.

On the way down after the game my friend Jason and I turned the corner on the way back to the elevator just in time to see an embittered woman in her 50’s, wearing earmuff style radio headphones and holding a cane, say to the (cute) stadium courtesy staffer just in front of us: “Can you do anything about getting this elevator up here faster?!” Right, like stadium personnel have some magic ability to make elevators appear much faster. (She is no doubt one of those people that think pushing the elevator buttons multiple times makes the cart arrive faster as well.) I love able-bodied people that get annoyed when the elevator is slow. Again, if you can walk and you’re tired of waiting then take the stairs or ramp and get out of my way.

Of course, within seconds the elevator doors opened. My friend and I were the last two to get in the cart, with grumpy lady sandwiched next to us. On the ground floor Jason got out first, then it was my turn—at least it should have been but she tried to take a small step out at the same time I started backing up, then she stopped. I noticed that she was wearing open-toed leather sandals so as I started backing up I said “Watch your toes” which is something I typically say to people as a humorous warning. The vast majority of the time I do that I get a smile out of folks but when I looked up to meet her gaze she was fuming. Apparently she thought that she was supposed to get out before me—even though there was no room to do so. First she was mad at the supposedly slow elevator, then because the guy in the wheelchair supposedly blocked her exit. Maybe she was a Northern Illinois fan.

Lastly, observation #4: As we traveled up the sidewalk towards my parking spot people going the opposite direction were entering the sidewalk between concrete barriers. When you’re in my position you just have to find the openings and weave between the people. As I passed the last concrete barrier I saw a middle-aged couple ready to step out onto the sidewalk. The wife stepped in front of me first but the timing was off for the husband’s effort. Nonetheless he tried to shoot the gap and took a half step, so I quickly stopped, then he stopped, then he resigned a bit, then I just kept going. And as I passed him he looked at me with visible frustration, as if I got in his way, or he was bothered to have to give way. To the contrary, sir.

People in wheelchairs experience this kind of exchange all the time in busy public settings. It seems like able-bodied folks, especially those trying to keep pace with their group, always think that they can do a quick step in front of me even though there’s not enough time or room. I don't get it. Just wait one second and go around! Because it’s not just the mini panic of someone crashing into my chair or onto my lap, but the fact that I have to come to such an abrupt stop, then start again to regain the lost momentum. It was much worse when I used my manual chair because stopping so abruptly and using the full force of my arms to restart my intended path took their physical toll. So to the gentleman frustrated that he couldn’t shoot the gap: I had the right of way.

But hot damn do I love going to Badger games regardless! The Badgers won 28-20, by the way.

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