Have Scooter, Will Travel: Journey to Freedom
It was 1999. My girlfriend and I were walking down Fourth Street in Berkeley on a warmish sunny day, when from behind us came a young woman riding on a disability scooter. She had braces on her legs, and I mistakenly assumed she was a polio victim.
“Hey lady, you need to get yourself one of these to help you be mobile.” I responded that I had multiple sclerosis, a progressive neurological disease. At the time I was using a cane, but struggling, as was obvious to this young woman, who shared that she too had M.S.
I was still in denial that I would ever need a scooter. My girlfriend on the other hand started asking the young woman details about getting one.
“Well, there’s a mobility store down a few blocks. You can try them out right there.”
I was anxious to stop this depressing conversation and continue on to lunch where I could rest my very stiff legs.
After lunch, my girlfriend insisted we check out the scooters. Before I could say “no,” we had pulled up to the mobility store. There, on the lawn, were all different styles. My girlfriend jumped on one and started cruising along.
“Come on, it’s fun.”
I struggled just to get out of the car, then picked a medium-sized scooter and started to go around the block. At once I realized I didn’t have to pay attention to every miserable step I took; I saw gardens in full bloom, objects I would have totally missed. I felt the wind against my face when there was no wind, because I was moving. I caught a reflection of myself in a window and realized I didn’t look terrible. I looked free. In this state of relaxation, I almost smiled.
Several weeks went by. I was seeing customers in Sonoma when, out of the blue, shot the same young woman, asking if I’d bought myself a scooter yet. Sonoma is at least an hour’s drive from Berkeley. I believe in spirits, so I didn’t have to wrestle with decision-making any longer; that I should run into her again was all I needed. Within the next week, I purchased my first mobility scooter along with a Bruno lift that electrically picked up the machine and put it with ease into my Toyota wagon. I also had hand controls installed to be on the safe side when my legs would fatigue.
As the years passed and my M.S. progressed, I decided it was now time to buy a travel-scooter. I bought my first Featherweight. It was light and folded up enough that it could get onto any plane, where it could be stored in the first-class closet.
My husband and I set out for Buenos Aires. We stayed a month, and not a day went by that we weren’t asked how to get this machine. My first thought was I might have an international business opportunity, but then realized taxes would make it impossible for most people to afford such a scooter.
Our second trip was to Barcelona, Provence, and everything in between. We quickly learned that if you are disabled, you are given immediate entry—no waiting at any tourist attraction. Our country has much to learn about this type of courtesy.
Our last European trip was to Paris. We stayed three weeks and I couldn’t have planned it better. The small boutique hotel fit my every need, and my husband kept busy chatting with locals about how to afford living as if we were local Parisians.
Being bred and raised in New York, I always felt NYC was the most cultured city in the U.S. When we moved to San Francisco, I thought this was the prettiest city. But Paris in April wins the prize for us.
We have cruised and traveled by car with my Featherweight, but now, so many years later, I can no longer travel as easily. But I was brave and fortunate to have done what I did in order to never be homebound.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marsha Michaels has been a student at OLLI at SF State since 2009. Her first writing class was with Barbara Rose Brooker. Barbara helped Marsha self-publish a memoir called, Pulling At Straws. She also took a class with Dave Casuto, and they developed a website, where many of Marsha’s stories and recipes can be found. Marsha has been published in previous issues of Vistas & Byways. Marsha takes writing classes and other diversified subjects at OLLI at SF State. She finally feels that she’s been educated where she missed out in her youth. Marsha thanks OLLI at SF State for the enormous difference it has made in her life.