I think the year was 2005 or 2006. I was in college at Seattle University at the time, and as a part of a class I was taking, we were going on a field trip to the super abstract looking, Central Library downtown. Now if you're not familiar with the locations around Seattle, Central Library is located in the heart of downtown, and Seattle U is located about 10 blocks away on Broadway. So since it wasn't that far away, we were going to walk as a class to the library. It's a straight shot walking to the library from the school, so it was easy enough of a stroll.
For the most part the walk was smooth. We walked straight down Madison St. This is Seattle so the day was a little dreary, but it wasn't a downpour or anything, and as a result there were no issues for our on-foot travels. Things changed however, when we got about a block away at 6th Ave. and Madison St. Now at this corner is the Renaissance Hotel. I've never stayed at the place, but my high school post-prom festivities took place there, so I'm a little familiar with it. :) Anyways, on that corner, the sidewalk area is actually made of tile as opposed to the standard cement everywhere else. Now being that even though the day was kind of wet, this wouldn't normally be an issue for me since my chair has decent traction and I'm a pretty good driver. However, and you may not know, Seattle is actually quite a hilly city. We're no San Fran, sorry 40 Whiner fans by the way, but we have quite a few hills. With that being said, this particular corner is directly up hill from the library. Add to that the slippery nature of the tiles on the sidewalk and the fact that they were wet due to the day's weather, and I unknowingly was about to go for ride. Fun times! (Not really)
So as I approached the corner, everything was fine. It starts off level, and then slopes downhill, so I made sure to be cautious. But as soon as the descent began, caution went right out the damn window. As soon as my chair was pointed downhill, I felt the negative consequences of the combination of the rain, tiles, and the hill. I wasn't even going fast, but my wheels had zero traction, and as I pulled back to reverse my wheels, the lack of traction made me go even faster. I started picking up speed but I knew I had to do something. So these were my choices:
- I could keep going downhill until the path evened out at the bottom, but I knew by that time I'd be going damn near 25 miles an hour and I'd probably shoot straight into the street and probably die anyways. So that was a no go.
- I could steer to the left which would result in me crashing into the side of the Renaissance Hotel. But crashing into the building while headed downhill on a slippery surface would probably end up in me flipping my chair over ultimately. There were also stairs on that side so that was dangerous too. And as fast as I was going, death surely would've been a possibility. I'll pass on that route.
- Veering to the right would actually end up with me going off of the curb, into traffic, and probably getting hit by a car. And getting hit would happen after my chair falls over from jumping the curb at the speed I was traveling. That choice sucked too.
While this might seem like I had all day to ponder about what was my best course of action, remember this was a split second decision. So which choice did I decide to take you might add? Neither. Since they all resulted in my death in my opinion at the time, I chose an alternative. There was a tree about 15-20 feet away on the sidewalk. While I knew I was going to be flying by the time I reached it, I figured that it was the least lethal of my options. So I literally steered my chair as good as I could towards the tree, given the present circumstances, and I closed my eyes. You can call me whatever you want. That shit was frightening. I was sure I wasn't going to die or anything, but I knew I was going to break or fracture something. Damn it was going to hurt.
Bang! That's all I heard and I felt myself hit the tree footrest first. When I opened my eyes I noticed I was actually unscathed. I was leaning up against the tree and the first thing I was thinking was "seat belts do work!" When I looked down, I saw that one of my footrests had snapped clean off. It was dangling by a thread, but had zero function. As soon as the whole thing happened, my classmates, who were behind me at the time, all rushed to my aid. I always wonder what they were thinking when they witnessed what had just happened. "The guy in the wheelchair just crashed into a damn tree!" I almost wished someone would've recorded it. It was far from funny at the time, but I imagine it would've been funny as hell to see from the outside looking in. Anyways, one of my classmates helped me sit back, and another propped up my broken footrest. They asked me was I OK and I let them know that I was. I went the rest of the field trip and day with my feet crossed since I only had one functioning footrest. The show had to go on.
Crazy right? As I stated at the beginning of this post, this is only one of a few death defying experiences that I've had. I'm not glad that I broke a footrest in the process and had to pay to get it fixed, but who can say they've had a ride like that? Can you? Cripple Please! But I've got more stories where this came from.