After 48hrs in NYC I knew it was simply too expensive to stay there. Although getting around the city had been fairly easy in my wheelchair (apart from a few subway stations where the elevator was out of order), the cost of staying in any of the accommodation choices on offer was just way too astronomical. As for Couch Surfing in Manhattan – fat chance. So on my third day in New York I headed over to JKF airport and collected a rental car. Even the $600 that it cost me was over half my budget for the trip, I felt like it was the only thing I could do from a practicality viewpoint to get out of that environment, and I knew that if I seriously started to run out of money I could always just sleep in the car!
When I first got into the Nissan Altimo that was parked up waiting for me in the rental garage forecourt, I was a bit taken aback by the sudden change in everything I was familiar with. Although I have driven extensively on the left hand side of the road throughout most of Europe, I had never experienced driving a car where the steering wheel was on the left. This was the first obsticle that I had to wrap my head around and it also meant that my spacial awareness was all out of kilter. The other major difference that threw me was that the hand controls that were fitted for me were on the left hand side of the steering wheel instead of the right. The only thing I can liken it to is the experience of trying to learn how to rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time. It was alien to me and it really freaked me out.
You sort of get a baptism of fire when you rent a car in the USA. What I mean by that is that I was straight into the vehicle and out onto the very busy street. No time to familiarise, no time get used to the wheel being in the wrong place. The car’s engine was even running when I got in, adding to the pressure to just get on with things!
Here’s the part where I have to embarrassingly own up to being a massive cock-up artist. I’d been driving the car for about twenty minutes and I’d already taken about five wrong turns and had around seven minor mealtdowns, when all of a sudden I head an almighty crash and looked over to my right to see that I’d completely shattered the wingmirror off the side of a bus. My heart hit the floor and I had this overwhelming sense of disbelief. Just half an hour earlier I’d discussed with the depot representative about which insurance coverage I’d like to take. Seeing as I was tight for cash I opted to just go for the insurance than covered me if things were my fault. Thank-god I got this and thanks too for the fact that me driving into the side of a bus was very much my own doing (I’d later tell them I hit the wingmirror off a lamppost).
The traffic was fast-flowing and there was no where to stop safely after watching the mirror dismantel into a thousand pieces. Oddly enough, the bus driver didn’t honk his horn or flash his lights at me, which kind of suggests he didn’t even notice, or if he did, he just didn’t care. I stopped way up the road in a Burger King carpark, got out the car, cursing my luck, and then pushed my chair all the way back to where I’d believed the bump had happened. Sure enough there was my wingmirror all mangled and strewn across the road. I saw that the mirror itself was face down in the centre of the road and so I thought that I should retrieve it in the hopes of maybe fixing it back on. In my infinite wisdom I stuck my arm out and stopped the oncomming traffic, hopped down the curb in my chair and frantically picked up the pieces. I have no idea what the onlooking drivers must have been thinking. Something along the lines of “what is this strange disabled person doing picking up broken bits of car off the road”.
Because of everything that had gone on, I was unable to find my way to where I was meant to be going and so I contacted a girl who I had arranged to meet with and told her where I was and what had happened. She later joined me at the Burger King and she did a great job of calming me the hell down. We had planned to drive over to Ohio together after she’d responded to an advert I’d put out on Craigslist. Her name was Erika and I was pretty glad to have her around!
From that moment on things got better. There were no more incidents to report on with regards to the car, although it was pretty annoying to not have a right wingmirror, and also probably illegal. Still the whole spacial awareness thing really got to me and Erika had to constantly remind me I was veering too close to the white lines on the road. We made it as far as Pennsylvania that night before we stopped off at a motel and had ourselves some much needed rest.
I’ll fill you guys in on what happened once we made it to Ohio in my next blog post!