Sunday, 10 August 2014


It was an interesting evening yesterday; it almost seems like two different evenings, split by a short break, a halftime in my social play. The evening also served as an object lesson in how the human mind works, how it makes assumptions and develops stereotypes in order to make life simpler for the overworked brain of homo sapiens.

The first part of the evening was a football game, the second in as many weeks. The game itself was not notable; in fact it was decided early in the first quarter and became almost boring as the game moved into the second half, so predictable that we left early in the fourth quarter. While the game was not notable, the fellow I was sitting next to was indeed notable.

There is only one wheelchair section in McMahon Stadium in Calgary, a covered section in the north end zone. The view isn't all that great and we of the wheelchair class are all lined up in a row with seating for our "attendants" in a row behind us. It means that if I go to a game with someone, I cannot talk to them side by side, but am compelled to do so over my shoulder. I would like to talk side by side, but since this section is for "handicapped", and since not all handicaps are equal, many of those seated beside me and further on down the row suffer from fairly severe handicaps, both physical and mental.

Last night the fellow next to me happened to be a consulting geologist, a man who through a car accident was a paraplegic. He was intelligent, a family man with three children, funny and easy going. His mother sat behind him and fortunately for Cheryl she was much the same. So we chatted sideways instead of up and down. Part of my chat with my neighbour was a discussion about how it felt to be stuck all together in this section of the stadium, essentially missing much of the action and certainly feeling segregated by our physical limitations. We didn't view ourselves as handicapped; we just happened to be in wheelchairs.

After the game, after Cheryl went home, I got a message from a young friend of mine who wanted to talk. We agreed to meet in one of our regular watering holes. He and I talked for a while, then he went home. I stayed on to talk with some of the staff, sitting and chatting about life, the universe, beer and rum. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, this very inebriated young lady came over and, after randomly grabbing me from behind, sat in a chair and challenged me to an arm wrestle. I won.

Having discovered that being in a wheelchair did not mean I was easy to beat, she blearily looked around the table, struggling to focus. It was then that she noticed one of the guys, one of the cooks. This fellow was born in Calgary, grew up and attended local schools and now made a living in the kitchens, cooking. He also loves to eat his own cooking, so one might say he is large. He also has a great sense of humour. Oh, and he is black.

The drunken young lady realized upon gazing at him that he was black. My friend had not spoken a word, being totally stunned at her behaviour so far. She looked once again at him and said "Are you from Louisiana or something?" We simply could not stop the burst of laughter that exploded around the table, said laughter driven by a combination of the absurdity of the question and the stupidity of the assumption. She left after we told that he was not, in fact, from Louisiana.

When I got home later, I thought about both these situations, the parallels between them, how the assumptions about people in a wheelchair and the assumptions about someone based on their skin colour are both driven by our minds need to package information for easy recall. Wheelchair people are all the same, black people are all from Louisiana. We do this in so many ways. In the end, I would like to be treated as a person regardless of my wheelchair. My friend would like to be treated as a person regardless of his skin colour.

Unfortunately I still have to sit in the end zone at McMahon Stadium. It's the only place where they will allow wheelchairs, regardless of who is in them.

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