By Andrea K. Hammer
If you want to experience the city from a new vantage point, try navigating the streets with an elderly person. When you accompany someone with mobility issues, be prepared for an eye opener every step of the way.
To help your loved one maintain balance, you need to watch for minefields ahead. Each broken paver in uneven sidewalks on every street presents a potential hazard, so you need to remain vigilant.
Steep curbs, with jagged edges, create equally dangerous pitfalls for perilous missteps.
High-Wire Act and Precarious Dismounts
If your loved one has low vision, the challenge of stepping off a curb literally becomes a high-wire act. As cars pull in and out of parking spots abruptly, attempting a safe dismount is increasingly precarious.
During a guarded effort to cross the street, you feel despair when lunch-hour hustlers bump obliviously into your mother. With determination, she focuses intently on taking careful steps, so she can remain upright. While trying to beat the light, it inevitably turns rapidly from green to red. When we’re in the middle of the road, she waves her cane to halt drivers, who nonetheless start to move their cars impatiently.
Wall Hugs and Dangerous Entryway Bumps
We finally land on the other side of the street and hug the wall to avoid whizzing passersby. A few actually do our spirits good when they pause to open a door. One kindly encourages my mom to take her time.
With a big smile, she half jokes: “I don’t have a choice!”
As we continue our excursion to her physical therapy session, we find an angled ramp with a dangerous bump before the entryway. Like many offices, this one has another surprising bonus challenge to negotiate.
Cab Drivers Leave Us in the Dust
After the appointment, we’re back out on the street, trying to hail a cab. Many empty ones simply pass by, supporting the rumor that some taxi drivers don’t like to stop for the elderly. These cabbies assume that they’ll get short-changed on a tip.
When one reluctantly pauses in an awkward position that doesn’t allow entry, we ask the driver to reposition the taxi. Instead of pulling back to the flat area at the corner, he takes off and leaves us in the dust.
In shock, we watch several other people jump into cabs in front of us. After 15 minutes, my mom is leaning on me because she’s losing the strength in her legs. A bench is nowhere in sight.
Guardian Angels Save the Day
An extraordinarily kind woman asks if we need help. Like a native New Yorker, she steps into the street boldly and finally gets the next cab to stop.
The driver pulls up to the next corner, which seems like a mile away. Another man, with a broad smile, guards the open door for us until we cross the street.
Thanking both of our guardian angels profusely, we collapse inside the taxi. Although the interior wasn’t decorated with art, a fabulous idea that we read about recently and would like to see in Philly, we heave a sigh of relief.
When we arrive safely back at my mom’s apartment, we celebrate surviving another adventure in the city. A few good souls have saved the day–and restored our faith despite the bumps along the way.
*This essay was written several years ago, when my mom used a walker during outings. We recently discovered Freedom Taxi, a perfectly named company, which offers wheelchair-accessible vans.
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