We don't look like the winners, Anna and I, sitting in the cold outside City Hall with our sour faces. You could never tell by looking at us that this is the moment we've been visualizing for years.
There's the sparkling new CTA bus, complete with wheelchair lift, the kind of bus a lot of us fought for years to make the CTA obtain. We disrupted CTA board meetings with bullhorns and noisemakers. We blocked buses and downtown intersections. We fought a five-year court battle.
There's the mayor and there's Larry Gorski, the smiling quadriplegic whom the mayor pays $75,000 a year to represent us disabled folk in City Hall as his special assistant. It's time to celebrate the bus's maiden voyage. Maybe if they crack a bottle of champagne over the grille it will amuse us a little. We feel a letdown because we fear the great glory grab. What an easy, free campaign ad it is for the mayor. It's the feel-good news story of the day, but he had little to do with it. It's a peace he did not broker. He inherited it. This isn't how we would have planned it.
So this better be good. Because our toes are frozen and we had to get up at 5 AM yesterday to arrange to be here today. Because that's what time they open the line for the frantic telephone lottery to order one of those little, segregated wheelchair buses to come pick you up. And you'd better hurry, because if you don't crack through the busy signal by 6 AM or so, all the rides will be taken and you're S.O.L. Enough said about why the right to have the whim to go out to the corner and wait for the next bus was always so important to us.
And this better be real good, because while we were dialing yesterday at dawn, Anna and I, we had to sit through Oprah and her bunch (the wee hours rerun version) going on and on about nose jobs. We find that Oprah picks up where the alarm clock leaves off because it's so grating that it makes it impossible to go back to sleep. So one of us blasts Oprah until the other begins dialing in self-defense. Then we turn on something more substantial, like a test pattern.
We came down here in search of the exclamation point. It's our last chance. This whole thing has been a meandering story without a climax. Our civil disobedience ended shortly after we won the lawsuit some three years ago. We won exactly everything we demanded. We'll be able to ride every bus that hits the streets from now on.
But the exclamation point is that moment of ascension, vindication. It's when those that tried the hardest to thwart you before now want your autograph. We sort of see it when we recognize many of the cops, all smiles today, who arrested us in the past. We sort of see it in the festive expressions of many of the same CTA suits who said this day would never come.
The bus lift hums and Gorski levitates in his wheelchair above a swarm of cameramen and reporters. He rolls into the bus.
Jeff looks on and laughs. He's one of the attorneys who helped us win the lawsuit. "Remember when the judge bumped her head?" he says.
I forgot about that. During the trial, we brought a lift bus down to show the judge that it wasn't the menacing contraption the CTA lawyers were making it out to be. She took a ride up on the lift and bopped her head on the overhang.
But we won the case anyway.
The lift hums again and there's Drew rising above the media pack. Now there's a guy who's been here all along. He helped plan and took part in our first hit. The day after Labor Day, 1984, a bunch of us blocked off State Street during evening rush hour and chained our wheelchairs together.
Come to think of it, the last time Drew had so many cameras pointed at him was that very day, as he was being lifted, wheelchair and all, into the back of a paddy wagon.
There it is!
There's the exclamation point!
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Karen Gerbig.