By Susan Clements
“Was that the bus to Augusta?” I asked a goateed man who looked like a veteran traveler. The tail end of a Concord Coach Lines shuttle was disappearing in a blue cloud as I stomped out to the ground transportation hub at Boston’s Logan Airport. I felt a wave of panic.
“That was the Manchester bus. You’ve still got a few minutes.”
I heaved a sigh of relief and clutched my boarding pass, craning to see each bus as it rounded the bend. This was the second leg of a trip to visit my sister at her new home in Oakland, Maine; my first attempt at solo travel after a long hiatus.
After three surgeries in two years, I was no longer the intrepid traveler I had once been. Older, slower, walking awkwardly with a cane, I had been nervous about taking this trip unaccompanied. “I think you’ve lost your self-confidence,” said Kay. “You really can do it, and it will be good for you.”
Getting to Oakland, in rural inland Maine, is not for sissies. A flight from Buffalo to Boston’s massive Logan Airport is followed by a three-hour bus ride with a change in Portland, then a half-hour in the car to my final destination. I was rather daunted by the prospect, but figured with good organization and preplanning, I would make it. The first step was getting from the gate at Logan to the bus pickup. I had arranged for a wheelchair. I can walk, but not far, and certainly not fast. A friendly escort awaited me as I debarked and wheeled me miles though the terminal.
When the right Concord Coach bus arrived, I hauled myself up the steps with some difficulty, and heaved myself into the front seat, which, I had learned, is reserved for passengers with disabilities. All was smooth sailing until I made the change in Portland, where “Mr. Chatty” decided to sit next to me, but that’s a typical travel irritation having nothing to do with my physical limitations.
Here’s what I’ve learned about traveling in my changed circumstances. Though it is difficult to relinquish the idea of being totally self-reliant, it’s okay to sometimes “rely on the kindness of strangers.” From the friendly wheelchair attendants, to the bus drivers lifting my bag and giving me a hand down the steps, to people in the security line at the airport waiting patiently as I fumbled with cane, ID, boarding pass and carry-on bag – people are generally quite nice.
I was a little nonplused by the woman who insisted on praying loudly over me and my hips as I headed for the security line. I hobbled along faster than usual trying to end that encounter.
I now always travel with a supply of $5 bills for tips, and give myself plenty of lead time. The airlines and bus companies do make generous accommodations, probably as a result of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It helps to be able to board planes first, and sit in the front of the bus.
At the end of that day’s journey, I breathed in the fresh, piney air on the deck overlooking a pond at my sister’s house. That night, I heard a loon calling in the distance. I was grateful for all the people who had helped me along the way, and for Kay, who encouraged me to try. I remembered the blind woman with a seeing-eye dog on the second bus, who managed with great aplomb, and I stopped feeling sorry for myself.
The trip home was long, but routine. My self-confidence restored, it had indeed been worth it.
Story topics: My View