Wednesday, March 26, 2008

04 Rant ADA Compliance

With my mother in town for some quality time with her granddaughter, today is the day we venture to the Cheesecake Factory on Michigan Avenue via the good old CTA bus. We’re scheduled to meet my brother and a friend at 1:30 for lunch so we head out at 1 pm. Getting downtown was fairly easy. The bus came. I finagled the stroller halfway into the bus while my mom lifted the other end as we climbed the stairs and got situated in the front area of the bus reserved for elderly, disabled, and parents traveling with small children. Somehow in the midst of getting onto the bus, I also managed to find my bus pass and swipe my card for two fares.

We arrive at our stop and have some difficulty getting the stroller off the bus as I catch a wheel on one of the railings on the stairs. Somehow we manage to get out without major incident and are on our way to lunch. After a nice leisurely stroll to Michigan Avenue, we arrive at the base of the Hancock building to meet my brother. It’s 1:31 and we’re trying to figure out how to get the stroller into the Cheesecake Factory. I’m quickly scanning the scene for any sign of a handicap entrance or regular, i.e. non-revolving, door. My brother calls from the inside of the restaurant and asks where we are. “We’re stuck outside. Can you ask someone how we get inside?”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Cheesecake Factory, it is located on the lower level of the Hancock building. There are two massive staircases leading down to the main entrance which is comprised of a few revolving doors and several regular doors, however the “regular” doors are all affixed with an emergency alarm system if you use them. There is also a small revolving door on the street level for their upper dining area. My brother meets us on the street level and we decide to collapse the stroller and shimmy in through the revolving door as one person takes the stroller and one takes the car seat. I am the smallest so I get the stroller. Thank goodness I’m tiny and I’m only a little claustrophobic because there would have been a major panic attack had I gotten stuck in this tiny door. After a brief moment of concern that I won’t make it, the revolving door opens into the restaurant and I breath a huge sigh of relief.

But not so fast. We aren’t seated on the main floor. We’re eating on the lower level since the main floor isn’t open today. So we have to drag the stroller down a grand staircase with a seemingly endless number of steps. At the bottom, I’m ready to pass out since I’ve just lugged a 22 lb stroller all over the place and it’s lunch time. Hello! I’m eating for two since I’m nursing and I’m starving! Finally we ditch the stroller at the hostess stand and are escorted to our booth for four. Seriously? You want four grown adults and a baby in a car seat to squeeze into that booth when there is no room for a high chair in the aisle? Not going to happen. We request to be moved and are re-seated in what I call a “mobster” booth – the type the mob would sit in since it is huge and gives you a view of the whole restaurant. Once we’re settled, things are going well.

We eat. We play pass the baby to stop her from fussing. I take her to the bathroom to change her. Thankfully this restroom does have the Koala Bear changing station on the wall of the handicap stall. However, the restroom isn’t very clean, the music is really loud, and it’s dark to set a romantic mood while you pee I guess. And while I’m ranting I’ll point out that the lock for the “handicapped” bathroom is at my shoulder height. Now I ask you how someone in a wheelchair a) got into this damn building in the first place and b) can reach this deadbolt to lock the bathroom door. After changing Ada, I go to wash my hands and am surprised by the water temperature. It isn’t just hot. It’s scalding. There is steam rising from the basin of the sink. Talk about a lawsuit just waiting to happen. Uninjured, we make our way back to the table to finish my now cool lunch.

After dessert, this is the Cheesecake Factory after all, we ask how to get out of the building and the hostess tells us we can go into the observatory entry to get out. I don’t think she ever really understood that we were trying to get out with the stroller in some kind of elevator. So again, we had to squeeze into the revolving door. At least this one was a bit larger, for which I was very thankful. Then we climbed the grand staircase outside the Hancock building and say our goodbyes as my mom and I venture home.

I decided we should again ride the bus home because I don’t really know how to take a baby in a cab. We’d have to strap down her car seat and load the stroller in the trunk and I think that would be a pain not to mention that I’m nervous about installing the car seat correctly as that is one of the main things they drill into your head in all of the baby classes and the media. In some delusion I have, I just assumed the bus would be easier and cheaper ($4 versus $15 for a cab).

We get to the bus stop and wait. And wait. About ten minutes pass as my mom takes note of every available cab that passes us and finally the bus arrives. It is 3:30ish. We’re well before rush hour so this shouldn’t be bad. But oh how very bad it is. I’ve got the stroller. My mom has Ada in the car seat. We climb onto the bus and I swipe my card for two fares again. Then I look up to see that all of the seats in the front of the bus are taken, by young, able-bodied persons no less, and NO ONE IS GETTING UP FOR US. Hello! Seriously? Discouraged with the human race occupying the front of this bus, I suck up my hurt feelings and raise the stroller above my head and squeeze through the crowd to the back of the bus. The VERY back of the bus. This means we have to go past the back door, up two steps, and find our seats. My mom follows with little Ada who’s semi-asleep. As we are arriving at a set of available seats at the VERY back of the bus, the bus starts moving. Minor panic ensues. Since we haven’t sat down yet, we all jolt forward, nearly falling over had it not been for a very strong and courteous angel on the back seat. This man quickly grabbed my wrist and braced me as I started falling forward over the stroller. Doing so allowed me to prevent my mom from falling as she leaned into me with the car seat instead of completely face planting. I thanked him profusely as did my mother while we tried to get “settled” into our seats. Too bad you can’t really “settle” into the seats at the back of the bus because they are arranged in a U shape where all of the seats back up to the walls so everyone’s legs are in the middle. Unfortunately, that’s where I’ve attempted to store the stroller. And I have the car seat on my lap, squishing my thighs quite uncomfortably I might add, while the stroller is digging into my leg every time we hit a bump or stop abruptly.

After about 15 minutes on the bus, we arrive at our stop. Thankfully, the people that ride on the back of the bus are much more courteous than those that ride on the front (at least on this bus that is the case). I pull the cord to request the next stop and at least three of my fellow riders realize what’s about to happen. During the 15 minutes we’ve been on the bus, it has filled up nicely. There are riders packed body to body in the aisle and in the space in front of the back door. Just before we reach our stop I say “this is us”. As I speak up, my three fellow passengers also speak up to say “Mother and child coming out with a stroller. Make way.” It doesn’t make much of a difference right away but people eventually start to make room for us. My mom goes first to clear the way. I follow her and proceed to get something caught on one of the chairs and have the people behind me telling me I’ve dropped a baby bottle. Thankfully the gentleman we have just struck up a conversation with about how hard it is to live in the city with a baby grabs the bottle, sticks it into the side pocket of my diaper bag and wishes me luck. After much effort, I make it to the doors to find two more gentlemen holding them open for me. My mom is walking toward the front of the bus to thank the bus driver, since that’s what nice people from small towns do, as I’m telling her she’s going the wrong way to get to my house.

Finally we make it to my front door and what could be there waiting for us? None other than the outer and inner vestibule doors.

Moral: When traveling with small children, always stand up for yourself even if it means potentially offending someone. When going about your daily business, be even more considerate of the elderly, disabled, and parents with small children as life makes everything a million times harder for them. And most importantly, teach you children to give up their seat on the bus or the El for Pete’s sake!

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