You all know I’m a very independent woman. I don’t let anyone or anything stand in the way of my living my life, despite my physical disability. That’s why, when I read in the local newspaper over the weekend that it’s possible some of the services may be cut from the transportation services I use. Now, I don’t just use these services to go places every once in awhile. I use these buses to go to work. I use these buses to get to and from medical appointments. And, of course, I use these buses to go to the grocery store – or any other store, for that matter. Sometimes I think people who aren’t disabled forget that transportation isn’t a luxury for everyone; it’s not as easy as “hopping in the car” and driving away. Here’s a newspaper columns I wrote a few years ago on this very subject.
If you feel as angered as I do about the potential service cuts, I urge you to send your letters to The DeKalb Daily Chronicle. What are your thoughts?
I’m famous. My big break has finally arrived. The clock has struck on my 15 minutes of fame, and I’ve set off running like a thunderous lion charging through the wild. I didn’t have to spend years toiling in low-budget horror films. And I didn’t have to live in desolate conditions in Greenwich Village as a starving artist, either. I’m thankful to say that my fame came Hollywood-free, but it was filled with tons of glitz and glamour.
You may have seen me riding around town in a little red and white bus. Now, I’m a busy girl, so chances are you’ve seen me tooling around on numerous occasions. It turns out that little bus is just one of 40 that are part of the TransVAC local transportation service. And on Sept. 26, I had the pleasure of being honored as their 3 millionth rider. I’ve never considered myself a big winner. Aside from a “Best Reporter” plaque from Northern Illinois University’s Northern Star and a few other academic awards, I’m a pretty average girl.
That is, until I got a call from TransVAC last week. They were putting together a little open house to celebrate their milestone. And they wanted me to be their 3 millionth rider. I was shocked. Were they really talking to the right person? Apparently, they were, so I soon found myself on one of those buses. My destination? The DeKalb Community Center. My family will tell you that I’ve been talking about this incessantly for the past week. The anticipation kept building as we rounded the corner. I could feel the tires gliding along the pavement. I was almost there. Here came my big debut. When I arrived, my picture was snapped as I got off the bus. I was glad to see such a good turnout, and everyone enjoyed an open house of food and socializing.
During the ceremony, Tom Zucker, the executive director of Voluntary Action Center, which runs the TransVAC buses, said mobility is a right. And that’s when it hit me: This is more than a simple accolade. It struck me directly in the heart, and I couldn’t help but see the defining moment in the honor. What does it mean to be the 3-millionth rider? Why was it stirring such strong emotions in me? I was born with Freeman-Sheldon Syndrome, a genetically inherited bone and muscular disorder. The ’80s were a blur of doctors in sleek white lab coats and hospitals that had sterile walls to match. I had 26 surgeries by the time I was 15, so I didn’t have the typical childhood of carefree days swinging from the monkey bars or selling cool lemonade in the summer. My disability afforded me a certain dependency on my parents. They were my lifeline, and I’m so grateful for them. They were always there, and they gave me the best childhood I could ask for. I was a happy little red-haired girl thanks to them. During my childhood, I didn’t think twice about being dependent on anyone, let alone my parents.
But then after my father died, I noticed a shift. I saw my peers going off on their own, living their independent lives, and I found myself yearning for that too. It wasn’t that I had big dreams of running off on my own to Los Angeles or some obscure place. My goals were smaller, but they were still very important to me. I wanted to gain that life experience I missed out on during my “hospital years,” that day-to-day living that shaped my peers into the adults they are today. The bells of adulthood were chiming, and I wasn’t about to let a little disability stop me from living. Enter those little red and white buses. They’re small but mighty, just like me. I started using them a few years ago, and my life has grown by leaps and bounds ever since. It’s almost like a whole new world has opened up to me – a world that I could finally control. With a simple phone call to schedule a ride, I could live life at my own pace. I found myself breaking through those tough barriers my disability had created, and for the first time, I could run free – metaphorically, of course. I had tasted freedom’s sweet honey, and I was hooked. For me, freedom never tasted so good or sounded so melodious.
From that first ride, I’ve gone all over the place, from the library to restaurants to the post office. Most people never think twice about doing their weekly grocery shopping. In fact, most people dread it – long lines, hoards of people pushing and shoving, and little kiddies running around. I crave these shopping trips, and they’ve become a monthly ritual for me. There’s so much more to the outings than battling the unruly crowds. I enjoy the quiet atmosphere of Barnes & Noble as I browse through every single row of the magazine section. Then I meander my way through the aisles of Target, with its shiny floor and classic Target smell. The most rewarding part is that I do it all on my own. I didn’t have to have my mother drive me there – and I also don’t have her yelling at me to hurry up! With each new trip, I’m feeling my independent self blossom.
Little by little, I’m growing into the adult I want to be. Granted, it’s taken me a bit longer than my peers. But the point is, it’s happening. For the first time, I feel like I’m living. The only downside is that I’ve now become my mother’s personal shopper. But she was the one who gave me the strict instructions to never let my disability define me (thanks, mom), so I’m thrilled that I can do this for her. And if you ever see one of those buses go by, look for a little red-haired girl in the window. It probably will be me.