FIRST, let’s acknowledge that the HandyDART is a wonderful invention and, for many, an absolute lifeline.
Then, let’s admit that given our druthers, few of us would choose to be in need of this door-to-door “shared-ride” service.
From the time we’re born our desire for independence grows, and the older we get, the more we prefer to take charge of our own transportation. If we don’t become drivers or car-owners, we learn how to ride a bike, take the bus, order a cab, or guilt trip friends and relations into ferrying us to and fro. And then there’s the “short bus,” which is designed for physically or cognitively challenged folks who need extra help completing the basic task of getting around. It’s not something that one aspires to ride, but thank goodness it’s there for those who need it.
That was my fate a few years ago after I’d undergone brain surgery. I was enrolled in rehab at Lions Gate Hospital to deal with confusion, memory issues, visual impairment, word-finding challenges and related stress. The hospital is only a half hour’s walk from my house, but it was winter and I was still recovering, so I was kindly informed that transportation by HandyDART would be arranged for me.
I already had plenty of fear of the unknown. Would my condition improve? Would I be able to resume my so-called career? Would I always find it hard to retrieve such basic words as “shelf” from my dented coconut? Suddenly, at 50, I couldn’t be trusted to get from one place to another by myself, and that would be clear to the entire neighbourhood the second the blue, white and yellow bus pulled into our driveway to pick me up.
At first I was deeply embarrassed. But then I realized it was time to give my wounded head a shake. “Never mind,” I told myself. “The other people on the HandyDART are in the same boat. You could make a new friend. Just give your companions a big smile when you get on. Maybe there’s rock’n roll tour-bus-style camaraderie! Road trip!”
At the appointed hour, my first HandyDART arrived. I traipsed from my stoop to the mini-bus, said hello to the pleasant driver, and turned to face my new buddies with a cheerful “Good morning!”
Answer came there none. There was a handful of people on this particular bus, none of them capable of speech, due to being severely disabled. Chastened, I sat down and, like them, passed the entire ride in silence.
Occasionally there would be a chattier type on the bus. I remember one out-going woman with MS. But mostly my fellow passengers were deeply in need of the HandyDART, sometimes to get to and from an Alzheimer’s care centre. Often the driver had to help passengers in and out of the vehicle, sometimes in their wheelchairs, and push them to the door. So I quickly realized that I was one of the lucky ones. I could enter and exit the bus without assistance, and, in my own mind, at least, my prognosis was for a steady recovery.
One day it was particularly snowy. I was glad not to have to trudge along icy streets after my rehab appointment, but the bus ride seemed endless because of weather-related detours. By the time we reached a narrow side street and found ourselves stuck, the only remaining passengers were me and a man with Alzheimer’s who, though I’d shared a ride with him several times, never spoke a word.
I had to hand it to the people who lived in the neighbourhood. While the driver called headquarters and tried to figure out the best tactic to solve the problem, several men came over and began digging and pushing to extricate us.
It dawned on me then that I didn’t really have an excuse for remaining on the bus. I wouldn’t have been any good at helping – I have no physical strength and, pre- or post-brain surgery, I’ve never been seen as any sort of “strategist” – but I could have shown at least a modicum of resourcefulness. I should have helped because, unlike my companion, I could have helped.
I finally concluded, however, that if there’s one clear advantage to riding on the HandyDART, it’s that nobody expects you to pitch in. So I sat on the bus with my silent friend and waited for the nice strangers to bail us out.
I wasn’t completely passive, though. It might have been on that ride that I came up with the prank I pulled on my son a few trips later. While waiting for the HandyDART to retrieve me from LGH, I called young Bart, then in Grade 10, on his cell-phone at Sutherland.
“Hi, hon,” I said when he answered. “I’m on the HandyDART and we’re right by the school. Would you like us to swing by and pick you up?”
Strangely enough, he turned me down.