It was a bright, fresh, rejuvenating spring morning in 1993. I entered the dial-a-ride vehicle that was to take me to my destination. Little did I know what a historic day this would be.
About a dozen years earlier, this new Chicago public transit option called dial-a-ride was unveiled. There were zero accessible mainline buses so the cripples were ecstatic. Jane, my quad friend, was excited because she disliked relying on others to drive her in her cripple van to her appointments, such as her weekly session with her shrink.
But now, thanks to dial-a-ride, she could just make a phone call and an accessible cripple bus would arrive at her door and whisk her to her destination! Or so said the brochure.
It didn’t take long for the cripples to become unecstatic. The idea of dial-a-ride was way too good to be true. In reality, you had to call to reserve a ride a day in advance and call over and over until you broke through the busy signal. And by then all the ride slots might be filled, or available rides might not be at the time you needed. And then your ride might come an hour late, and even if your destination was 20 minutes away, it might take two hours to get there because a dozen other dial-a-ride cripples were picked up and dropped off along the way.
Jane only took two or three dial-a-ride trips to her shrink before she stopped using dial-a-ride altogether. Because she’d spend so much of her shrink session venting about what a degrading hassle it was just getting there on dial-a-ride that there wouldn’t be time to talk about much else.
The first batch of mainline Chicago city buses with wheelchair lifts hit the streets in 1992, after disenchanted dial-a-ride cripples filed a lawsuit and organized raucous protests — and after the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But there were only enough buses to cover a fraction of the city. The only way to get most places was still to take dial-a-ride.
Those were the conditions that fateful morning in 1993.
The driver belted me in. We drove off. At a stop light, he asked me to pay my fare. Cripples like me, who rode mainline buses whenever possible, were well-stocked with half-fare bus tokens. It cost cripples half the regular fare to ride mainline but full fare on dial-a-ride. So I handed the driver two half-fare tokens.
“I’m not taking these,” he said.
Why not?” I said. “It’s like two nickels or a dime. What’s the difference?”
“I’m not taking these,” he said again.
I told him I only had half-fare tokens. So he reeled off a sharp U-turn and headed back to my home. En route, he cussed me out like I’ve never been cussed out. And that’s saying something.
“Everybody hates picking up your complainin’ ass!” he said. Back at my home, he unbelted my wheelchair, pulled out the ramp and told me to get out. I told him to shove it. He cussed me out again. I restated my burning desire for him to shove it.
The driver radioed the dispatcher. The dispatcher said he was calling the police. I laughed as I pictured the cops springing into action. ”Oh no! It’s a 10-82: cripple refusing to leave dial-a-ride van! I’ll need lots of backup for this one!”
After a few minutes, the dispatcher radioed back: “Take him where he’s going but tell him we won’t take him back until he calls us.” This meant I wouldn’t get home without receiving my punishment, which would probably consist of a stern lecture and a two-hour wait.
But I figured out that four blocks from my destination was an accessible bus line that connected to another accessible bus line that would take me home. So I took it.
And I haven’t taken dial-a-ride since. I want that one-way trip that spring morning to forever remain my final dial-a-ride excursion. I wonder if pinned to the bulletin board at the dial-a-ride center is a piece of paper, brittle and yellowed with age, reminding the dispatcher to lecture me when I call for my ride home.