To be totally honest, this diary begins on the second day of my vacation. The first day, we left for the airport at five, got there, got on the plane, etc. After getting off the plane, getting our rental car, and getting to the hotel, and then getting dinner, it was almost four in the morning central time, and 2 in the morning Vegas time. So, after dinner we crashed. Some amusing things happened at the airport, so I will discuss those after I discuss the things that are on my mind right now. So, the events of this trip will not actually unfold in the correct order. Sorry but you’ll get over it.
I am going to talk about Penn & Teller, because months ago, I went to Penn & Teller’s website just because I think their show “BullShit!” on Showtime is the best show there is. Seriously! Aside from House, M.D., Bullshit is my favourite show. On their website, I discovered that they have their own theatre in Vegas. I decided that I MUST see Penn & Teller live. So J and I decided to go to Vegas, and the only thing I absolutely had to do was see P&T.
First of all, when we bought our tickets, we purchased them from this discount ticket stop – there are at least a dozen of them on the strip – and when we purchased them, we were told that we should go there early because of my wheelchair. We decided to walk there. This turned out to be Bad Idea #1. This is the only one so far really so I hope there are no Bad Idea #2 or #3 or anything. It was about 2 miles in the BLAZING HOT DEATH NEVADA DESERT ULTRA SUN, going East at about 3pm. So it was rather hot, plus we were walking along the highway. Oops. When we finally got there, we were really overheated and could not find a drinking fountain. We didn’t want to pay $3.00 (!!) for water. So we bitched to the nearest barkeep and he gave us some water.
We cooled off and hung around the casino for a few hours waiting for P&T. While we were there, J and I played roulette. The best way to play roulette is to be very specific about when you are going to cash out. I started with $20. I told myself I would stop playing at $0, or stop at $30. I got to $37 and stopped. Julian didn’t stop when he was ahead – oops. You might call this Bad Idea #2, but he didn’t lose that much, only like $60.
Anyhow, so time passed and it was 8.00. The doors opened and we handed the ticket guy our tickets. He informed us that the ticket booth had NOT sold us wheelchair tickets, but not to worry, he would give us better seats. So he gave us the best wheelchair seats in the house, just stage right and not too far from the front of the stage.
On the stage there was an envelope. There was a guy playing bass and a guy playing piano. The guy playing piano told everyone to go up and sign the envelope. So they did – but not me because there were stairs. While Julian was onstage signing, I noticed that the bass player was Penn. He was sort of hiding behind his own har and the shadow of the bass. Cute!
So on to the good part. After the show was over, we left the theatre to find Teller outside waiting. I shook his hand (very soft and nice delicate hand by the way) and told him “Thank you. Thank you for being an atheist, and your show was amazing”… I wheeled off because he didn’t seem to have a pen, but then turned back. I couldn’t just go like that. I rolled back and saw he had whipped out a Sharpe – perfect! I went up to him and asked if he would sign the back of my wheelchair. There were several “awes” from the crowd – I guess they thought it was cute that I had asked him to permanently mark my chair. I turned around and pointed where – right across the blue flames on the back So he kneeled down and signed it –as he did, Julian snapped a picture. He told me (in a very soft-spoken, velvety soft, incredibly sexy voice) that his signature was a little camouflaged but that you could still see it. Then he gave me a hug and I asked Julian to take another picture. Teller said, “Oh you want a formal one?” and then knelt down beside me, and gave me the single most awesome hug from a perfect stranger I have ever received, and then smiled the cutest smile ever. Julian took the second picture.
Teller is the cutest man alive.
Day #2 – Bad Idea #2
So, lots of things happened today, but mot notable is what I will talk about first, even though it happened nearly last. Why? Because it is on my mind so I want to write it down. I am going to write it down, despite the fact that it might annoy everyone because I am not going in the order in which the events unfolded.
First, I will inform you before we begin that my wheelchair and I are fine. Neither of us is damaged. That being said, today I got hit by a van.
We were making our way back to the Stratosphere hotel after about 8 hours of walking, wheeling, seeing a show and doing a few other things (which will be gone over later). We were tired and going at a good clip because we wanted to use the pool before it closed to relax a bit before going to the evening comedy show we had tickets for. For those of you who don’t know Vegas, it is the most obnoxious place you can ever visit in the entire world. Granted, I have not visited the entire world, but I think I am making a safe claim when I claim that Vegas is so obnoxious. The strip is literally miles and miles of mega ultra super crazy hotels. So we’re on our way back to the Stratosphere, watching as we get closer and closer and it slowly gets bigger and bigger. That little 125 story tall building with the massive hotel attached to it had not even begun to loom over us. We crossed street after street, sometimes with pedestrians and sometimes by ourselves. I will admit, this is where Bad Idea #2 begins. I am not really paying as much attention as I should when crossing streets, considering that in my wheelchair, I tower a massive four feet off the ground.
At a fairly small and boring intersection without any type of crossing signal, a van pulls up and stops as I am starting to cross. The driver looks at me. We make eye contact. He is a skinny dude. I start to roll, as I have a clear path across the street right in front of him. Julian decided to cross behind him.
One of the two of us had a Bad Idea. As I was crossing on front of the van, I sensed it coming towards me. I kept going. Then, it rolled forward and smacked right into my wheelchair.
The only thing I could think to do was to throw my hands on the hood of the van hard so they made a loud noise. My chair skidded. He kept moving and my chair kept sliding sideways. At this point I was afraid he might break my chair. I wasn’t really afraid that he would hurt me. I yelled out for him to stop, and then people started running towards me yelling at him. My chair careened sideways and I fell over, still strapped in by my lap belt. I have been using a chair long enough that my legs did not move, but one of them fell off the footrest.
So there I was sideways in the middle of the street, having been shoved there by a big white minivan. Julian came around back (I think he did anyway, I was looking at the van and at the ground) and some stranger came over and they righted me. While I was being righted, I grabbed my lost leg and stuck it back on the footrest. I sat there. I looked at my chair, first one blue Spinergy, and then the next. I finally looked up and saw the driver of the van out, apologizing, telling me he didn’t mean it, asking if I was okay, repeating that he didn’t mean it. I told him, “I know you didn’t mean it”. I pushed my chair and let it coast. It rolled straight. I pushed it again. It rolled straight. I checked the tires again. Checked the hand rims. Looked at the spokes. There is a pathetic scratch on the hand rim and on the rim where the chair skidded on the ground after it fell. There is a slight scratch on my leg. That’s it. I got hit by a van and knocked over, and nothing terrible happened. It may as well have been a rugby chair that hit me.
As we continued walking to the hotel, I gave the crowd a thumbs up.
Technically, this is day #3 because it is 12:08 am Vegas time, and 2:08 am central (St. Louis) time. But theoretically, I have not gone to sleep for the night so you might call this day two, depending on how you choose to define your days. For the sake of argument I will call this day #3, and if I happen to write in my Vegas Diary again before the next 24 hours has cycled, I will call that day #3.5 or something like that.
Even though at the moment I would like nothing more than to swoon about Teller and how amazing he is and how soft and sultry his voice is and how amazingly warm his magician’s hands are and how… oh yeah, I said I wouldn’t swoon.
Finally we reach the time where I have decided to talk about my flight up here. My brother drove J and I to the airport. He noticed the wheelchair in the back and noticed my leg brace, but my brother is pretty used to seeing medical things in my house and sometimes takes time out to join me in wheelchair jousting. The wheelchairs usually come out when he has his friends over, and my two rules are: don’t bang the chairs into each other and don’t hit my fridge. On the way up to the airport we listen to this Jazz singers rendition of some very familiar songs from my era of music. Things like Green Day and Nine Inch Nails. Very funny stuff I might add. We get to the airport and J gets out my chair. At this time my brother actually realizes what I am doing:
“Wait… you’re taking your wheelchair to Vegas?”
“What the fuck for?”
“The strip involves lots of walking.”
“Oooohhhh… Makes sense. Have fun!”
I wheel into the airport with my backpack on my shoulders. I have never worn a backpack while wheeling and it feels very restrictive because it pretty much pins me to the back of my chair. I wonder if this is a little like people with higher injuries feel, but of course I will never know. J has our two suitcases and a backpack himself. We check the bags, and J asks if we need to check the chair. We get told we have to check it at the gate. The bag carrier tells us to be at the gate early to get checked in.
We go through security. I have to remove my AFO and other shoe to place them in the little grey security bins. I remove my laptop from my bag and place it in the bin too. Then goes my backpack. The security officers take me to this special little section and the security lady explains to me that she is “going to have to do a quick swoop under my breasts and a quick swoop in my crouch [sic]” She feels me up very awkwardly and of course misses about five million places I could have stashed a bomb, or drugs, or knives, or guns, or… well you get the point. They don’t even notice the scary looking battery pack rigged up under the seat with the creepy wires and the switch which makes up my home-made bomb—I mean lighting system. We roll on by, me without my shoes on because I figure I can put them on later.
Since I don’t really need a chair and since I also have probably the wimpiest bladder on earth, I opt to forgo the aisle chair and walk to my seat while using the seat backs as support. It’s a good thing too because I have to pee several times. I take my cushion and side guards with me because I am not in the mood for those items to be lost.
The flight is basically uneventful. I sit in my cushion and read the first Harry Potter book. We stop for a layover but we don’t change planes, so we sort of wait for everyone to get out and the new people to get on. We have to move seats because for some reason we have different seats than on the first flight –go figure. They aren’t near each other either, but J and I have been together long enough that it isn’t the end of the world if we do not sit together on a 2 hour flight. I get to watch Shrek 3 on their fuzzy televisions.
We land and I wait for my chair. They let us move to fist class while we wait which is fine. It seems like it is taking forever. Finally they tell us the chair is here, and J goes out first. I hobble out second.
J has this very forlorn look on his face, and I immediately see why. The wheel is not on right. It is very cockeyed and at first I think I am fucked. J pulls on the wheel and the axle receiver tube is stuck in the axles and not attached to the chair anymore. Shit. I check it over. The wheel looks straight. The axle receiver comes off the axle with a bit of work, so at first I think it might be bent. Pissed, I sit right there just outside the airplane, reach into my Roho and extract my one hex wrench. I use it to undo the axle plate. I can hear the bolt that used to hold the axle receiver tube floating around inside the camber tube. I slide the axle of the chair on and off the axle tube a few times and it seems like maybe it isn’t bent. But there is still the matter of the very large bolt which used to hold the axle receiver on. I ask for an adjustable wrench. As I am waiting, I start putting the chair back together. They give me a wrench and I tighten the bolt back on the receiver tube. I put the chair together. I notice the battery pack for the lights is missing, but find it in the fold of the seat in a baggie.
About this time I glance up and notice something. The entire flight crew is standing there, watching me. There is the pilot, the flight attendants, and some other people wearing uniforms. I have been putting my chair together for about ten minutes and there they are, standing there watching. I put the wheels on and get in.
Thanks is all I can say, as at this point I am ready to get out of there. But I do stop to think about how amusing it is that I managed to get an audience because my chair was broken. I am just glad nothing terrible happened, though I have no clue as to how the bolt managed to come off inside of the camber tube.
On the way to the rental car place, we get to ride in one of those airport standing trams. These trams weave through underground tunnel in airports very quickly, and the only thing you have to keep from falling over is a handrail. It was fun. We rent out car and head to the hotel.
At the hotel, we get our keys, make sure the room is accessible, and then head up to our room. The keys don’t work, so after trying the keys several times, we head right back downstairs. As it turns out, someone made a mistake and gave us the wrong room information. The manager who fixes the problem is very nice and refunds our $25.00 resort fee. We go to our real room and yes, it is accessible.
At this point it is 4 am central time. We sleep for the nigh
The next day, we sleep until about eleven Vegas time. We get up, shower, apply clothing and sunscreen, and head out.
The first thing we do is try to find breakfast in our hotel. We pass about a million slot machine and then discovered that there was a mall in our hotel.
I will say that again. There. Was. A. Mall. In. Our. Hotel. Not just a small mall, but a decent sized one too! It even had a Lucky Jean’s store inside of it, but after I realized every pair of jeans was nearly a hundred dollars or more, I decided I didn’t need a pair of famous Lucky Jeans. In addition to the mall, our hotel has: several roller coasters at the top of the towers, two pools, one of which is huge, a full sized McDonalds, an oxygen bar, several other bars, and a comedy theatre.
Obnoxious! We head out and pass a giant rolling billboard with “BOOBS!” plastered on the side of it, a “Wedding Chapel and Internet hotspot”, a tattoo parlour, several Mexicans handing out little smut cards, and “The biggest Souvenir Shop in the World”.
We go into this shop, and J has to check his backpack at the door. My backpack gets ignored. Each time J has to check his bag, I don’t. No one suspects a girl in a wheelchair. The souvenirs are pretty typical, but I do end up with a cool blue obnoxious hat and the best magnets ever.
We literally walk past several miles of insane, obnoxious, casinos and shops. If you’ve never been to Vegas, you need to go once just to see the sheer insanity of the place. To be perfectly honest, once is probably enough though. It has been great so far but the only reason I might come back is to see Penn & Teller again or show it off to my friends. While at a mall, J gets convinced to sign up for a timeshare presentation. For a mere 2 hours of our time, we can get free tickets to a magic show and a comedy show. He thinks it is a good idea.
If you don’t know what a timeshare is, just google it. I informed J that the time share sales people will be very convincing, they will make it sound like an amazingly good idea, they will use fear tactics to scare you into buying, they will use shoddy math, and he will not do it. Period. No matter how good it sounds. Not gonna happen. We signed up to see the timeshare the next day.
Onward! This is where Bad Idea #1 occurs. While we are cooling off after bad idea #1 and waiting for Penn & Teller, we decide to play some roulette. I don’t trust slot machine roulette, so I have to play with real people and real balls, but they have this thing there called speed roulette, where you use a computer to make your bets instead of chips, but they still use a real roulette ball and spinner.
I have to transfer to the high seat which is fine. I plunk own $20.00
I know this has nothing to do with wheeling, but there is a certain way I play roulette I thought I might share. This is speed speed roulette. I start with $20.00. When I reach more than $30, I quit. No questions, no excuses. Or, if I reach $0, I quit. Funny thing is, I’ve always won this way. Sure I might only win $15 or so, but hey. I just play until I have a little and then I stop. I played until I had $37, and I quit. Simple as that. I probably only played for about five minutes, which is fine. J played for longer and he didn’t quit while he was ahead, and he lost $60. You stop as soon as you’re ahead because odds are you won’t stay there. That’s roulette from my little baby better’s eyes.
Time for Penn&Teller! This is where The Amazing Encounter with Teller occurs :woooooooooon:: After we see the show, we take the shuttle back to the strip so we do not have to walk all the way back by ourselves along the side of the highway a second time. After we get to the strip, we decide we’re not done yet, so we walk along the strip away from our hotel. We walk. We walk some more. We see many obnoxious hotels and other things like that.
One of the other notable things is that during the free magic show, we sat next to a lady and her husband who was in a scooter. The lady immediately began talking to me about why I was in a chair, what my level was, etc. Turns out her husband and daughter were both in a car accident and both sustained spinal cord injuries. So we talked shop a bit about chairs and access and how the carpeting in the casino’s is plus and therefore really irritating, especially on ramps. Whose idea was it to put carpet on a ramp anyway? Hello?
So in barely 48 hours time, I have had my chair broken, met and got hugged by one of my heroes, got hit by a van, sat through a timeshare, talked to a lady about wheeling, rode a bunch of lifts, elevators, escalators and stair free escalators, . What happens in Vegas gets written down HERE.
Right now we’ve just woken up and J is making plans to go to the Grand Canyon. We will also meet up with his friends. I probably won’t wheel too much at the Grand Canyon, only because we will probably want to go into the canyon itself and at that point it will be easier to abandon chair. I am sure I will miss it and I am sure this is cheating somehow. This is the point where the real users will blast me for being able to live in both worlds. It’s true. I can live in both worlds. It is both better than you think and worse than you think. I have found that rating how good you think your life is compared to another person is pretty much pointless anyway. There is simply no way you’ll ever really know how your life stacks up to someone else’s.
Today we’re going to try to see either Blue Man Group or Stomp Out Loud. We very honestly considered seeing You Know Who again for a second time. To me it would be worth it. But there are so many other shows out there. Sigh
Vegas has several of these rather odd stairless escalators. They take you from one level to the next, but they have no stairs. They also have big universal access symbols crossed out, with the words “No wheelchair access” on them in big letters. Fuck you! We went on them anyway. Some of them are pretty steep actually, so I can see why people in chairs should not use them. I used them anyway. So there. One of the stairless escalators went up, and then rounded a hill and went back down, which was kind of bizarre. I have not taken a picture of these things but hopefully I will get the chance to do that.
Oddly, I have only seen a few other people in ultralights on this trip out of the thousands of people who have passed me. I have seen far more rental scooters and hospital chairs. Staying in the same hotel as I is another guy in a Spazz. I will say this is the first time I have ever seen someone else in the same chair that I have. His has armrests, push handles, anti-tips, and a higher back than mine though. The other guy I saw was using a GPV Titanium.
Adam’s Birthday is tomorrow. When Adam reads this he will probably laugh, and that’s the point. Happy Birthday! I was going to order you something from the internets, but I have no internets! Then I thought about getting you a gift up here. I saw come cool shirts and pendants and stuff I thought you might like, except you don’t seem to wear jewelry much and a shirt isn’t that creative of a gift. I am sure you’d appreciate whatever because you’re cool like that.
The Real day 4
So Friday, we went to get tickets for Blue Man Group. The lady at the counter ended up selling us better tickets for a less expensive price. I say “less expensive” because even the cheapest tickets were $75, which is very expensive. But I will say it was worth it. the reason she sold me cheaper tickets is because we wanted to buy the cheaper tickets, but there are not ADA seats up there, and so she could not sell me a ticket at that price. So she gave me a better seat which was cool.
The seats for blue man group were on this balcony, so while the view was not the best, it wasn’t too bad either. Blue Man Group is amazing. What you see on TV is not the whole story. They are a mixture of comedy and music which ended in this case with about a million feet of paper towels being rolled over the audience. I believe the goal was to do some cool effects with strobe lights, and have the audience represent DNA. The paper towel rolls started in the very back and just kept rolling and rolling, while the audience pulled the towels forward in a single unbroken line of paper towelling and dumped them over the balcony. In the end, a mound of paper towels 100 feet long and 6 feet tall lay in the front row with the front row guests. It was bizarre and neat at the same time.
Afterwards, I shoved my way through the crowds (in crowds, people seem to like to trip over me) and made my way to the front where I got a hug from one of the members of Blue Man (one of the blue guys) and two of the band members. Julian took pics of both.
On Saturday, we went to the Grand Canyon. It was really neat to see the desert morph into prairie, and the prairie morph into tall pines. It reminded me of how people can change without their friends really realize it, or people can change without noticing themselves, and one day they wake up and realize how different they are. Usually we think of deserts and prairies and pine forest as being separate entities from each other, with clear borders between the two. But from the Hoover Dam to the Grand Canyon, it just isn’t like that. It sort of reminded me of evolution, too, and seems like a good way to explain to creationists how one thing can evolve into the other to suit the environment. The prairie does not make the clouds and rain, the rain makes the prairies.
When we first stopped in the town our hotel is in, I decided to wheel to the little Native American and western shops. I found them to be quite inaccessible, for even if they had a ramp (most did) most of them were cramped, with aisles too narrow for your average chair user. The people in this town seemed to stare more. I guess they don’t see chair users too often.
The Grand Canyon is majestic beyond words. Any attempt to frame, take pictures of, make paintings of, or put into words just doesn’t do it justice. It seems infinitely big. I am amazed and what several billion years will do to a planet. We hiked for about 2 hours down and it took 3 hours to get back up. Were we even CLOSE to the bottom? Hell no. Not at all.
The Ground Squirrels in the GC are weird. They will come right up to you and try to get in your back, and let you kinda pet them. It says not to pet but when a squirrel is sittin on your backpack right next to you, how can you NOT touch?
On the way back, we stopped at a steakhouse to eat. Nothing too special there. MY LEGS ARE SORE! And now I am finally back online!
Day 7, yes 7
So right now I am in the airport waiting for our flight, which is in a bout an hour. I am paranoid to check my chair because of the way it was manhandled the first time, so hopefully I can put it in the flight closet. It is horrible that people’s pieces of mobility equipment are just shoved in the belly of an aircraft along with $35 baby strollers. If I really, truly needed this chair and could not live without it, I would basically be putting my mobility in the hands of some assholes who are going to handle it so roughly they BEND a 1/2″ aluminium quick release axle. you really have to hit these things hard to do that. I wonder how they handle power chairs.
Yesterday was our last day in Vegas. We spent a lot of time at the Fry’s electronics’ store. If you don’t know what a Fry’s is, you’re missing out. Fry’s is like Best Buy + Radio Snack + steroids. It is the biggest electronics store I have ever, EVER seen. Like, people might need to send in search parties. there is a restaurant in the middle of the store. It is pretty big and yet doesn’t take up much room.
We also went to this chocolate factory which was boring. We went to the old strip and got toasty on free booze and shitty food. the old strip at night is spectacular. They have this dome type thing much like Union Station in St. Louis, but again, on steroids. There are about a bazillion lights up there and there are light shows every half hour which are just stupid cool.
Over the weekend we drove to the Grand Canyon. The Hoover Dam isn’t what I expected; I didn’t expect it to be in this chasm. The Grand Canyon is more amazing than I can put into words. We hiked for 2 hours down and weren’t anywhere near the bottom. then we hiked back up. I needed the wheelchair after this, I seriously could not walk, and my legs hurt so badly. But it was worth it.
So after we hiked the Grand Canyon, J’s friend Matt shared some life-altering brownies with me. They were so tasty!
::lets you think about that brownie comment a bit::
So I must say that everyone should go to Vegas at least once. “Over the top” does not even begin to describe how insane this place is.