Highlights of this lovely day!

Up betimes!

We set off in my (washed) trusty FMINISTmobile, in the unexpected sunshine, packing everything into the trunk carefully, stopped to gawk at the ocean, I enjoyed driving a lot, can’t remember everything we talked about but it was fun whatever it was, stopped at Bean Hollow beach and hunted pebbles (I hid in a cave) thinking it was using all my extra walking juice for SOME TIME. The drive was so beautiful! Everything very green from rain, lowering clouds off in the distance but sunny for us, sparkling ocean, enticing roadcuts, no traffic, just the open road. 2 hours later we got to Milo’s college and began to unpack the car. But wait….. my powerchair battery….. was definitely not in the car. Must have been still in the garage where we disassembled the chair! My heart sank but I quickly recalibrated my plans and expectations. Everyone just rolled with the changes of plan.

I could drive around to an illegal parking spot like a loading zone by Milo’s dorm, walk in and hang out in his room. My mom took the car back to a legal spot. We stayed there a while and then I stayed in bed there while everyone else went off for a tour of Stevenson College. No zooming around for me but the rest was nice.

We drove to lunch in town instead of going to Milo’s dining hall (since I could not get there without my wheelchair.) Saturn Cafe was awesome (brunch!) and just as nifty as I remembered from 1991 or so. Then drove Milo and Ada back up to campus and dropped them off, talking a mile a minute – they were going to Milo’s D&D game which Ada was going to join as Sloan the Black Thief (with his Hibernian Wind Flute).

We had a look at the Arboretum though I could not go far from the car. Basically I sat on a bench in the succulent area for a bit & then we drove through the parking lot slowly & had a look around. Then to the bed & breakfast place which was mercifully accessible and easy to get around in (1st floor, like 2 steps from car, small, lovely beds.) We crashed out a bit. Mom & I then had a small adventure driving out on the wharf to the end, got out to have a look at the ocean, and realized there were a zillion giant sea lions under us, orking loudly. So much fun! Dorky sea lions! Blorping around on a little pier ! What luck! We were grinning like fools as we photographed the sea lions & then got in the car to warm up. Slowly driving out… rain started up again…. then a GIANT RAINBOW was suddenly going all the way across the sky from the Boardwalk into the ocean. At the boardwalk it was a double rainbow for a while. More wild and enthusiastic photos! & back to our B&B which was just a few blocks away for another rest before dinner.

The kids cabbed to meet us. Some not so great luck, the restaurant I picked form the internet had an enormous freaking flight of stairs. OK I’m just going to do it because I’m hungry and I can’t walk anywhere else without going there in a cab! Fuuuuck! There was an elevator but to get to it i woudl have had to walk all the way around the block to the back, which I could not do. (cab???? lol …. omg…. ) So I grimly hobble up sideways. The guy at the top tells us that they had a party of 12 and then a party of 20 and were understaffed and it might be an hour before anything would come from the kitchen. I did not care at this point just give me a drink!!!! Hot whiskey arrived. They came back suddenly and said that it was all okay again and the kitchen was Producing and we could order food! Huzzah! Our luck (?) held.

The kids then showed up & regaled us with the story of their game. Dragon island, ruled by a tyrant, they’re hired as mercenaries to help rid the island of dragon problem. The players sounded hilarious and clever! Too much detail to repeat here though. Milo = Jack the Giantkiller, a gnome ranger. (Everyone was a giant to him.) A druid in a forest … a burning city… a redemption Paladin riding her elk up a cliff, etc.

At the ending battle Ada (aka Sloan the Black Thief) says I whip out my Hibernian Wind Flute (remember that?) to play a song to hearten the paladin (who is taunting the dragon) And Ada literally pulls a bright orange kazoo out of her jacket pocket & started playing The Final Countdown. The players all lose it at this brilliance. I think she also rolled a natural 20 (because of course.) Everyone except milo was surprised as hell.

At another point in the fight she decided to mock the dragon & played the sort of uh, whatever you call the clint eastwood theme from the good, the bad, and the ugly. Another point she healed the paladin by playing All Star. And when the DM looked up and said in shock that the dragon had 1 hp left (and it was charging at Milo) Ada played some sort of special dragon slayer theme from Skyrim which I wouldn’t recognized but the players did, and I think Milo also rolled a natural 20, then jumped inside the dragon’s mouth screaming I’m Jack the Giantkiller, how do you think I got my name! and killed the dragon by cutting his way out through his throat. The end! This sounds like an incredibly good game and it entertained us all the way through dinner. Milo is also in a weekly salsa and bachata class, and a hip hop class, and is taking discrete math, a 2nd calculus, and a data structures class. We will go hang out with him a little more in the morning — then back to the city. I hope my legs survive. it is more walking than I have done in a long time, I was surprised I could do it, and I will likely be feeling the extra pain for a bit but totally worth it. It has been working well to do slow ankle strengthening exercises (I had to give up trying to walk a block and back from the end of December, and do more strengthening, for example.) If I come out of this trip fairly OK then I will wait at least a week before trying anything walky again (like that 1 block plan) but maybe I’ll be ready? Unsure till it happens.

A small travel plan for the year

One of my plans for this year is to ride BART to every stop. I’ve always wanted to do this but have not felt energetic enough to do it! I’ll plan out my excursions beforehand, marking cafes with wifi and nice lunch spots near the stations if they exist. Then I can haul myself out there for an afternoon and work from a cafe, getting to know the entire Bay Area more intimately & scouting for future excursions!

BART map

It would be nice to do this with the ferry, too.

I’ll get VERY ridiculously excited about going to Antioch, or Union City! And I’ll report back with the results of my travels!

Do you examine places on maps and mark down spots you’d like to visit? I had a great virtual tour of Sicily’s north coast near Messina (Villa Terrafranca, Bauso, and Serro) where some of my ancestors lived, walking along the village streets and the waterfront in Street View.

Whenever I’m going to a new part of town just within San Francisco I have a look on the map as well, to mark anything that might be interesting and study the accessible MUNI stops & best routes to go there and back.

Like Des Esseintes’ journey sometimes this map-journey is all I get. The real journey never happens and I am reasonably content with the imaginary one! If it does, then the imaginary journey deepens the enjoyment of the real journey. I learned something about this from how, when I was a little kid in Detroit in the 70s, my dad would write away to parks and chambers of commerce, get back a lot of maps and brochures, and we’d learn stuff about the history and geology of a place before we went.

Along with this knowledge is a sort of errand geography, so that I have buckets of errands to be done and if I’m going to a particular place I’ll know “And while I’m there I should do everything that needs doing in a hardware store since there’s one right next to the BART stop”. Very handy when you don’t drive (much) and have limited energy.

Wine tasting

I have a vague memory of once being at a winery tour and maybe seeing some barrels and being in a big room drinking a glass of wine with a group of people but this may be completely imaginary. My sister took me today to Quixote Winery where we had an appointment for a wine tasting. I had no idea what to expect, maybe a tour of a cellar where I would not want to go down a million steps so would sit and read on my phone while a tour guide took other people around?

Instead it was just a very quirky interestingly built house and garden. As we went up the flagstone path to the weird looking house on top of a small hill we noticed & were commenting on the patterns of the paving stones which were set in rivery random looking designs, brick, stones, and I think maybe also tile. The building had a lot of tile mosaic bits – outside and inside – and a gold leaf covered tower like a minaret. I kept muttering “quirky Alhambra” to myself….

We sat in front of a fireplace and this lady explained about 5 or 6 kinds of wine to us as we tasted them. Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Syrah. We were there basically because my sister has a book about the architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. I gathered the building has no right angles. Even the bathroom was really beautiful and had a sort of tile path across the walls, over the doorways, hard to describe. And, fat, chunky, bulbous columns in somewhat Minoan colors, orange and turquoise and gold and purple. Tiles or other elements were cracked and re-assembled or seem like they are flowing into one another. I like this guy’s aesthetic. The building fit the hillside, it fit the idea of California, it fit “Quixote” in a particular way, and it made me feel happy, dynamic, sort of mind-explody in a good way, comfortable (the movement and chaos feeling very homey, like how I think). Laura talked about how even when you have a strong vision (like this) of how you want something to be it is very hard to get it across to others and to get them to actually do it or to accept your vision to the degree that it takes to overcome the various tendencies to do it the way you (the other people) want (like the clients) or how it is easiest or most convenient (for you the workers digging holes and laying tiles and cement and so on) and about the ways sexism plays into that dynamic.

hall and column of winery

We sat in the patio for a while for Laura to sketch. I was taking notes for my text adventure game and then just gazing around to appreciate things, looking at the gold and green hillsides and the distant cliffs (Stag’s Leap… part of the terroir or the viticultural district. I had just been reading in my Roadside Geology book about how dark volcanic soils and oceanic crust soil makes for good and complicated red wines. Pretty cool! While I’m not sure I really know one kind of wine from another, everything we had there tasted interesting, complex, and delicious. 15 minutes and Laura had made a super cute sketch. She will probably do more from photos later.

laura sketching

watercolor sketch

Somehow all day she was asking me phrases in Spanish which will help her communicate with her landscape crew (she is a landscape designer/architect) so it was stuff like I’m not ready to plant these yet, Put them over here, No, over there, I’m still thinking about it, The tall ones go here, the short ones in front, How are you, How is your family, I’m sorry, Excuse me, I had a nice weekend how about you, and a lot of variations on Fuck these fucking fucked up plants, because everyone needs to be able to swear to express their personality properly.

liz in front of mosaic wall

Flaneur time

Loafing around. Swimming. More swimming. Scootering around. More writing (notes for the text adventure I’m writing with Milo) and gossiping with Laura. Playing Ingress and Pokémon around the resort.

Mud bath in the spa (a strange sequence: shower, mud bath for 15 minutes, then another soaking bath that was mildly sulfurous, with a little wooden ledge to rest your glass of cucumber water on), then, clutching our faceclothes wrapped around an ice cube (?) into a steam room with the MOST amazing gurgling noises which must be the 1882 steampunk plumbing straight up from the geyser) then we were sort of tucked into bunks like burritos with towels carefully folded around us and cucumbers on our eyes. There should have been a step where we got to scrub ourselves in the mud bath since we were floating in a sludge of almost uncomfortably hot ash and pumice.

In the mud bath I pretended to be gradually waking up from a thousand year sleep, floating peacefully in low gravity in my nutrient slurry stasis chamber, about to step off onto a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. Also, a Roman empress (alternating, though, I should really have combined the two.)

I also bought some boutiquey stuff in “downtown” Calistoga. Now the proud owner of a metallic gold vest with a lot of zippers on it, and a skirt with excellent pockets, printed with books and cats. This has been a nice mini vacation!

Petaluma, petrified forest, Calistoga hot springs

At a hot springs resort !

liz in bathing suit

My sister and I had a good leisurely trip up 101. Lunch in Petaluma – on our way to find a riverside cafe we were accosted suddenly by some really nice people with film equipment who asked if they could interview us about the women’s march. They’re organizing Petaluma’s first women’s march this coming January. I agreed (my sister did not) and they fussed with lighting and screens and sound for a bit, and then said something nice about how I marched with my kids and a disabled women’s contingent with huge banners at the Women’s March in 2017 in Oakland and it was not going to immediately fix anything politically but it is great for feeling solidarity, hope, and love which are all important for giving us strength to keep working to improve the current bad situation.

Somehow, I just thought it was hilarious that we were in a kind of deserted corner of Petaluma downtown and out I pop like a magical funny haired wheelchair gnome to do a reasonably competent off the cuff sound bite. But then I really needed to run off and find a bathroom and some food!

We noticed during lunch that across the river there was a strip mall with a Merle Norman makeup store. “Jesus! That still exists!?!” “Pretty much if you’re wearing that makeup you’re likely to be nearly dead.” I suddenly wondered who Merle Norman was. Wikipedia save me! But no. She’s not in there! The rest of the internets inform me how she started her business in the 1920s, blah blah blah. It was almost interesting… But not quite….Maybe if I read up a little more I could write Merle Norman’s wikipedia entry. But why?

Onward to a 3 story antique store in a giant old bank building complete with vault! It was amazing! I recommend it! I got a nifty chinese medicine chest sort of thing with tiny drawers. I’ve always wanted one! Need to translate the characters. One of the ladies in the bank vault elevator told me they have a ghost in the building. There was other gossip which I’ve forgotten already but I told another lady at the checkout (who told me a little of the history of my medicine cabinet) about a book I read where a girl goes to stay with her stern great aunt and there is a chest with dozens of tiny drawers each holding a different object, and when she opens the drawers and looks at the thing (like a pair of gloves or a locket) she is sucked back in time to different days and then realizes that the old timey girl she makes friends with is really her great aunt. I could be remembering the story wrong and I’ve never found this book again, but the point is it would be so cool to have a card catalog-ish cabinet and put things in the drawers…. Which I will soon do.

I read a little bit out of Roadside Geology of Northern California, about the Cotati Valley and the volcanic ash all over this area.

We stopped again at the Petrified Forest in the hills just west of Calistoga. The giant sequoia and redwood trees were blasted flat by a Mount-St-Helens-like explosion & covered with hundreds of feet of ash (I think several million years ago but am too lazy to look it up to check right now). We went on a loop trail up a steep hill. Model CI took it like a champion and I had a blast just being able to do that at all. We went backwards around the loop since I thought the end of the trail being paved looked easier for going uphill. Robert Louis Stevenson was here! I am his huge fan! Now I have to read his book The Silverado Squatters which is apparently set in this area and maybe mentions “Petrified Charlie” (?) There was a grotesque statue of Petrified Charlie and his burro. Also a lot of fire damage to the trees from last year’s wildfires but everything still very lovely, the buildings were saved (we learned later from the guy at the front desk) by the volunteer fire dept. coming heroically to fight the fire. The petrified trees were truly enormous, some of them half excavated from the hillside of cemented ash flow, with huge live oak trees growing through cracks in their petrified trunks. Satisfyingly, near the top of the hill as we went down, there was a sign (facing the other direction) that said “Suggested Wheelchair Turnaround. Thank you”. You can imagine how I got a huge kick out of this!

liz-turnaround-sign

The hot springs place is super nice, we had some free wine and cheese, unpacked, laid in the hammock out back of our room under some palm trees, then wandered around, had dinner at their restaurant, and went swimming. Perfectly clear night so we got to float around in the hot pool and look at the stars, just as I had hoped.

The people next to us in the restaurant seemed like they were dating. I wasn’t really noticing them much but when they got their food the lady in a fluffy white sweater was having halibut and she said with charming enthusiasm to her date, “Have you ever caught a halibut?” There was a sort of weird pause. “That’s a great question,” he said, in the tone of someone giving a talk who was asked something a bit unexpected and they need time to think of some sensible response. (I am not sure he really thought it was a great question. On the other hand, I enjoyed it.) “I can’t say I have.” “Well, they really put up a fight and then you just sort of spin them out [ed.: or some such fish talk – i’m a little hazy on the details]. Just like a flounder!” she said happily as if we all knew what it was like to catch a flounder even if we hadn’t been lucky enough to catch a halibut. “I’ll have to tell that to the boys,” said her hapless, square, not-knowing-things-about-flounders date. “Is it hot in here?” she later asked me. “Yeah it’s warm.” “I should just take my sweater off!” “Actually I already took mine off.” “Oooh! Well, I mean, I HAVE CLOTHES UNDER IT. THEY’RE CLOTHES! *charming laugh*” (she shimmied out of the fluffy angora sweater giving me a little eyebrow wiggle, which I returned.) I would totally fish with her.

My sister and I wrote lists of the things we did this year so that if we felt despairing and like we hadn’t done anything at some later point we’d be able to look at our retrospective of Things Done and feel comforted. They were good lists! I’ll write mine up soon!

The Future Is Fluid

Enjoying my visit to New York a lot already. This morning I had breakfast in our super nice hotel (Townhouse Inn). Tonight will be busy and I get tired easily, so I didn’t want to try to do anything big. I set off towards the nearest museum, which I knew nothing about – The Rubin Museum of Art, a few blocks away, picked out from Google Maps. It’s a museum dedicated to Himalayan arts and culture.

Along the way I browsed in a vintage jewelry store which had a lot of little wooden drawers full of stuff (like, a drawer for the 5 dollar tie pins, and 10, 15, and 20+ pins) There were drawers for brooches with people on them, animals, leaves, circle pins, birds…. I got a tie clip that is a very cute enameled bus from the 50s and something called a scarf clip that has morpho butterfly wings in the design that said it was from 1944. Anyway, I needed a clip because, all the way to the museum, I had to keep feeling at my neck to make sure my nice silk scarf didn’t fall off. Now the clip can make sure (or, I will lose a scarf AND a clip!)

At the museum I enjoyed the wrathful deities who represent wisdom and the small gold statues from the 13th-14th centuries especially the one of a historian and translator, Zhonnu Pel.

But I especially loved the the animations by Chitra Ganesh (The Scorpion Gesture), and The Road to Sanchi by Ghiora Aharoni. Of Ganesh’s animations I super loved the large glowing panel called Metropolis (must be in reference to the movie with Maria the robot) I watched it twice – get ready for the somewhat inaccurate/incomplete description from memory. It started out in sort of cosmic space/time in the stars with a Buddha and a writing (woman’s?) hand, some scrolls/books and a giant glowing flower and buildings which looked old (a monastery I think). More buildings arise in a mountain backdrop and then giant black feet stomp on everything so that the land and mountains fracture (I suppose many disasters including colonialism and invasions or diasporas) It is all a gorgeous technicolor neon collage. The giant feet are like Kali trampling and I also thought of the Monty Python foot. Felt that there were a lot of inter-references to stuff I missed but that didn’t lessen the impact – clearly more depth, but accessible to the ignorant. There is a rainbow, more buildings, an airplane, tall buildings and urban life appearing over and along with the older buildings and temples, then I think the 2nd buddha appears in a golden statue form, its face changes to a woman’s face (but I don’t know who specifically) and her body is like a cyborg goddess body which raises an arm and some sort of energy (weapon?) appears in her hand. It was gorgeous and apocalyptic and many-layered, with a relentless quality to the action. Loved it so much!!! Science fiction feminist visions are the best. My head exploded! I could have watched it 10 times! Thank you future historians of the (im)possible!

The other exhibit that really struck me was The Road to Sanchi by Ghiora Aharoni. It is a curving array of battered taxi meters in glass bell jars. The meter has a small strip of video screen playing and if you go around the back of each one there is a digital camera attached to the meter, playing the same video, full screen. Each one is a journey through busy crowded city streets (though in at least one, a more rural road) to a sacred place of various religions, in India and I think maybe Nepal.

I was pretty tired by this time so did not watch each of the 12 or so videos of the journey. I spent a fair amount of time with it though. My mind had already been floating through my own journey to new york from san francisco & through the street this morning on my scooter mingling with the crowds and enjoying the many layers of time of this city where on every block there are buildings in stages of dereliction and renewal built on geologic-feeling accretions of cement and tunnels and asphalt and pipes. Purple glass “light tunnel” windows inset into older bits of sidewalk. You can feel the infrastructure just seething.

Then, just before I got to the Road exhibit, I had sat at a desk by the elevator, where you can write a letter to a future museum visitor. On seeing that I realized that someone had handed me a letter from another visitor on my way in (I took it with thanks but assumed it was a sort of “please donate” brochure) So, I sat at the desk, got out the letter, and read it. Very sweet: “Dear Visitor, Don’t leave the museum without taking an idea that can impact how you live your life! Enjoy the wisdom of an ancient culture, whether you believe in religion or not. – Batya” Nice, as I am in fact not religious – only a poet. Maybe someone will enjoy the letter I left in the box.

So the idea in “The Road to Sanchi” of someone centering the pilgrimage (rather than a destination), through these multiple cameras/videos of specific places and times, but all playing at once, where I could wheel around their graceful arc (of time and space) made me very happy, feeling even more pleasantly catapulted in my awareness out of linear time and connected to many times and places. (Thinking of the artist’s, and by extension, everyone else’s, experiences of their lives). The somewhat chaotic street scenes, sense of not being in control (as a passenger not the driver) but in control as the viewer of art. And the battered, gritty, homey feeling of the iron taxi meters, of a place I have never been so they are not familiar to me, but from their being more or less the same made me feel they were familiar to others who are not me, another sensation/thought that is beautiful.

In a small library exhibit there were shelves of books on culture and history, travel journals, and science fiction, especially noticed the heavy amount of Octavia Butler’s books and then the book Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler (edited by Rebecca J. Holden & Nisi Shawl) just leaped out at me. I may have pulled it off the shelf to put it on top of the book stand display!

Notes on access: The museum is spread out through several floors with a small wheelchair lift to the main lobby and then a separate bank of elevators to 6 other floors. It was pretty accessible but larger powerchairs may have trouble with the somewhat narrow hallway to the bathroom (i.e. you could not turn around, and would have to back out of the bathroom and hall). There were a lot of free headsets with audio descriptions for some of the separate exhibits. The front doors were heavy but well balanced enough that I could (barely) open them but there were people in the lobby standing by to help. So all around, very accessible.

Now getting ready to meet friends for dinner and go out to the performance of Descent which I’m looking forward to quite a lot.

Trip to Whistler for Mozilla's work week

Our work week hasn’t started yet, but since I got to Whistler early I have had lots of adventures.

First the obligatory nostril-flaring over what it is like to travel with a wheelchair. As we started the trip to Vancouver I had an interesting experience with United Airlines as I tried to persuade them that it was OK for me to fold up my mobility scooter and put it into the overhead bin on the plane. Several gate agents and other people got involved telling me many reasons why this could not, should not, and never has or would happen:

* It would not fit
* It is illegal
* The United Airlines handbook says no
* The battery has to go into the cargo hold
* Electric wheelchairs must go in the cargo hold
* The scooter might fall out and people might be injured
* People need room for their luggage in the overhead bins
* Panic!!

The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 says,

Assistive devices do not count against any limit on the number of pieces of carry-on baggage. Wheelchairs and other assistive devices have priority for in-cabin storage space over other passengers’ items brought on board at the same airport, if the disabled passenger chooses to preboard.

In short I boarded the airplane, and my partner Danny folded up the scooter and put it in the overhead bin. Then, the pilot came out and told me that he could not allow my battery on board. One of the gate agents had told him that I have a wet cell battery (like a car battery). It is not… it is a lithium ion battery. In fact, airlines do not allow lithium batteries in the cargo hold! The pilot, nicely, did not demand proof it is a lithium battery. He believed me, and everyone backed down.

The reason I am stubborn about this is that I specially have a very portable, foldable electric wheelchair so that I can fold it up and take it with me. Two times in the past few years, I have had my mobility scooters break in the cargo hold of a plane. That made my traveling very difficult! The airlines never reimbursed me for the damage. Another reason is that the baggage handlers may lose the scooter, or bring it to the baggage pickup area rather than to the gate of the plane.

Onward to Whistler! We took a shuttle and I was pleasantly (and in a way, sadly) surprised that the shuttle liason, and the driver, both just treated me like any other human being. What a relief! It is not so hard! This experience is so rare for me that I am going to email the shuttle company to compliment them and their employees.

The driver, Ivan, took us through Vancouver, across a bridge that is a beautiful turquoise color with stone lions at its entrance, and through Stanley Park. I particularly noticed the tiny beautiful harbor or lagoon full of boats as we got off the bridge. Then, we went up Highway 99, or the Sea to Sky Highway, to Squamish and then Whistler.

Sea to sky highway

When I travel to new places I get very excited about the geology and history and all the geography! I love to read about it beforehand or during a trip.

The Sea to Sky Highway was improved in preparation for the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in 2010. Before it was rebuilt it was much twistier with more steeply graded hills and had many bottlenecks where the road was only 2 lanes. I believe it must also have been vulnerable to landslides or flooding or falling rocks in places. As part of this deal the road signs are bilingual in English and Squamish. I read a bit on the way about the ongoing work to revitalize the Squamish language.

The highway goes past Howe Sound, on your left driving up to Squamish. It is a fjord, created by retreated glaciers around 11,000 years ago. Take my geological knowledge with a grain of salt (or a cube of ice) but here is a basic narrative of the history. AT some point it was a shallow sea here but a quite muddy one, not one with much of a coral reef system, and the mountains were an archipelago of island volcanoes. So there are ocean floor sediments around, somewhat metamorphosed; a lot of shale.

There is a little cove near the beginning of the highway with some boats and tumble-down buildings, called Porteau Cove. Interesting history there. Then you will notice a giant building up the side of a hill, the Britannia Mining Museum. That was once the Britannia Mines, producing billions of dollars’ worth of copper, gold, and other metals. The entire hill behind the building is honeycombed with tunnels! While a lot of polluted groundwater has come out of this mine damaging the coast and the bay waters, it was recently plugged with concrete: the Millenium Plug, and that improved water quality a lot, so that shellfish, fish, and marine mammals are returning to the area. The creek also has trout and salmon returning. That’s encouraging!

Then you will see huge granite cliffs and Shannon Falls. The giant monolith made me think of El Capitan in Yosemite. And also of Enchanted Rock, a huge pink granite dome in central Texas. Granite weathers and erodes in very distinctive ways. Once you know them you can recognize a granite landform from far away! I haven’t had a chance to look close up at any rocks on this trip…. Anyway, there is a lot of granite and also basalt or some other igneous extrusive rock. Our shuttle driver told me that there is columnar basalt near by at a place called French Fry Hill.

The mountain is called Stawamus Chief Mountain. Squamish history tells us it was a longhouse turned to stone by the Transformer Brothers. I want to read more about that! Sounds like a good story! Rock climbers love this mountain.

There are some other good stories, I think one about two sisters turned to stone lions. Maybe that is why there are stone lions on the Vancouver bridge.

The rest of the drive brought us up into the snowy mountains! Whistler is only 2000 feet above sea level but the mountains around it are gorgeous!

The “village” where tourists stay is sort of a giant, upscale, outdoor shopping mall with fake streets in a dystopian labyrinth. It is very nice and pretty but it can also feel, well, weird and artificial! I have spent some time wandering around with maps, backtracking a lot when I come to dead ends and stairways. I am also playing Ingress (in the Resistance) so I have another geographical overlay on the map.

Whistler bridge lost lake

On Sunday I got some groceries and went down paved and then gravel trails to Lost Lake. It was about an hour long trip to get there. The lake was beautiful, cold, and full of people sunbathing, having picnics, and swimming. Lots of bikes and hikers. I ran out of battery (nearly), then realized that the lake is next to a parking lot. I got a taxi back to the Whistler Village hotel! Better for me anyway since the hour long scooter trip over gravel just about killed me (I took painkiller halfway there and then was just laid flat with pain anyway.) Too ambitious of an expedition, sadly. I had many thoughts about the things I enjoyed when I was younger (going down every trail, and the hardest trails, and swimming a lot) Now I can think of those memories, and I can look at beautiful things and also read all the information about an area which is enjoyable in a different way. This is just how life is and you will all come to it when you are old. I have this sneak preview…. at 46…. When I am actually old, I will have a lot of practice and will be really good at it. Have you thought about what kind of old person you would like to be, and how you will become that person?

Today I stayed closer to home just going out to Rebagliati Park. This was fabulous since it wasn’t far away, seriously 5 minutes away! It was very peaceful. I sat in a giant Adirondack chair in a flower garden overlooking the river and a covered bridge. Watching the clouds, butterflies, bees, birds, and a bear! And of course hacking the portals (Ingress again). How idyllic! I wish I had remembered to bring my binoculars. I have not found a shop in the Whistler Mall-Village that stocks binoculars. If I find some, I will buy them.

I also went through about 30 bugs tracked for Firefox 39, approved some for uplift, wontfixed others, emailed a lot of people for work, and started the RC build going. Releng was heroic in fixing some issues with the build infrastructure! But, we planned for coverage for all of us. Good planning! I was working Sunday and Monday while everyone else travelled to get here…. Because of our release schedule for Firefox it made good sense for me to get here early. It also helps that I am somewhat rested from the trip!

I went to the conference center, found the room that is the home base for the release management and other platform teams, and got help from a conference center setup guy to lay down blue tape on the floor of the room from the doorway to the back of the room. The tape marks off a corridor to be kept clear, not full of backpacks or people standing and talking in groups, so that everyone can freely get in and out of the room. I hope this works to make the space easy for me to get around in, in my wheelchair, and it will surely benefit other people as well.

Travel lane

At this work week I hope to learn more about what other teams are doing, any cool projects etc, especially in release engineering and in testing and automated tools and to catch up with the Bugzilla team too. And will be talking a bunch about the release process, how we plan and develop new Firefox features, and so on! Looking forward now to the reception and seeing everyone who I see so much online!

Accessibility at the beach in Tulum and Akumal

I just got back from a fabulous vacation in Quintana Roo. We stayed in Tulum, in a small, funky, beachfront hotel zone, and then in Akumal. There is a lot to say about the trip but first of all, here are my notes on access, since that’s what I was looking for when I was planning the trip. This will be a Very Long Post!

My hopes were for warm water, beach access to calm water for easy snorkeling, small hotel right on the beach, and some scope for scooting around that wasn’t just in a single hotel. Both hotels I contacted in Tulum and Akumal were happy to explain the accessibility. Neither hotel was completely wheelchair accessible; what I wanted was just reasonable possibility that I could walk a few steps and be on the beach, and also that I should be able to leave the hotel on my own with a wheelchair or scooter. Akumal was my main goal, because I read online on some forums that a wheelchair user lives and works there and that the town has some curb cuts and ramps to accommodate them. That sounded promising!

For the flight to Cancun and back to San Francisco, United flight attendants let me put my TravelScoot (disassembled, not in a bag) in overhead bins. My partner and son took care of that. Without help, I would most likely have had to check the scooter at the gate. It was so nice to know that my scooter was going to be OK, not break or freeze in the cargo hold or be lost and was under my control. What a huge relief!!

(I do not know how anyone uses the TravelScoot duffel bag. I tried it… once… in my garage. It was like trying to stuff a floppy-jointed tyrannosaurus skeleton into a sausage casing. Not gonna happen, ever!)

Cancun airport was nicely accessible. It was extremely easy to get cabs. I had booked a shuttle ride beforehand with DiscoveryMundo. They were just outside the terminal building exit with a sign for me in a crowd of other drivers. It was a giant van we could have fit 10 people into, and probably twice as expensive as it had to be. I will just get a regular taxi when I go back. I appreciated having things arranged, though, and our driver Julian was extremely nice.

Our small Tulum hotel, Piedra Escondida, had about 10 feet of deep sand in the walkway up to the main entrance and lobby. Danny had to carry it and I walked with my cane. Once I was in the lobby, access to the indoor restaurant was flat but there was a step to get outside or to the registration area. We had to get across another 100 feet or so of sand to get to our little beach cottage, which had a tile paved porch and another small step to get into the room. I was able to bring my scooter inside and charge it with no problem. Our cottage (#6) was nicely positioned for me to get across short, maybe 10 foot stretch of deep sand to a grassy area I could more or less scoot over to the street out a back gate. It was rough but I could do it on my own (just barely).

porch with hammock and beach

This hotel would be reasonable for someone who, like me, can walk a little bit. And only for the most daring of manual chair or TravelScoot users or someone who does not mind getting help across the pockets of deep sand. The porch was nice enough, with a hammock, two adirondack chairs and a view of the beach and ocean and coconut trees, that I would not have minded staying on the porch quite a lot, which is what I did! The lobby was nice to hang out in, shady and relaxing. There was wireless, at least from the restaurant and lobby, and we could also get wireless pretty well from the porch but not the room. The bathroom was not wheelchair accessible and there was a shower with no bath. A nice shower though! The running water is all salt water. You get bottled water from the hotel or the mini mart to drink and brush your teeth with.

The restaurant for the hotel was good, a bit expensive, but very nice food, lovely people, right on the beach and outside, with wind screens up.

There was a constant warm breeze, more intense at night, which seems normal for this part of the coast for April. I am always cold where I live in San Francisco, despite wooly socks and long underwear. It was nice to hang out all day long in nothing but a bathing suit and sun dress or skirt.

liz in sundress at beach

My forays into the street were fun but of fairly limited scope. There was a short stretch of hotels, restaurants, small shops with textiles and beach towels and souvenirs, and a very nice minimart. I bought a rainbow flowered iipil (the kind of pretty white embroidered thing that in Texas, if dress length, was colloquially called “a Mexican dress”) and some flip flops in the kiosk next to the minimart. There were ATMs and a couple of kiosks where you could book tours or get advice, maps, and so on. They were both helpful. There was a very short and not very well ramped stretch of sidewalk in front of two restaurants but other than that I was scooting in the street along with a lot of bicycles and some cars and trucks. It was easy to get a taxi any time of day or night. South of our tiny strip of businesses and beach and tall trees, there was a rocky sea wall or pile of riprap along the little road, no trees, hot and dusty. I did not go past this sunny stretch of road to the main beach of Tulum’s hotel zone where I think there are a LOT more small boutiquey hotels including some gay nude ones and a lot of people who do yoga and more restaurants. None of the hotels in the “north” bit of the hotel zone, where I was, had good access to the street for a wheelchair user, but again, they all seemed vaguely doable for someone who can either walk a tiny bit or who can power through some gravel in a manual chair.

I walked onto the beach I think three times. It was a little bit steep for this to be easy for me. In short it was difficult. The water was rough. I am a skilled swimmer still (if not strong any more) and very good in ocean waves from a lifetime of enjoying bodysurfing and boogie boarding. But the deal breaker for me was uneven footing and shifting sand underfoot and also, rocks. I had short dips into the water but could not swim around as I would have liked. It was still relaxing and awesome to be there. There were iguanas! I also spent a lot of time watching the magnificent frigatebirds and brown pelicans glide overhead. Danny practices his ukelele a lot, and we all read constantly on our Kindles.

Tulum Pueblo itself looked interesting. It was maybe a half hour (or a bit more) walk away from our hotel, with a very nice sidewalk and bus stops along the way. I did not get to explore the town. Many people in the Hotel Zone (or, as I thought of it, the Gringo Zoo) rented bikes to get to the town and its reportedly great restaurants. It was just too hot for me to want to go that far and a bit too much bother to get a taxi to town with the scooter. And so easy to eat at our hotel and the Mateo’s Gringolandia Grill or whatever it was, across the street (which was very nice, relaxing, had good food and live music; possible to get into without a step if you went through the gravel parking lot; with one step if you went from the tiny stretch of sidewalk).

We had two day trips out in taxis. One day we went to the Tulum archeological site, aka the ruins of Tulum. I read up on Tulum’s history, online and in several books, and was excited to go there because it was one of the places I had read about and seen in engravings a long time ago from my dad’s books by John L. Stephens with the engravings by Catherwood. (Alternate universe Liz, I think, would have hopped on the translating Mayan glyphs train at University of Texas in the 80s, when they were starting to make major progress. I had that dream!)

engraving of tulum ruins from 1844

I read Friar Diego de Landa’s “Yucatan: Before and After the Conquest” in the Dover edition with an interestingly socialist introduction from the 1930s. I have read the Michael Coe Maya book several times in the past but did not re-read. (I will do that now, though.) Other books — Tulum: Everything You Need To Know Before You Go To the Ruins, which I would say delivers well on its promise. It has some of the history of the area ancient & recent, including explanations of the recent development of the area. I really liked this book a lot, enough to want a paper copy of it. Another excellent book: Maya for Travelers and Students: A Guide to Language and Culture in Yucatan. I went through it and wrote out all the Mayan words and phrases, eventually making a set of flash cards as I hung out in the hammock gazing at the ocean. I may continue learning Mayan. More on the history of Tulum, and on language, later in another post. This is supposed to be about access!

So, the Tulum ruins. After a 10 minute ride we got dropped off by a taxi driver at a quiet entrance on the coastal road side of the ruins. From there we went down maybe a quarter mile or less of flat, not too gravelly, path. The entry ticket booth is accessible and so were the truly palatial bathrooms at the entrance. Past the ticket line you can get a coke in the gift shop provided that you can walk up a step, or can fly. There was a cool diorama just past the entry, then some hard limestone paths, a little gravel but not a problem, to the world’s scariest steepest ramps ever. I appreciated that there were ramps, as otherwise it would have been a lot of stairs. The TravelScoot took the steep, corrugated slope like a champion. As it only has one motor in the hub of the left wheel (one wheel drive) it helped, going up, to lean heavily to the left. If you cannot do this, or are in a manual chair without someone to push and you are not a Paralympic athlete, you will be toast. Toast!

Once up the scary-ass ramps there were some signs and then a flight of many steep stairs to the Cenote Tower. I did not try that. Instead I went through the Northwest Gate in Tulum’s walls. Much of the paths in the central area were pretty flat and lightly graveled with a hard limestone surface underneath. I think my butt is still bruised from this foray into Bumpy Road land. I went up to the beach view of the main “castle” building and the Temple of the Descending God but it was steep and gravely and lumpy and sandy. At some point I stubbornly plowed into deep sand, and Danny had to carry my scooter out while I hobbled (a scene we were to repeat several times over our week long trip as I am often imprudent). The beach was closed off since turtles nest there. There was no way I could go up the hill to the Castillo. Oh well! Plenty of other ruins to sweatily look at and Ingress portals to hack. Danny scouted the exit at the Southwest door, or gate, which had stairs. Beyond it were some more sand and stairs and a bridge and more stairs to the real exit. We opted to go back the way we came. I zoomed down the scary corrugated steep ramps past wide eyed other tourists poking each other and gasping out things about the lady with the “moto”.

So: Tulum ruins. Doable, barely, for a wheelchair user if you have a powerful motor, big tires, or are very strong, or have someone to push you who is quite strong and heatstroke-proof. There is not a lot of shade in the central ruins. There is a lot of cool stuff to see in the bits where the path isn’t hilly or sandy. It helps to have a guidebook or just look stuff up on your phone if you have a good data plan (which is what I did, as well as playing Ingress like a total fool). Without the background you might just be like, OK there are some big ruined buildings here, pretty cool. With some of the history I think it is much better. Tulum was a sort of trade port and was founded in a sort of Warring States period around 1200 AD. The walls were because of that situation persisting over hundreds of years, with nobility living within the walls and most people living all over the surrounding area.

From the exit there was a little (free) motorized open bus shaped like a train, not accessible. As usual, we climbed onto it and Danny and Milo carried my scooter up. No one objected. The train decanted us into a giant parking lot area with booths of crafts, textiles, onyx chess sets, coconuts, a Starbucks, and little restaurant-cafes. It also had a very tall, maybe 70 foot, metal pole with guys on it doing something ritual and very acrobatic and amazing to the sound of drums and flutes. They turned out to be Los Voladores de Papantla. I donated some money to the guy who explained it to me. My Spanish is rusty but was really not too bad, the whole trip, and I could communicate complicated things well — just a bit ungrammatically. Anyway, respect to the Voladores and their ritual. If you read through some info on them you will see some of their history and controversies like whether women are allowed to become Voladores (yes in some areas, no in others). I bought a black sundress with cut lace inserts to wear on the beach, a mayan calendar tshirt for Milo, bow and arrows set with stone tips for my stepdaughter and nephew, a small, gorgeously woven bag and a beach sarong thing with turtles on it, and god knows, I cannot remember what else, but I bought a hundred dollars worth of it. This artesanal courtyard / flea market/ parking lot was hot and there were some vendors with hustle all around; I cruised around saying hello but remaining non committal until I had looked at everything. As usual there were some sidewalks but also lots of areas with light gravel, bumpiness, or a step (like to get into the starbucks). I found it very pleasant sitting in a little cafe where the trains stop (no step!) drinking from a coconut and eating fish tacos with Milo and Danny. We hung out there feeling like insiders as we watched several cycles of the trains pull up at which all the cafe guys would pop out with coconuts to entice the thirsty tourists from the ruins. I picked that cafe because it was playing Celia Cruz oldies. The food was great and not expensive. I asked to eat the inside of the coconut expecting they would just break it open and I would scoop out the inside. Instead they brought me the insides already cut up in a giant martini glass with a lime and hot sauce. So delicious!!

We went the next day to Xel-Ha. Despite reading about it online I could not picture what it would be like. It is a giant eco-theme park which reminded me in size and scope and some of the trappings, of the San Diego Wildlife Park. It is huge! But not as constantly scripted feeling as, say, Sea World. I got a discounted entry for being disabled. Entry is expensive, about 90 bucks per person. But that is including food and drink and the snorkeling equipment rental. This whole park was nicely accessible in many ways and very well organized. Entrances to things were level. There were accessible lockers and bathrooms everywhere. The lady at the ticket booth gave me a really really nice access map of the park, with paths of level access, slightly difficult access (i.e. bumpy path) and really not gonna be accessible paths, marked in green, yellow, and red. So nice! It was like a dream map!

It took Milo and I a bit of time to figure out how things worked. We left Danny (not a swimmer) in one of the many palapa-shaded restaurants where he hung out (he later got a massage at the aromatherapy spa). There are various locker rooms in the park which are color coded. We picked the purple station. You check in with your wristband, pick up swim fins, a mask, and snorkel, and get a locker key with a color coded lanyard. We left most everything in the locker but I had a beach bag for towels and stuff. They also give you towels and I think a bag, if you ask. But I had them already. Lifejackets are at the water’s edge. The park stretches around a huge, shallow, calm lagoon, and all the way around, there are many places where you can get into the water, usually by a couple of steps with handrail. I did not check to see if and where the level water entrances were.

We got in the water in several places over the day. I preferred the areas nearer to the ocean, where the water was salty and clear. We saw a zillion fish including a barracuda (omg). I did not have to swim any distance at all to see fish and most of the time didn’t wear the fins (which kind of hurt my ankles) With a lifejacket I could float around and just watch fish go by. In the freshwater end of the lagoon the water was more murky, there were more fish, but also more floating weeds and you couldn’t always see the bottom, which I find irrationally scary. (Much of the time as we got in or out there were people having panic attacks on the steps, to be honest.) No one bothers you about anything, you are free to roam around, snorkel, get out, swim, whatever.

There are special photo spots set up throughout the park where you can push a button and your photos get taken automatically and I think uploaded to a usb drive which you take with you. I didn’t look at the details of how it worked. It seemed well thought out.

There were dolphin, manatee, and sting ray encounter areas which you had to pay extra for. If I went back, I would do the dolphin swim. There were a lot of buffet restaurants, stands where you could just grab a cup and quickly fill it up with soda, shops everywhere, bars, and shady seating areas, a “hammock jungle”, a giant playground (not accessible – it was over sand) with short slides into the lagoon and one of those wood and rope kiddie-habitrail systems up in the trees. There is a long path and also a shuttle bus to the head of the river mouth where you can float down into the lagoon in giant tubes.

Fun but very exhausting. The park is HUGE. We only saw maybe a quarter of its paths and things.

The next two days I laid on the porch in Tulum eating cookies from the Mini-Super Pipienza, writing out Mayan flash cards, looking at birds and the ocean and trees from my binoculars, and taking pain meds.

Onward to Akumal. Akumal was like 1000 times more awesome than Tulum for me. Our beach cottage was extremely nice, bigger than our actual house in San Francisco, had a kitchen, 2 bedrooms, a huge patio, a paved walkway that got me 3 steps from the beach and to another hard limestone walkway (the Akumal Trail). The cove is full of boats, people, the beach is also the public town beach, so is very lively. There were more birds. We had a little semi-private corner of the beach with lounge chairs, and interesting rocks to look at. The point had cannons from a Spanish shipwreck from the 1600s. It was very nice to wake up at 6am, make my own coffee and some toast, and scooter myself the 50 feet to the tiny beach. From the paved bath to the cottage, there was a single step…. there was a step inside the cottage as well. To get onto the beach there were 3 steps with handrails. The beach is nearly flat, and not wide, so from the steps (and the dry sand area – the tide doesn’t vary much) it was only maybe 20 feet to get into the water.

beach with pale blue water

From the path I could go on my scooter to the Centro Ecológico, many small shops and restaurants, dive shops for equipment rental, a whole other hotel (I didn’t go that far but it was clearly possible) and then out the little road, or on a public access path, to the Akumal beach archway (the “arco”). Outside the archway was my favorite haunt, the Super Chomak Minimart where the other wheelchair using lady in town supposedly worked, though I never did see her and I felt a little too shy to ask after her. You can buy staple groceries there like fruit, potatoes, bread, pastries, cookies, juice, butter, milk, and any sort of thing you would want for the beach including clothes. Sorry to go on about the corner store but I do love a corner store. The women who work there feed the stray cats (which are numerous and a bit mangy) and they are very nice.

Accessibility was not perfect, ramps steep or bumpy, paths a bit rocky. But navigable in a manual chair. I could have done the whole thing in my Quickie Ti (if I had a bit more stamina).

The path to the point, less than a city block away from our casita, had parts with deep sand. Danny carried my scooter across them and I hobbled. Then we went on a very bumpy rocky path around the point where there are tide pools. Tantalizing. I don’t have the stamina and should not have tried to go down this difficult, exhausting path just to see what was there! I am somewhat covered in bruises from the whole trip, I have to say.

The Lol-Ha restaurant was super nice. Part of it is a Thai restaurant and part is local cuisine. The access to the outdoor bit was very nearly flat but there was a tiny …. maybe inch and a half high …. bump into the restaurant. The indoor part had a steep ramp, too steep for me to get up on my own, I think. The food there was great. I also had very good fish at La Cueva del Pescador and nice but somewhat blander fare at the Turtle Bay Cafe, both wheel-able through some mildly gravelly paths. There were mariachis in the evening roaming about, including a group with an arpa who played joropos, which made me super happy.

The important thing was, I could get around the entire area without stalling out on gravel or sand!

With the scooter, also if I were more into sitting up and scooting around, I could have gotten across the highway into Akumal Pueblo itself, which is tiny but I think would be nice to have a look at. People recommended restaurants there but mentioned it is not particularly scenic.

Milo and I rented snorkeling equipment for 2 days. The water was calm, sand perfectly shallow and gently sloped, water clear. I really liked that we could just go in the water to snorkel any time with no fuss at all. We saw so many turtles! Fish! Sea urchins! Mostly green turtles, and one Hawksbill turtle.

This bit of Akumal beach has many tour groups coming through as well as being the public town beach (free to residents). So, people start arriving on buses around 10am and go into the water with guides in groups of 8 people. There is some limit on how many snorkeling groups they let into the water at once and I think a daily limit on the number total per day. It was a lot of people but it seemed well handled and there is an orientation video in the Centro Ecológico that explains the rules about not touching any coral and staying well back from the turtles.

I played with some local kids one day (mostly by giving them all the floaty rafts from the hotel) and had slightly wistful thoughts about how much I would like to really play, but it being better on all levels to stay back and just enjoy their lively energy and happiness. It was frustrating also not to get to snorkel as much as I would have liked, which would be ALL DAY. When I was a kid I would stay in the ocean for hours until my lips turned blue and my grandma would make me get out. I have nice memories of lying down in the warm sand and I still like to do that, just getting covered in sand and getting my face right up to it. I do not like to stop doing things when they’re fun and exciting, obviously. At Akumal I never felt cold at all (amazing) but even taking a ton of pain medication (for me, a ton, not really a lot on the big scale of things) I exhausted and hurt myself swimming around and trying to walk more than I should. With a longer stay I could swim short amounts several times a day and rest more with less excited (self imposed) pressure to scout around and “see everything”. So my plan is to try to go back there for a few weeks at a time, maybe this summer, work from there, and swim a lot. There was decently fast internet which seemed quite reliable. It would be ideal rehab for my ankles and general strength, if I managed the pacing correctly.

I noticed in driving through Playa del Carmen (a lively, large town south of Cancun) that a lot of the sidewalks had curb cuts. It would be fun to go there and cruise around.

One last problem I had was that snorkeling has the temptation, if not the requirement, to look ahead of you and my neck and upper back do not like to do that. I am too stiff to do it well. I got along ok by swimming a modified sidestroke, mostly floating in the life vest, or by going on my back, then flipping over to look straight down. My upper back and neck are still in bad pain from trying to do this.

No one gave me any hassle for the scooter or for having purple hair. Better than at home in San Francisco. Obviously people were eyeing me askance everywhere I went, but politeness or shyness prevailed. When I got to chatting at length with people I would explain: arthritis, pain, can walk a little. No one found that weird, prayed over me, acted like I was somehow too young to be disabled or wasn’t disabled enough or performing it correctly, or told me about the fish oil homeopathy their grandma’s friend does, or stuff like that, as I encounter almost daily…. People also were universally quick to explain the details of access or tell me good places to go that were relatively level. The dynamics of that very pleasant courtesy and thoughfulness may be also due to my being a rich tourist in a not very rich area that depends on tourism. I could not help but notice it though. Thank you nice people in Akumal and Tulum.

In general the whole trip was physically challenging for me (how not — I can barely do the laundry or get out of my house to get groceries in my own town!) and yet it all seems very possible now. I would feel confident going back on my own. My goal was to find a place where I can have a real vacation, not traveling by going to tech conferences or things for work, ie traveling while not only doing my regular job but also conference talks and attendance! I think that kind of travel is at least something I shouldn’t try to do for the next year or so. Or maybe ever or very rarely. Maybe that time has passed. I like traveling and I love conferences and the intensity of meeting tons of people quickly and also I love public speaking. But it has not gone well for me the last few years as my mobility is worse and pain levels through the roof. So, Real Vacation. What a concept!

Feel free to ask me questions about access in comments and I can try to answer! I hope this helps someone out when they are wondering what might be marginally accessible on the Quintana Roo coast.

Taxis who refuse wheelchairs

I enjoy coming to Portland and taking the awesomely accessible train from PDX airport to downtown, but I got in a little late for my conference dinner, so, figuring it would save time, I headed to the taxi dispatch line to get a cab. I was traveling by myself, with my manual Quickie Ti wheelchair and a backpack.

The taxis were about halfway up to the first taxi position, and the dispatcher motioned for me to get into the first one in line, a Union Cab. The driver shook his head at her, then at me as I asked him to open the trunk of the taxi. “I just need you to open the trunk, the wheelchair folds up and I will put it in.” He refused to take me as a passenger. The dispatcher was angry with him, but he ignored her and pulled up a few more feet, taking another passenger who arrived at the stand after me.

The second driver in line was in a Green Cab. He had a big white bushy beard and was wearing sunglasses and a large black floppy hat. He looked right into my eyes, shook his head, and waved his hand dismissively as I asked him to open the trunk of the taxi. The dispatcher also was unable to persuade him to open his doors or trunk. That guy pulled up and let someone else and their luggage into his cab.

The third driver was outraged at what he had just seen. He got out of the taxi, and helped me put my backpack into his trunk. I took apart my chair, which has quick release wheels like some bicycles, and folded down the seat back for us both to put the pieces into the trunk of the taxi. This driver asked the dispatcher from the airport taxi stand to report the first two drivers. I said that I would write down their information and report them. I got the cab companies and numbers, but not the license plates. As we pulled out of the airport, we actually caught up with the two cabs that had refused to take me as a passenger, so I was able to double check their cab numbers.

The nice driver was from Broadway Cab. He pointed out the phone number for the City of Portland complaint line, and was very supportive and helpful. He said that to his knowledge, the first two drivers have done this in the past because they think that wheelchairs will take too much time to deal with. Talking with him was so heartening, a good reminder that there are plain old decent human beings around who will treat me like a fellow person although we are strangers.

From my conversations with other cab drivers and bus drivers, there are other assumptions that they tend to make about wheelchair users or people who have a visible disability. Drivers may be angry at me before I even get into a cab or bus, because they are afraid I will take up their time, be unable to get in or out of the cab, may somehow injure myself and sue them, or whatever. If I try to hail a cab on the street, it usually doesn’t work. I have to ask someone else, even a total stranger, to hail the cab while I hide out of sight. This is part of why services like Uber and Lyft work well for me, while I’m lucky enough to be able to afford to use them. I can leave my house with my manual wheelchair, travel, and be confident that I won’t get stranded by bigotry.

As it was, I only had wait a few minutes for a nicer cab driver, and things turned out fine. However, I do get angry about cab drivers who won’t stop for me. The prejudice that I get isn’t going to get any easier for me as I get older, so I try to take the time now, while I have the energy (and the privilege) to report discriminatory behavior.

I just reported them through the City of Portland’s online complaint form and to the cab companies. The city emailed me back immediately to apologize and to let me know they were addressing the complaints. Both Green and Union took my phone complaint and said they would investigate and likely reprimand the drivers.

Since I benefit daily from the activism of people who hard core chained themselves to buses in the dead of winter in the 70s and 80s, I figure I can spare an hour to try to make sure that current ADA law is enforced. I also think of places like New York City where activists are fighting hard to get the city to make all taxis accessible to more wheelchair users.

Updates from the polar regions

It’s been a while! I went off to the 40th anniversary celebration of the Center of the Study of Women in Society at which a bunch of feminist science fiction writers and critics were nucleating around some of our fabulous luminaries. I hung out and talked with Timmi Duchamp, Andrea Hairston, Margaret McBride, Alexis Lothian, Joan Haran, Hiromi Goto, Larissa Lai, and said hello to Ursula LeGuin and Sally Miller Gearhart. So that was amazing. Day 1 of the conference was feminist activists and academics in general, not just science fiction writers. The University of Oregon has a lot of feminist sf writers’ letters and papers, and Margaret taught a Tiptree Award class for many years, so it’s collected a lot of mojo with the west coast WisCon-going folks. That will probably continue to build!

I live-twittered both days of the conference and then meant to write it all up, but I got ill just after getting home. Here are the (over 200) tweets, with lots of interesting links and people to follow, and occasional humor: http://storify.com/lizhenry/worlds-beyond-world

My mom visited, and bought me a huge amount of wooly underthings from REI. I was frustrated at my lack of physical stamina to go out and do fun things with her, which in retrospect was because I was already getting ill.

For the first two weeks of being sick I took my antibiotics and worked from home, going out very minimally, and after a day in the ER I am on different antibiotics and sicker. It is unclear if this is something antibiotics will help, or if it is related to my autoimmune issues (aka, arthritis with complications). I am in a lot of pain and have to stay lying down in bed, a situation I really don’t like but in which, fortunately, I have the entire Internet and a lot of books to entertain me and nice family and friends to help care for me. So, I’m both fine and not fine. Sitting up is painful. I am dizzy and can’t eat more than broth and a little rice so I’m not feeling strong. I fall asleep a lot. More tedious doctor appointments are to come. I try not to worry, though I am so far behind at work that it’s stressful to contemplate. Parenting and taking care of myself is also hard. I am crying a lot out of sheer exhaustion and also fear of whatever is going on which is uncertain. Oh well. Been there before! I remain cheerful on the whole.

On the up side, lying in bed is relatively good for my ankles. Maybe it will help them heal up better. I can’t prop the laptop on my stomach, so am mostly sideways as I type or read stuff on the computer.

During this, we launched a quick 10-day fundraiser for Double Union’s buildout, hitting our $5K goal in under an hour, and topping out at just over $15K. OMG, I love my feminist hackerspace. Look at our gorgeous little website: http://www.doubleunion.org/ We have 25 members already and aren’t even open yet. This week a lot of people who aren’t me will be ripping out the carpet and moving all our furniture in and out. Then we will be ready to build shelves and buy tools. Then we can open. YAY!!!

In the interstices of that I have listened to a lot of music (currently on a Serenata Guyanesa kick), played some Plants vs. Zombies 2, watched Milo play Myst, poked around on Wikipedia, and read quite a few books. Here is a partial list. Sometimes I can think and sometimes I am just spacing out. If I can focus and read then it’s mercifully distracting from pain.

* When Fox Is a Thousand by Larissa Lai
* In Darkest Light by Hiromi Goto
* Trophic Cascade (short prose poems by Hiromi Goto)
* The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
* We Are All Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
* Missing Links and Secret Histories: A Selection of Wikipedia Entries from Across the Known Multiverse ed. by L. Timmel Duchamp
* Gaia’s Toys by Rebecca Ore
* Great post by Skud, Why is it so difficult and expensive to make your own clothes (or have them made)?
* An entertaining close reading/critique of The Hunger Games
* Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (Ada’s book for school)
* Black Boy by Richard Wright (Milo’s book for school)
* the first and second Alanna books by Tamora Pierce (millionth time)
* Diaspora by Greg Egan (reread) (Thanks Taren!)
* Polar Journeys Ed. by Jon E Lewis, which Val brought me in a large stack of awesome books

The Polar Journeys book is 42 short excerpts from various explorations and voyages in the Arctic and Antarctica. I’ve read some of the sources on previous reading binges and am very fond of this sort of book in general (primary sources, misery and suffering, scurvy or starvation a plus) For example I have read and re-read various versions of Hakluyt’s voyages and all those Vilhjalmur Stefanson books and then when my ex went to the South Pole with his experiment I read every single Antarctica book I could find including the one about the International Geophysical Year by the guy who invented the idea of wind chill. Some of the great stories in the Polar Journeys book were ones I’ve never heard of. The story of the Arctic voyage of the dirigible Italia, the sad balloon expedition of Salomon Andrée, and the last days of George W. De Long were pretty great, especially from a warm bed under a down comfortor and a heating pad.

The best story so far has been George E. Tyson’s diary excerpts from the Polaris Expedition. His style is… like a regular person with some common sense, trying to figure out what the hell to do, instead of like a pompous observing scientist or wannabe heroic expedition leader. He and 18 others, including 2 women and their 5 children were adrift on an ice floe for six months. Since yesterday I’ve been obsessed with the details of this expedition and its background and all the people in it getting to the point of non-minor edits to Wikipedia, starting with Tookoolito and her husband Ebierbing. The expedition head, Captain Hall, died, very likely from being poisoned by another crew member. (Someone made a whole other expedition years later to dig up his body and test it for arsenic.) This guy Tyson, who had been a whaling captain, suspected that the remaining leader, Captain Budington, deliberately stranded him and the rest. It backfired on Budington who got stranded anyway with the 14 remaining crew members. ANYWAY. Tyson describes the total screwup that is their life on the ice over the Arctic winter. He blames the German crew for most of the mistakes. They would have died SO fast if the Inuit folks with them had not built them igloos and shot about 50 seals. And probably sewed them clothes too.

I could go on forever but my main two points are:

Tookoolito, Taqulittuq, or “Hannah” was a total badass. Her family had a long history of contact with whalers and voyagers. Her husband Ipiirviq (aka Ebierbing or Joe) and daughter were also pretty great. I will keep working on their articles. And make ones for the others who don’t have articles like Merkut (Suersaq aka Hans’s wife, who seems to have had 4 small children with her through all this!)
– Histories of Hall and Budington and the whole lot of them are often not very well researched. News articles, biographical dictionaries, and yes Wikipedia entries quote each other’s inaccuracies till I want to scream. Hall and Budington had voyaged together a bunch before. They appear to have been somewhat in conflict as to who was the best friend, benefactor, and exploiter of Tookoolito and Ebeierbing (and family). Even after they were dead I think something fishy is going on with many of the claims of who their patron was. It will likely not be possible to find a truth about this, but tracing the claims would be really fun. I have found sources to claim, as a minor example, that either Budington, Hall, or Ebierbing himself bought the Ebierbing family home in Connecticut. One interesting project here, which I invite any of you to take up and work on, is I think finding and digitizing Tookoolito’s letters from Nyack, NY to Mrs. Buddington in Groton. For one thing, the quotes from her letters don’t match with the register or grammar of how she is represented as speaking in English by Hall and other contemporaries. Anyway, most people interested in this seem stuck on the more flashy controversy of whether Charles Francis Hall was murdered or not, and if so, who did it. I am more interested in the story of the Inuit people and their families and the arcs of their lives and whatever they may have to say. I love tracing that “Puney” or Punna = Panik = Sylvia Grinnell Ebierbing = Iseeatpo or Isigaittuq. As always the fluidity of identity in names across language fascinates me. It is one of the little keys of subalternity (as I explored in my Wittig project and my anthology of Spanish American women poets). (Obviously… this interest or ability ties in to my interest in hoaxes and sockpuppets!)

Details of nearly everything about the people and the situation are also just lifted uncritically and unsourced. For instance the name of the guy who brought Tookoolito and Ebierbing as young teenagers (with some other kid) to England is listed in some sources as Thomas Bolby and in others as John Bowlby. That one shouldn’t be all that hard to straighten out from primary sources! Other screwups…. I can’t even count them. People are slobs, and truth is more elusive than you might think. The best writeups on this so far appear to be from Kenn Harper, whose clarity I appreciate. Thank god someone has some sense out there.

Once I finish these three books I’ll have a lot more Wikipedia editing to do. (Thank you Internet Archive!)
* Narrative of the North Polar Expedition, U.S. Ship Polaris, Captain Charles Francis Hall commanding (1876)
* Arctic experiences [microform] : containing Capt. George E. Tyson’s wonderful drift on the ice-floe : a history of the Polaris expedition, the cruise of the Tigress and rescue of the Polaris survivors : to which is added a general arctic chronology (1874) (READ THIS… it is AWESOME)
* Memoirs of Hans Hendrik