I have always been aware on some level that I was fortunate to have this freedom, I did not fully understand how much having the ability to come and go as I pleased affected my life and happiness until just a few years ago. It was not until I was stuck and stranded in a strange place that I fully realized how much of a gift it is to have my own vehicle. It is just like Cinderella song goes, “You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.”
A few years ago for my Spring Break, I took a Caribbean cruise with a friend of mine. After spending seven amazing days at sea and having an incredible time, it was time to get back to reality and make the 14-hour drive from Galveston back to Kansas City. We had been driving for several hours and had just gotten through Houston when out of the blue the van goes completely dead as we are going 70 mph down the highway.
Fortunately, there was not much traffic around us, and we were able to coast to the shoulder and come to a stop, but as lucky as this was, it was the least of our problems. We tried without success to get the van to start, but it was completely dead. So there we were, stranded on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, 10 hours from anyone who could help us, with a power wheelchair.
As if this was not enough adversity for one day, it was also Sunday, so most businesses and such were closed. We were not just up a creek without a paddle, we didn’t even have a canoe.
After briefly losing my cool, I pulled it together and started problem-solving. First, I called the police, because I figured they would know best what our options were and be able to help us. After the officer arrived, we explained our dire situation, and as I had hoped, he knew of a nearby mechanic/tow truck driver who was open on Sunday.
The mechanic arrived about 20 minutes later and after working his magic on my van, he got it running. We decided to drive to the nearest hotel, where my friend and I would stay while the mechanic took my vehicle to his shop to get it safe for the trip home. Although we thought that this would be a one night stay based on the discussion we had had with the engine technician, we could not have been more wrong. We ended up being stuck in that little hotel room for three days before we finally got my van back and returned home.
Of course, I had been without my van before when the engine needed to be serviced or the Braun hydraulic lift needed a tune-up, but being able to plan for a day or two at home and being stuck in a strange, far-away place without a vehicle is two totally different things. Having to just sit and wait in that hotel room made me feel really frustrated that I had no means of fixing my situation. I could not get home or even get food (we ate a lot of pizza) because of my wheelchair.
Not only does my van greatly expand my world and allow me to experience so many amazing things, but it also gives me the peace of mind that I can go out and about if I need to. I have the ability to go to the store to get groceries, go to the bank, or pick up a friend at the airport if the need arises. I realized that merely knowing you have the freedom of your own vehicle, even if you do not need it at the time, is a very comforting thing that should be valued.
Since those three days in a hotel room, having this feeling of control over my life that my van provides me is something that I am much more appreciative of. The ability to travel whenever we want is something that we often take for granted. We fail to remember that this is really a gift, and there are people out there who do not get to enjoy this level of freedom. Even as a wheelchair user who requires a special vehicle, I lost sight of the fact that having your own vehicle is a privilege, not a right.