This post continues the story begun in my previous post.
Our friends’ 40th anniversary was celebrated the next day at a restaurant about a 15-minute drive from our hotel. The event started at 11:00, giving us plenty of time to get washed and dressed in a different environment that required new adaptations. This time a handle with suction cups attached to the shower wall created accessibility.
We found a parking spot right in front of the restaurant and Priscilla went in with her walker. It was great to reconnect with the celebrating couple and with their family and friends, many of whom we also knew. For the next three hours we all shared toasts, memories, and good wishes while a multi-course dinner unfolded before us. Finally the couple said their goodbyes and left for the next event of their day, a birthday party for one of the family members. This allowed us to return to our hotel. We promptly fell asleep for the rest of afternoon, still weary from our travels. We hardly needed any supper after the feast we’d enjoyed, but the lounge down the hall was serving hors d’oeuvres that evening and we sampled a few of those. We were grateful to make it an early night.
It was a good thing we’d had the chance to rest and sleep, because we had big plans for the next day. It began with breakfast at the apartment of a couple we’d first met some fifteen years earlier when they were both college students attending the church we served in Massachusetts. Now, of course, they were “grown ups,” working in the city and living in Jackson Heights.
There were no parking spots available in front of their building, so I had to leave Priscilla at the door with her walker and go hunting. She asked a passer-by for help and he opened three doors for her and pointed out the tastefully disguised elevator entrance. As I circled the block, I began an appeal to God: “Now I’m sure you’ve got all the parking spots in this neighborhood . . .” And just then I came across an empty one, under a shade tree (a mercy in July), a short walk from the apartment.
After breakfast two more couples, one with three children, joined us. These were more people we’d first known when they were students at the same college. One of them led us in worship with his guitar. Then we all gave our latest news, and we prayed for one another. In light of what we shared, plans to go out to a nearby Peruvian restaurant for lunch were modified and a delegation went out to pick up the food instead. We wanted to have communion together and after a brief theological deliberation we decided it would be all right to do this with dessert. As the minister present, I officiated. I intoned, “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed—I say this respectfully—took pie . . .” We agreed that we had contextualized the observance.
We didn’t want to leave these dear friends, but we’d made arrangements with the anniversary couple to see the World Trade Center memorial with them, so we said a reluctant goodbye. The group all escorted Priscilla down to the street while I fetched the car.
We drove back to our hotel, where the couple was waiting for us. Priscilla got into their car while I put her walker in our trunk, pulled out the transport chair, turned our car over to the valets, put the wheelchair in our friends’ trunk, and got in next to her.
The memorial was probably the most handicapped-accessible place we saw all trip, both in terms of layout (ramps, etc.) and accommodations such as no-waiting admission. Still, we wouldn’t have been able to do the tour if we hadn’t thrown in the transport wheelchair at the last minute. And that would have been a real shame, because the memorial was such a moving and eloquent tribute to sacrifice and bravery. Our friends had lost several co-workers on 9/11 and seeing their names engraved on the monument was especially poignant.
Afterwards they took us to “grandmother’s house” in Brooklyn for dinner, a Sunday-night tradition for them. We were honored to be included. Some of the other family members who’d been at the party the day before also came, and this gave us a further opportunity to visit. Our hosts finally dropped us off at our hotel at the end of a long and happy day.
Now we just needed to make it back home. We left the next morning and once again stopped halfway, this time in a location chosen to make it possible to meet the following morning with a West Coast friend who was vacationing with her family nearby that same week. After a three-hour visit with her that still seemed too short, we headed out on the final leg of our trip.
We were sharing the driving, as we’d done on the outbound leg. Going through Cleveland we hit a slowdown and Priscilla, who was at the wheel, found it too demanding to keep alternating her right leg between gas and brake. She was especially concerned that her leg would give out on her when it needed to be holding the brake. So she pulled over, we switched places, and I drove the rest of the way home. This could be viewed as another milestone in disability, the moment when at least stop-and-go driving became inadvisable. But we preferred to look at it as an important safety consideration we’d become aware of without anyone being harmed.
We were very grateful to have gone on this adventure, seen so many sights, and visited with good friends, even though it had required constant adjustments and improvisations. Though we didn’t know for sure, we suspected (correctly) that this would be our last time traveling so far from home.