Friday, July 31, 2009
The Whirlwind of Life
The past few weeks have truly been a whirlwind! It started when I tried to get a way for a short vacation with my family, and hasn't quite stopped yet. A little over two weeks ago, on a Wednesday, I set out to join Mom, Dad, Sarah (my Sister), and Madeline (my 8 year old Niece) in South Haven, Michigan for a few days. I was nervous about driving four hours by myself, because after the accident I had trouble staying awake during the one hour commute to work, but I had decided that I could do it, even if I had to stop to rest a few times on the way.
As it turned out, the only time I was sleepy during the drive was while I was driving through Kokomo (about 45 minutes into the drive). I was struggling to stay awake, and was about to stop, when my cell phone rang. (For those of you who don't know, my car has a blue tooth connection with my cell so that I can take calls while my hands are busy with the hand controls that allow me to drive.) The call was from Senator Lugar's office in Indianapolis! They wanted to know if I could meet with the Senator on Friday afternoon. This didn't really fit with my vacation plans, but I had been asking for an opportunity to meet with Senator Lugar for several weeks, so I wasn't going to pass up my chance!
I arrived in South Haven around 6pm that night and settled in to the little house my family had rented for the week. From an accessibility stand point the only major issue was that my wheelchair would not fit through the bathroom door. For me to shower, or do anything else that one does in a bathroom :), I would have to get on the floor, scoot across the hall to the bathroom, and then brace myself between the toilet and the tub to lift myself up. Once I was off the floor I would either swing onto the toilet or my shower bench, depending on what business brought me to the bathroom in the first place. (I'm assuming that's enough said about that!) The only other real accessibility issue for me was that, unless I had my legs on, I could not leave the house on my own. This didn't come into play, but it was difficult to accept that I couldn't even go out on the front porch in my wheelchair without help.
Wednesday night we had a nice family dinner and then went to Sherman's Ice Cream, which is a fantastic nightly treat when we are in South Haven. Madeline and I split an ice cream spaghetti and meatball dinner! (french vanilla ice cream noodles, chocolate ice cream meatballs, strawberry marinara sauce, and white chocolate parmesan cheese) It was scrumptious! Thursday morning we started off the day with doughnuts, then went to Fenn Valley Winery to taste some wine (Madeline tasted sparkling juice), and then we were off to Crane's Orchard (they have all sorts of yummie fruits and berries!)for lunch. After all of that we headed for the beach, which some of you may recall I was concerned that I would not enjoy one bit. I'm happy to report that I had a wonderful time! As you can see from the pictures above, Madeline and I had a great time in the water! We rounded out the day with a nice dinner at a local restaurant and then took Madeline to see Ice Age 3. Oh yeah, before dinner Madeline took me to the candy store that I mentioned in a blog update a few weeks ago. It really is like Candy land, except real! I'm still eating salt water taffy! After such a great day it was hard for me to leave the next morning, but I had a an appointment with Senator Lugar that afternoon and I wasn't going to miss it, so I ate a few doughnuts and then headed home.
The drive home was uneventful. I arrived home with just enough time to shower, shave, and make myself presentable for my Senatorial visit. the Senator and I had a great conversation. I presented him with a packet of information, including the stories of several other victims and we discussed the situation with Chrysler and GM at great length. For now I'll just say that he is very concerned about the issue and that his staff and I speak on a regular basis.
The following Monday I intended to start working on letters to all of the representatives who are on the committee that will consider the merits of H.R. 3088, the bill that bares my name. However, at about 1:30 that afternoon I received a call from the Center for Justice and Democracy asking if I could be in DC that Wednesday to testify before the House Sub-Committee on Commercial and Administrative Law about the Ramifications of Auto Industry Bankruptcies. Of course I said yes! The CDJ helped make my travel arrangements while I started preparing for the trip. Then, around 4pm that afternoon I received an official invitation, via email, to testify. The invitation included instructions. I hadn't realized that I would need to prepare a written statement to submit to the Sub-Committee before 9am the next day! From that point on I was focused on my written statement, which included the study that had been done by Safety Research Strategies and a packet that tells the stories of several other victims. I finally crashed around 1am and then got up at 7am on Tuesday morning to finish it up, go over it with a friend from the American Association for Justice, and then worked on my oral statement until it was time to go to the airport!
My cousin Minda, her husband Mario, and their three children picked me up in DC. We enjoyed a great dinner and then they took me to my hotel, which was another adventure in itself! The hotel was beautiful, but they didn't have a room ready for me, and all of the accessible rooms were occupied! It was 8pm, so I had every right to get upset that they didn't have my guaranteed accessible room ready when I arrived, but I spent many years on the other side of the desk and I know how things can get royally screwed up. It took about an hour for them to get the non accessible room ready, but one quick look at the room and I could tell it wouldn't work, so I convinced the desk supervisor to call the guests in the accessible rooms and find someone who didn't need that room type and get them to switch. Much longer story short, everything worked out in the end.
On Wednesday morning I listened to representatives of Chrysler and GM testify. Needless to say, I needed a (figurative) shovel to get to the witness table to give my testimony that afternoon. The members of the committee seemed to receive my testimony well. According to the audience the whole room was focused on me while I spoke. It was very hard to get everything I wanted to say into the five minutes I was allowed, but I think they got the point. I truly believe that we are getting the attention we need.
As I was waiting in the airport for my flight to come home to Indy I received a text message from someone at the CJD informing me that "some kind of action" was being put together for the first meeting of Chrysler's CEO and Board of Directors, which would be the next Monday. So, I returned home, squeezed as much into the next four days that I could to get caught up on the rest of my life, and then flew to Detroit on Sunday! On Monday morning we held a protest and press conference outside Chrysler headquarters. The real goal was to get a meeting with them, but we new that wouldn't happen. Our secondary goal was to hand deliver a letter addressed to the CEO that details our concern that Chrysler will not succeed because it has now effectively turned it's back on all customers who have purchased their vehicles in the past. There are over 30 million Chrysler vehicles currently on the road and Chrysler no longer has any responsibility for the safety of those vehicles! One million of those vehicles are under warranty, which means that if a part that is under warranty injures you, Chrysler will fix the part, but they won't help with your medical expenses or funeral costs!
We had a lot of press coverage and several people protesting. The press conference went well and then we went across the street to the Chrysler compound to request a meeting. The security staff refused to contact the CEO, so we headed in to the compound to try to reach the main building. A police car quickly pulled up in front of us to block our path and informed us that we were tress passing and that we needed to turn around. For a moment I thought about pointing out the fact that our tax dollars were used to purchase Chrysler, so technically we were not tress passing, but I didn't want to wind up in jail. In the end Chrysler's Director of Security accepted our letter.
Now, I'm continuing to work on this fight, however, I do have other things happening in my life as well. Next Friday I will deliver the key note speech at the Indiana Assistive Technology Conference, and will hold an hour session afterwards to talk about my experiences since the accident. Yesterday Wade Wingler from Easter Seals Crossroads, who is in charge of the conference, and I had a live interview on WTHR. The interview includes the details of the conference, so please click on the link to watch it! The conference is open to the public, and I encourage everyone to come!
Now, what else does next week have in store for me...? I'll be sure to fill you in when I find out! For now, I need to get going so that I can get ready for the People's Burn Foundation fund raiser that's being held at the Indiana Roof Ballroom tonight. Oh yeah, and tomorrow morning I'll join the Indianapolis Resource Center for Independent Living at UIndy for their Wheel-A-Thon fund raiser. For someone who is supposed to be unemployed, I'm certainly working alot!
So glad that we saw you at the family gathering. Enjoyed hearing of your trip to D.C.,including the hotel problems. Your schedule is tiring to read and know it must be difficult to do all that is on your agenda.
We are proud of your service to all who travel these highways. Thanks for the link to the TV interview.
Love from Virginia Beach,
Harry and Lilla
Glad to hear of the victories in your advocacy work! Be careful and try to stay out of jail -- we don't want to see you on the next America's Most Wanted. :-D
Anyway, good for you to squeeze and I mean, literally squeezing some time in for your family. I see your next endeavor HOTEL ROOMS FOR PEOPLE WITH NEEDS...being on the other side of the desk is a very interesting position to be in when checking into a hotel nowadays. Anyway, back to my nap..take care my friend and let us know how we can help in anyway ok.