Day 03 — Cambridge Landing

Well it’s day three of the trip and the team’s energy level is running a little low–we had a long drive today from Woodstock to Cambridge, Pete and Sam have already passed out, and I’m likely not far behind. So unlike the last two posts, this one is going to be relatively short (for reals this time, I promise).

We got up nice and early today to hit the road on time after reading the article about the March in the Woodstock Sentinel and reporting in to John Dubinsky at 98 The Beach. Oh! I almost forgot–if you’d like to hear live updates about the trip, tune into 98 The Beach on your FM Dial if you’re in the Port Elgin area OR listen online at: http://www.98thebeach.ca/

I will be checking in at 10:00am on:
May 15th
May 29th
June 3rd
June 12th
June 20th
June 23rd

So anyway, we hit the road around 10:30am and made incredible time. It was pretty overcast, although the rain held out for quite some time. The drive today did, however, provide several hilarious moments, most of which involved Sam (sorry Sam). The first happened just after turning onto County Road 4. Huge trucks were whizzing past us at some pretty incredible speeds, so much so they were actually pushing my chair almost off the road…it was like being hit by a baseball bat made of wind…or a wind made of baseball bats…I’m not even sure which. So anyway, after being wind-molested several times I told Sam to let me know when big trucks were coming so I could veer out of the way and brace for impact. Sure enough, Sam informs me moments later that a big one is coming barreling down the road. I grit my teeth, get ready for the onslaught and (insert memorable 300 quote here). Just as the truck is pulling into view, I look into the cab to see the truck driver taking a nice big look at Sam as he pases, including a second glance in the review mirror, finalized by the most comical “ooooh yeaaaa” facial expression I have ever seen in my entire life. It’s at this point that I begin to wonder if all those honks and waves on the first step of the trip were really about the March at all or if it was just Sam.

My suspicions were later confirmed as we were passing a crew working in a field and one of the workers ran out into the road to Sam’s van and gave her a donation. Oh well, I don’t even care if it’s all her doing anymore–she has become pretty profitable!

Shortly after leaving Drumbo, the skies opened up and I was forced to bust out the rain poncho.Jeff wrapped in a giant orange poncho Now, I’m not even going to bother trying to describe this to you, because only a picture can adequately depict how ridiculous I looked (which will be attached to the bottom of this post once Sam wakes up and tells me where her camera is). Anyway, I will simply say there was a giant robotic pumpkin flying around outside Woodstock this afternoon, causing most passing motorists to either stare at me with a look of utter confusion or simply burst out laughing. Pete thought I looked kind of like an over-sized road hockey ball and secretly wished hockey playing Giants would climb out from behind a hill and hammer-time me to Ottawa with one devastating slap-shot. Unfortunately, no giants arrived…only the snide jokes of Pete and Sam over the radio about my flaming orange poncho, which I was unable to defend against because my arms were bound beneath said flaming orange poncho. You’ve won this round Sam and Pete…but just remember who writes this blog you jerks!

I’d also like to give a huge shout out to the motorist who tore past us just outside of Drumbo, laying on his horn the whole way and pumping his fist in the air for a solid block and a half after passing us like he was front row at a Rod Stewart concert. This could have ONLY been better if he was also blasting “Panama” by Van Halen out the window of his car. Regrettably, no music was audible. Regardless, you sir, are an incredible human being. Thank you so much for existing.

The hilarity that was our Cambridge Marathon also had one incredibly touching moment. While driving through Drumbo, a big white utility van TORE past us, cut off Sam and flagged us down a block ahead. A gentleman and a lady got out of the van and explained that they had heard about us on the news and when they saw us pass their house, they just HAD to come out and meet us. As it turns out, their daughter now uses a wheelchair as a result of a car accident and they wanted to tell me how excited they were when they heard about what I am doing and that they completely understand why I’m making this trip and wish me the best of luck. It could have rained cats and dogs for the rest of the afternoon–nothing could have wiped the smile off my face after this moment.

It is for people like this that I have put my life on hold for this mission, people who have found themselves dealt a rotten hand in the game of life and feel like they are all alone in the struggle. Well, I am learning, step by step, kilometre by kilometre, that we are most certainly NOT alone in this struggle, the barriers to accessible transportation are being felt equally by all individuals across this province, regardless of age, sex, race or cree. That’s something really unique about the disabled community–it truly is a great unifier. Disability does not discriminate–it can affect us all, regardless of who we are or where we come from and once you get trapped in the tangled web of socially constructed barriers, like accessible transportation, you will be hamstrung in the exact same way as everyone else. It is from this foundation of sameness, of equal strife, that we can find the strength and the power to bridge the gap of understanding and push for the type of revolutionary change that we so desperately need in this province. By understanding how a devastating barrier like a lack of transportation can leave a population stranded, regardless of who they are, it is not outside the realm of understanding to see that perhaps the other could be true too–people of varying abilities and social backgrounds should have the same opportunity to transcend these obstacles through the support of our surrounding community…if we can be equal in suffering then why not equal in bliss as well?

Just a thought.

Anyway I promised to keep this short and the bathtub is looking MIGHTY tempting right now, so I’m going to end this here. Tomorrow morning we’re getting up bright and early to speak at Avenue Road Public School at 9:30am. I can’t wait to meet the kids and shower them in Mobilize March stickers and buttons (oh yes, we have merch!).

Also don’t forget if you are in the Cambridge area to come out on Friday morning, 11am at the City Hall, for a chance to hear me speak and talk to me afterwards.

Lots of love to Mom and Dad, don’t worry I’m staying dry and warm! A big hello to everyone back in London, I’m missing you guys and gals already! See you real soon, I promise!

– Jeff

Day 02 — Woodstock? More like Utopi-stock!

This morning began much like many of my mornings as a university student–being woken up by Pete because the alarm didn’t go off and franticly getting ready to make sure I didn’t miss my first appointment of the day. Despite this late waking, we made really good time getting to the Mayor’s office for our first meeting of the day (a whole 15 minutes early!), despite our bumbling alarm clock.

Going into this meeting I really didn’t know what to expect. Although I have been to Woodstock many-a-times in the past, I have only ever been here with my family for the annual women’s hockey tournament that my sister played in throughout her high school years. As a result, while I know a bit about the community I always had my parents accessible van with me and didn’t need to use accessible cabs or busses to get around, so I had no idea what type of system was currently operating in this community. Upon entering the Mayor’s office we were quickly brought into the Board Room and introduced to two members of the community’s Accessible Advisory Committee, who were about to tell us about accessibility in Woodstock when a young, and excited, journalist from Heart FM burst through the door.

Apparently Jeff Johnston, a reporter for Heart FM, had seen an article in the London Free Press about my March, checked out the website and discovered that not only was I in Woodstock, but I was meeting with the Mayor that very morning! So doing some quick thinking (and some crafty investigative journalism, I might add), he found out when we would be at City Hall and came running for an interview! It was a lot of fun and Mr. Johnston said he was going to pass on our information to some of his fellow journalists in Cambridge and Kitchener. Very Excting! If you’re reading this Jeff, thank you so much!

At this point, the Mayor of Woodstock arrived and it was showtime, and wow were we in for a show! I was absolutely blown away.

Here in little ol’ Woodstock, an oasis of sanity lost in a sea of nonsensical barrier-ridden communities, change is thick in the air. Not ONLY do they have 5 accessible cabs servicing a population of about 30,000, compared to the 9 cabs serving the 300,000 in London (not that we’re keeping count…), but these rides were even subsidized by the city! Holy Smokes! Mayor Harding, an educated, extremely friendly and well spoken man, literally tore the words directly out of my mouth at this meeting and made them way more sexy and exciting. The City of Woodstock has recently taken on an aggressive accessibility overhaul, bringing in more accessible cabs, more accessible busses and various other modifications around the city to ensure that it’s citizens with physical limitations have the same opportunity as everyone else. Asking the head of the Accessibility Advisory committee how receptive the city council has been to these requests, he shot us a big smile and answered “They haven’t said ‘No’ once!”

This meeting was like music to our ears. I’d love to say that Woodstock is a progressive community, but I don’t think that even begins to describe how incredible things are here. Mayor Harding explained how they found the Paratransit specialized transportation system to be confusing, problematic and generally useless, so they developed a “Para-taxi” service that allows riders to use regular cabs just like everyone else, except that the rides are subsidized so that they are paying the same as they would if they were riding the bus. This allows the riders tremendous flexibility without gouging them like certain organizations in Toronto. Furthermore, it provides benefits to the private industry that ensure they get riders, encouraging more cab drivers to invest in accessible cabs (which are also subsidized to be converted). The comprehension of the issues and the intuitive quick thinking of Woodstock City Council has brought about some pretty incredible results.

Now, I know this is beginning to sound a bit like a Woodstock infomercial (Come to Woodstock, the land of Stocked Wood! What? I don’t even know…it’s late and I have a long drive tomorrow…I’m amazed I’m even stringing sentences together at this point) and I swear I was more than a little skeptical of what I was hearing. It sounded suspiciously similar to what Western had told me before I arrived in my first year of university–”Oh yes, don’t worry Jeff, we have a fully functional accessible transportation system!” Ha. It took five years of working with the administrators of the University before setting up a truly “fully functional” system. Granted, we’ve got it done now, BUT it always sounds too good to be true when someone tells you it’s “fully functional.”

So, in honour of the guys at “Mythbusters,” we ran our own little experiment tonight to test this wondrous system the City spoke so highly of this morning. The plan was perfect–we would randomly call for an accessible cab ride shortly after dinner, around 7pm, without telling anyone about our little test and see how long it would take to be picked up and how long it would take to get to our destination. While I won’t give it ALL away (because you would have no need to watch our video blog entry this weekend!), but I will simply say that it went well and while the system is by no means “perfect,” it definitely appears to be fully functional and a DRAMATIC improvement over what I’ve seen in other communities around Ontario.

Well I’ve been babbling away for quite some time now and it’s starting to get kind of late. Ugh…it’s only 10pm and I’m getting tired…I’m turning into my parents…….this blog posting just got kind of depressing. Anyway, I should get off to bed soon, we’ve got a really long drive tomorrow to Cambridge and the weather report is looking questionable, at best, for tomorrow. If anyone who is reading this entry is driving along Drumbo Road between Woodstock and Cambridge tomorrow, feel free to give us a honk and a wave on your way by and please don’t splash me too much!

Thank you so much for a great time here, Woodstock, and I’ll see you soon real soon Cambridge!

– Jeff

Sam, Jeff and Pete in front of the big cow in Woodstock
Greetings from Woodstock

Day 01 — Such a short trip, so many stories!

Well the first stage of this journey is officially in the books! Around 4pm this afternoon I crested the final hill leading into Woodstock and had officially completed drive one of fourteen. While this was a welcome sight, there were some pretty memorable moments along the way out of London.

The morning started, bright and early, finalizing our packing and running to City Hall for our launch at 9:30am. We arrived (just in time…but not late! Perfect timing? Absolutely) and got everything set up just in time for the kids from Nancy Campbell Collegiate Institute to come strolling down the street. Everything went great with the launch, Harold Usher (Ward 12 Councilor) delivered a passionate speech about the rights of the disabled and our communities duty to provide equal access to transportation. After my speech I had a chance to meet with some of the crowd who showed up and discovered I was being seen off by friends, both old and new. Professor Blackmore and Professor Gryzb were both there to see me off, some of my fellow grad students, and even my very first Educational Assistant, who came in from Port Elgin, Mrs. Eby. Christina and Natalie made the trek as well, along with Natalie’s cousin, Caleigh. It was great seeing the dynamos from Hanover again–the launch wouldn’t have been complete without them along for the ride.

About an hour out of London, the monotony of the road was beginning to get to me–drive straight, drive straight, drive straight, drive on the shoulder to let people pass, drive straight, drive straight, drive on the shoulder, drive straight, drive on the shoulder, drive on the shoulder, drive on the shoulder…I was already going stir crazy and we had only just begun! I began wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into–why am I driving all the way to Ottawa? I drive myself out side, through all sorts of weather, all the time when I can’t get a ride…I don’t need a special reason to do it! It was from this wasteland of growing despair when fellow motorists started honking their horns and waving as they passed; especially motorcycle riders, they ALWAYS smiled and waved…they truly know what it means to take to the open road, sun on the skin and wind in the face, I suppose. Something so simple was such an INCREDIBLE boost to my confidence. I’ve known all along that this was important and it’s something I just have to do, but when I think of all the people who came out to see me off today, all the people with disabilities around this province stuck in the ridiculousness that is accessible transportation, and all the friendly motorists along the way who happily shared the road with me today, well I know that not only can I accomplish my goal to reach Ottawa, but we truly are on the cusp of something revolutionary. People seem to really understand the problem and empathize with our plight–they genuinely believe that we, the disabled, have the same right to access transportation just like everyone else. I think that’s really significant.

The ride only got easier and easier from that point on. The sun was feeling great and the breeze was just perfect–not too warm and not too cold. I even had a Llama (or perhaps it was an Emu? I’m not really an animal expert. It may have been a Giraffe…) running along side me from behind a fence! He was loving it, for sure!

We got into Woodstock without too many problems and Sam and Pete worked out a great system to keep us moving but try and reduce the traffic backup caused by my lack of rocket boosters. I have also developed a new appreciation for the lack of fields covered in manure in London…the only thing worst than walking home at 3am in November would be walking home at 3am in November beside a field covered in manure. It certainly stunk, but no worst than the accessible transportation system currently operating in Ontario (hiyoooo). I also discovered upon entering Woodstock that my trip through rural Ontario left me completely covered, from head to wheel, in a thin film of sediment–the first thing I did when we checked into the hotel was to jump in the shower and peel off the layer of farmland that I transported from London to Woodstock. There is a slight chance I could grow crops in the shower in my hotel room. Okay, that’s a total exaggeration, but the amount of dust was impressive!

This has been a really long post so I’m going to wrap it up shortly, but before I do I just wanted to share one more story. Moments after getting cleaned up we decided to go grab some food, but Sam wanted to go work out first (something about her getting in shape this trip? I don’t even know…is it bad that we’ve already started zoning each other out?) and I asked her if she wanted to just get food with us first and then go work out after. At this point, she gave me a confused look and started to say “Wait, have you never eaten before working out?!” at which point she remembered who she was talking to, Captain Unhealthy the 3rd, and retracted her statement. I think my favourite part about this question was that she actually nuanced it with the “eaten before” phrase, implying that I may have worked out so many times that I would need her to narrow the experience down a little bit.

Amazing. Maybe the first drive has made my muscles grow at an unbelievable rate!

Probably not.

…Definitely not.

Anyway, I should get going–we have an early meeting with the Mayor of Woodstock tomorrow before heading off to Cambridge on Wednesday. A heads up to anyone in Cambridge, we’re hosting a Rally at Cambridge City Hall at 11am on Friday, May 9th. Anyone who would like to meet me and chat about accessible transportation I encourage to come out and see me!

Talk to you soon,

– Jeff