The trip up was completely smooth. It appears that our reservations for help to get the wheelchair on and off the trains were not forwarded to the individual train stations, but since we arrived quite early for the first train, and the station master phoned ahead to the TA – mercaz station it was all seamless. I took the time to use the A++ wheelchair accessible bathroom at Sderot. I wasn’t even bothered by the hand drying options. Sometimes it is good to have nothing to complain about. (I would insert a proper smiley here if I knew how).
It was another Friday day trip, this time my daughter Havva, and two sons, oldest and youngest, along with a family of friends – mom, pre-schooler and infant, took the 9:02 train from Sderot to the Tel Aviv – Mercaz (central) train station. It was good for me that I finally got to see the TA – mercaz station, it is a really big one, and quite exciting with escalators and elevators all over the place and a variety of entrances and exits one of which – the one Havva said we wanted – was completely inaccessible by wheelchair.
Not to worry, though, we ended up going out the entrance which was only half a football field away and reaching the busses with relative ease (no curb cuts). Riding on the busses was quite exciting. There is a space reserved for a wheelchair which has a seat belt that you can only use if the wheelchair user is facing backwards. How neat is that? Also a padded cushion for your head to snap pack on when the bus suddenly hits the brakes – as it does. Unfortunately the forcefulness of the busses starts, stops and turns is such that the wheelchair doesn’t *stay* in the designated space. On one particularly special lurch two of my wheels actually left the surface of the bus. Also the chair kept sliding outward so forcefully that my oldest son had to stand in such a way as to prevent the wheelchair, with his body, from taking off into the main aisle of the bus. This was with the brakes on, and my brakes are good.
I’ve been told that Israeli bus drivers were originally tank drivers. I don’t know if it is true, I don’t know if it explains their driving habits, but I don’t need to ride any roller coasters here, just the busses. 🙂
In any event the chocolate festival was being held in an old train station in south Tel Aviv/Yaffo. I didn’t, unfortunately, get any photos of the train station, but I did get of some of the chocolate sculptures, which were quite impressive. I can’t get them posted today, hopefully tomorrow. The old train station was a bit of a nightmare for navigating in the wheelchair, and several times one of the kids (whoever was maneuvering the w/c) had to drag it, and me, backwards across a surface that kept trapping the front wheels.
The chocolate was great. *very big grin*
There was a free chocolate with each entry ticket purchased, very yummy, and chocolate vendors selling almost anything you could imagine, including chocolate flavoured beer. I didn’t taste the chocolate flavoured beer myself, but I admit to a strong curiosity.
We were only there for about an hour. For people like us, country people who are used to seeing a handful of other people a day in a general way, the crowds were quite a lot to take and we were very happy to get away from the noise after a while. There was a little shuk outside of the festival where we were able to get something to eat and/or drink, I bought some ribbon for knitting or crocheting baskets, and youngest son E got to watch what sounds like a really good juggling display. The descriptions were very impressive. I may have made a new friend, as well. We’ll see about that.
The trip home was an adventure in it’s entirety. In the first place three tour busses had pulled up to the curb by the bus stop such that the bus couldn’t get next to the sidewalk. This meant bumping me down into the street, and then the pull-down ramp from the bus having to reach the street level, being so steep it too a great deal of effort to get the w/c with me in it onto the bus. The ride back to the train station was no less exciting, and complicated by a more crowded bus and us having more bags a packages then on the outward journey. Of course we’d all bought a lot of chocolate, what else?
We did, however, arrive safely at the train station where we were able to get back inside with a minimum of fuss. Going home it was just my family group and we were all feeling tired and maybe a bit ready to be away from each other as well. Unfortunately, arriving a mere twenty minutes before the train was due, I didn’t dare to try and find and use the bathroom/washroom/toilets (choose your noun of preference). Not knowing where they were, knowing the likelihood of a w/c accessible w/c being locked and or otherwise unavailable, I simply couldn’t risk it with a mere twenty minutes. I commented to Havva that able-bodied don’t have to worry about running into such things, and she replied that they do, but infrequently, it isn’t a near certainty in ordinary travel.
We waited on the platform, me with a full bladder getting ever more insistent. We discussed the various really bad results of having to hold on for too long. Not in too much detail, we know too well for that. We waited and wondered when the station personnel would come with the lift, or portable ramp. They never did.
Of course, the train that arrived was one of those with three steep steps and the door level of the car being more than a foot below the platform. It was bad. My bladder was bursting. In one of those rare miracles that people are capable of in crisis situations, I somehow managed to drag myself up the stairs, leaving the wheel chair to follow me as quickly as possible so that I didn’t fall, thank goodness. Then another stressful scene, it was one of the ‘good’ w/c cars, but some fellow with a bicycle had parked his bicycle right in from of the w/c-water closet. The toilet – bathroom – services – what-have-you. I stressed. I yelled. Havva went down to talk to the fellow about moving his bike, but before she got there he seemed to have gotten the general flavour of the situation and moved elsewhere. Thank goodness.
I actually managed to roll in, close the door, and transfer to the toilet without incident. And then, well, if anyone remembers the scene in A League of Their Own, it was like that. Pretty amazing, really, I didn’t have any idea I’d that sort of capacity. Once or twice I though I might be done, but, I was wrong. Not only that but suddenly I felt so much better. I became a nicer person. I smiled and gasped at what a difference an empty bladder made. Fun for everyone – okay that was sarcasm – but it *is* rather funny in a way.
Then we had at least two talks with train personnel on the issue of no help having been available at the train platform. It appears that there was a mistake made and apologies were tendered. It was a truly unusual experience in that, in the normal way of things, no Israeli apologizes or admits fault without first exclaiming, declaiming responsibility, implying that it is somehow the injured party’s fault, and otherwise acting as if they were kindergarteners yelling ‘Not Me!’ An upfront apology and admission of responsibility almost made the rest worthwhile. Okay, not. But it was a nice touch.
We were met at the Sderot platform with a lift on time. It really would be to everyone’s benefit to simply build trains that a wheelchair can roll onto. What if I hadn’t manage to lift myself up the stairs in Tel Aviv? It was the last train to Sderot for the whole weekend. What if I’d fallen? It just isn’t reasonable, sensible, logical to make each person in a wheel chair require special assistance when the trains are available with lifts built in, when the trains are accessible by people on scooters, bicycles, people with dogs ride without any special arrangements… Israel is a small enough country that a standard could be set for platform height and for accessible cars that would be met throughout the country.
But I won’t get caught up in that endless rant. It is endless because regardless of how sane and sensible it is to build for accessibility, it goes against the ingrained mindset of humanity.
And, after all of that, I went home and collapsed, not to leave my bed until after I’d been visited by professionals on Sunday. And that is an entirely different rant.