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The Vegas Adventures

By Diana McLeod

I kept telling myself that nothing would go wrong, but I was still nervous. You’'d think that, after all these years of foreign travel, I would be completely at ease with a simple domestic flight. But I had never traveled with a handicapped person before. I’'m not used to thinking about how to deal with a wheelchair.

Let me introduce my traveling companion, Douglas McIntosh. Douglas, who is my nephew, had just turned the magical age of twenty one, and this was going to be his first adventure as an adult. (And his very first time far away from Mom outside of summer camp). Since Douglas has Cerebral Palsy, I needed to find a very wheelchair accessible (and fun) destination to take him to. I decided to take him to "“sin city.”" We were heading for Vegas, baby.

These days, the airlines are very good at taking care of people with disabilities. But there are times... As we prepared to board the aircraft, I kept thinking about another travel adventure that Douglas had had, many years ago. I wasn'’t present for that extraordinary event, but I'’ll never forget what happened.

My sister took both of her sons to Washington D.C. when they were younger, and they visited the U.S. Capitol Building. There had been security alerts, so the guards gave Doug'’s wheelchair a thorough going over. They got through the checkpoint, and they were waiting for the elevator, when suddenly a very loud explosion occurred!! Mom and kids were instantaneously surrounded by terrified security guards, with automatic weapons drawn and pointed straight at them. The entire family was under arrest!

My frantic sister soon realized that Doug'’s wheelchair had blown a tire! She could hear the faint hissing of the tire as it deflated. She tried to explain what had happened, but the officers were too panicked to listen. They couldn'’t get the chairs’ tires to turn (his brakes were on) so they picked Doug up in his wheelchair and started carrying him away, with his desperate mother running behind them, screaming STOP! STOP! Meanwhile, her other son Alex, (who also has cerebral palsy) was stuck half in, and half out of the elevator, in his power scooter, with the doors opening and closing on him. Alex was also screaming for help.

It took quite a long time before it all got sorted out. The whole family was actually taken into custody and placed under arrest in a holding cell before they finally determined for sure that the “gunshot” everybody heard was really a simple blown tire.

Anyway, back to the present. Despite my fretting, it turned out that getting on the plane was a breeze. At one point, in the air, Doug had to get out of his seat. Normally, handicapped person gets strapped into a plane chair - a narrow wheelchair that looks like a torture device. But the stewardesses on this flight were very compassionate, and they figured out how to spare Doug this humiliation. Instead, they brought out the snack cart for him to hang onto while walking. Doug did a great job, and managed quite nicely, without falling into anybody'’s lap.

When he got back to his seat, the other passengers, who could see how much of an effort this was for him, gave him a hearty round of applause. Doug, who has always aspired to be a comedian, shouted out “"Thank you! -I’'ll be here all day!"” He delivered the line perfectly and got a very good laugh.

People were really very nice and very helpful getting us off the plane and to our hotel. The bus driver of the shuttle company asked all the passengers trivia questions and Doug got quite a few right – and added a few comedic routines of his own, besides.

We stayed at Treasure island. The hotel was gigantic and rather too fancy for the likes of us, despite their “pirate” theme, but it was excellent for wheelchair accessibility. The pool staff were especially wonderful. They got Doug in and out of the pool with a special lift chair, every day. Doug met some nice young women from Canada who vamped for pictures with Doug in the pool. He couldn'’t wait to show his friends at home.

Every hotel in Las Vegas is designed to do one thing:– to get you lost in the hotel casino. They make sure that anything you want to get to is somehow on the other side of the casino, and then they write the signs so that you are guaranteed to go around in circles, unable to find your way out. It’'s like being in a giant Roach Motel: easy as pie to get into, impossible to get out of. Not fun when pushing a wheelchair on thick carpets while dodging drunks, women who can'’t actually walk in the impractical stilettos they bought for the trip, and the clouds of cigar smoke from the poker tables. Doug and I soon decided that we were bored with the casinos. We preferred gambling with each other. The loser had to buy drinks. Unfortunately for me, Doug is good at Blackjack.

That night we went to the Bellagio, where the famous fountains boogie-woogied to the sounds of “In the mood. ” I was worried about dinner.– The Bellagio's restaurants were way too upscale for us! Instead, we went across the boulevard and found Cabo Wabo, where we ate excellent and affordable Mexican food. We sucked down our first margaritas, served by a cute waitress, who was Doug’'s first Vegas flirt.

The next day, we went to explore the Venetian. They actually have recreated a lot of the famous buildings, canals, bridges and palaces of the famous city of Venice. Most of them are pretty accurate, as well. Of course, if they really wanted accuracy, they would have to change the swimming pool blue chlorinated water for brown Venetian water with that authentic canal smell…! The part that really got to me was the fake blue sky. The entire interior complex was domed over with painted-on skies. They even had a huge reproduction of St. Mark’'s Square, without a single live pigeon to poop on everything.

While we were there, we went to Madame Toussaud'’s wax museum. Doug posed with statues of Frank Sinatra, in the “oval office” with the President, and we also took a couple of pictures of Doug, posing with a very realistic wax model of a famous Vegas stripper. I’'m sure his grandmother didn'’t approve.

That night, we went to the show put on by our hotel, Treasure Island. TI has a pirate theme (I bet they were “heartbroken” when Pirates of the Caribbean broke box office records). Their show involves two full sized clipper ships, cannons, fireworks, pyrotechnical wonders, swashbuckling pirates, and, best of all, for Doug, sexy pirate girls.

But our night was not over after the show. This was the night to go out. It was time for Doug to experience a real Vegas night club.

We didn'’t have to go far. Just downstairs was a bar called "Kahunaville." They had cool bartenders with fancy juggling moves, a good D.J., a big dance floor with laser lights and lots of drink coupons and free jello shots.

Doug and I brought our playing cards. We played five hands of Blackjack, and the loser (me) had to buy the drinks. Then Doug decided he wanted to dance. He got up his nerve by finishing his drink, then hogging mine. I told him: "“Doug, I can’'t help you with this. You'’re on your own, kid. You can'’t go on the dance floor with your geeky old aunt. Good luck!"” He wheeled himself off to the dance floor, and got a whole group of cute girls to dance with him. It took quite a lot of chutzpah for him to head onto the dance floor in a wheelchair! I was thankful that the girls were really nice. (It didn't hurt that their boyfriends were ignoring them, and were watching football on the widescreen TV)

Our waitress felt the same way. She came over to talk to me, almost misty-eyed, and told me she also had a handicapped family member. She thought it was really great that Doug was putting himself out there.

The highlight of the trip was Cirque de Soleil. We also saw the Blue Man Group and a whole lot of other Vegas attractions. It wasn’'t very hard to get around, because there are many taxis that are handicapped accessible, and we cut several long taxi lines, thanks to the wheelchair. Las Vegas probably is the most handicapped-accessible city in the world, but this is not a testament to compassion. It is because there is a ever increasing group of obese and elderly people in this country who get around on scooters, and Vegas has learned to accommodate them. There are a lot of heavy gamblers in this population! That is why there are so many "drive-on-board" taxis in Vegas.

Getting home was the only hassle. One airline staffer told me to wait for assistance, but the assistance never came. I finally gave up waiting, and had to hustle Doug through airport security all by myself. I raced for the gate, pushing him one-handed and rolling our luggage with the other. That wasn'’t easy. I was hot, sweaty, and dripping coffee all over the place as I got him, the luggage, and our breakfast on board, partially assisted by a young man who had never used a boarding chair before. Doug and I had to teach him what to do.

All in all, it really was a great trip. I was so glad that I was able to give Doug a real adventure, far away from home, for his first year as an adult.

Thanks for reading! Diana

P.S. If you know a handicapped person who is looking for a place to visit, I do recommend "Sin City." You can spend a great week there, without spending time in casinos. There are world class attractions that are suitable for the whole family, if you research them carefully.

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