Cheap-ish Dates in New York City for the Wheelchair Traveler


But Maybe She Wheel NYC

There’s nothing like sightseeing in the Big Apple. The tourist crowds, the smell of roasting nuts from the vendors on the street, and the never-ending stream of taxis and traffic make New York City a truly amazing experience. But when the starry eyed traveler tries to see all the sights, the high cost of living in New York can quickly drain the budget. Here’s a quick way to have your New York experience, but pay the lowest possible cost.

Note for the wheeling travelers; New York City, while a tourist destination, is VERY inaccessible. There are no elevators in the subways above 51st St, so the only chances of taking the subway will be in Lower Manhattan. All the buses are accessible and both the driver and riders are accommodating. However, as the bus stops every other street, this is the slowest way to travel. Here are some of the other options available to the rolling traveler-

The easiest way to navigate the city in a chair is by an accessible taxi, which can be found here. They even have their own app to have a taxi arrive in just minutes!

6 1/2 Ave and Lunch Paley Park

On the many secrets of Manhattan is a pedestrian walkway below Central Park from Le Parker Méridien at 118 West 57th street to the AXA Building at 787 Seventh Avenue, between 51st and 52nd streets. As a way to escape the bustling traffic, a person can walk through the streets without needing to wait for the lights to change (not that many “real” New Yorkers will wait, anyway). An perk to this secret walkway, as well, is the fully accessible sidewalks free of curbs or cobblestones. At the end of the stroll up the walkway and after turning down one block is the perfect spot for you and your hunny to have lunch; the secret garden waterfall along an entire wall called Paley Park. Business professionals in suits and students in sweats alike seek lunchtime refuge in this quiet corner, the sounds of the waterfall cascades reducing the NYC traffic to a dull buzz. So slow down, take a stroll up the secret avenue and then relax at the waterfall while sharing a croissant and coffee with your love.

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Paley Park, NYC


Cocktails at the Times Square Lookout

When we first started dating, my now-husband and I took our young and dumb selves to Times Square to see the ball drop for New Years. Barely 18 and 20, we were awestruck by the crowds and enjoyed the adventure of being frisked, jostled, and corralled into the pens that control the New Years crowd at Times Square. We met a great group of students from Kentucky, Dusty played in a hacky sack competition, and together we danced to keep from freezing as we waited the 18 hours until New Years Eve. No bathrooms being available, we sparingly shared a single Diet Coke and went in with the Kentucky group to order pizza that was delivered across the pens. Finally, when midnight struck, we danced to Auld Lang Syne as confetti rained down. It was magical, incredible and an experience I would never, ever do again.


Thankfully, I learned of another way to see Times Square without having to endure the crowds and craziness. The Renaissance Hotel, on 48th and 7th, has a quietly kept secret of the R Lounge, a cocktail bar with giant windows overlooking Times Square. The lounge faces the New Years Eve ball (which is actually tiny and anticlimactic) and the view encompasses each corner of the triangle Square. You have to order to be seated (reservations are requested rather than walk in seating), but the price of a $10 cocktail and splitting a delicious $7 appetizer makes the experience of watching Times Square come alive after the sun sets less than $30 for two people. This is MORE than worth the price, even with the 20% tip that should be left for the waiter.

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Times Square, NYC



The Secret to Broadway

A trip to New York is not complete without a Broadway show, in my opinion. But at upwards of $80 a ticket, the cost is too high for our modest budget. With a little flexibility, there is a way to cut that price in half. Every day of the week in Broadway there’s a show playing and the goal is to have a full house each night. To do this, TKTS Broadway will sell the rest of the unsold tickets the day of a show at half price! These half-priced tickets can be bought at 10am by calling TKTS Broadway or visiting the ticket booth. **WHEN BUYING TICKETS BE SURE TO ASK FOR WHEELCHAIR SEATING** as this is a different ticket than the ones otherwise sold. The night before you can scroll through the website to see what’s playing and see if tickets are available the next day. You possibly may not get to see some of the great headliner shows and that’s where a little flexibility is needed. We got the chance to see Cirque de Solei Paramour this way, which was an incredible show and well worth the $30 ticket/person.


Before enjoying the show, we had our cocktails overlooking Times Square and then strolled the two blocks over for a night at the theatre!

But Maybe She Wheel NYC
The greatest view of NYC can be found at the World Trades Center Building and Memorial. Take some time to read the names of the victims of 9/11 in the looking ponds before venturing up the tallest building the America


Grade-A Comedy at a Cheapskate Price

If Broadway is not your thing, visiting a comedy club is also a great way to enjoy the vibrant theatre community of New York. One of my favorite comedians, Amy Poehler, helped to start a comedy club school in New York called the Upright Citizens Brigade. Performers from the UCB Theatre have gone on to host and write for shows including Saturday Night Live, Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, The Daily Show, Veep, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Inside Amy Schumer, and more . The Club has grown and has locations in the East Village and Chelsea. Schedules are posted each week with little blurbs about the skit and performers. Tickets are RIDICOUSLY cheap, as is the beer served for each show. A nice perk is the wheelchair seating is right in the front row!


We happened to be visiting New York during the first presidential debate. The night of the debate we went to see the Upright Citizens Brigade perform a satire “mock” debate, which was spot-on and hilarious, and then all the performers joined the audience as we watched the real debate screened on the stage. Watching this debate with a crowd of New Yorkers was a singularly enlightening and humorous experience. When the “Stop and Frisk” law was mentioned, the New Yorkers behind us booed and hissed at the screen. When Trump and HRC spat at each other in their remarks, the audience cheered when HRC spoke and laughed at Trump. But the audience in Long Island physically sitting at the debate cheered at Trump’s remarks precisely when the audience behind me booed. One of the comedy writers for The Jon Oliver Show spoke at the “Round Table” the Club held after the debate, where all the performers and two comedy writers discussed and evaluated the candidates. She spoke on how eerie it felt to hear proof of how vastly different two groups of Americans feel at this election, the boos coming from one side while cheering was heard on the other. “How are we going to come together after this election,” the other comedy writer asked. “How are we going to be able to accept and love the “other side” when this election is done?”. How indeed.


Finding the Benches in Central Park


Central Park is a different scene with each changing of the seasons. The bright colors of fall fade into the white landscape of a snowy winter, changing then again to the bursts of colors of spring and summer. But the walkways, horse and carriages, and happy parade of dog walkers are the ever constant heartbeat of the park. A trip to the park is not complete without first seeing the Apple Store at the 5th Ave  entrance and then slowly meandering past Belvedere Castle. For an insider’s experience in Central Park, make sure to take note of the benches lining the sidewalks. Each bench has a unique engraving, a message from friend long gone or a memory of a loved one past. Some of the messages are very dear, while others smirk with the sarcastic wit of the messenger. These benches mark the history of the park, as well as encapsulate the spirit of the New Yorkers past and present.


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Don’t forget to check out the always accessible Central Park!


Discounts for Disabilities in NYC

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Chinatown, NYC



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Not a TV Husband

But Maybe She Wheel Not A TV Husband

When I got married at 19, I thought I knew how to “wife”. While my then fiancé and now husband and I had a good understanding about doing away with the traditional gender roles a husband and wife play, I didn’t know there was a poisonous thread of preconception I was trying to weave into our marriage. A preconception of what it means to be a bully in a marriage.


Growing up, I knew I was fortunate to have parents who loved each other. I saw them sacrifice for each other, spoil one another and love together. But I never saw my parents fight, for they preferred instead to fight quietly and behind closed doors. This wasn’t wrong of them and I don’t resent them for it; however, when I began seriously dating my now husband, I was very behind in knowing the loving way to argue in a marriage.


After my mother died, my models for marriage came from my friends’ parents and from movies and TV. Other friends’ parents didn’t make it a habit to argue in front of us either, so I unconsciously began learning patterns of arguing from romantic comedies and TV series. When I laughed along at the antics of Jill and Tim the Toolman Taylor, I unconsciously stored away the pattern of Jill’s to roll her eyes at Tim and for Tim to always admit that Jill was right in the end.


But Maybe She Wheel Not A TV Husband Sweet Plum Photography
Photo Credit: Diana Ratcliff, Sweet Plum Photography

Across television, these wives berate their husbands in the form of jokes, insults and passive aggressive teasing. There’s always something that the husband has done or said wrong and it is only the husband that is responsible for the wife’s happiness, with no regard for the husbands. The idea is that the husband should be happy that he has his wife, no matter what, and there’s nothing that she can do wrong.


Regardless of the two genders or two nongenders in a relationship, the idea that one person has dominance or authority over another should always be wrong. Women’s suffrage of the early 20th century in this country taught women that they have a voice and a right to be heard. But now it seems like the traditional idea is that there’s still one person in the relationship whose voice is quieted for the other to be heard.

But Maybe She Wheel Not A TV Husband Bruges Belgium
Waterways of Bruges outside of Brussels, Belgium


And I am guilty of repeating this mistake in my own marriage. Dusty and I have been married for seven years, five of them with me in a wheelchair and six years in the military.


While stationed in Missouri following our return from Germany, Dusty and I both went through a transformative period. For the first time since the accident, I was purposefully doing physical therapy just to stay healthy and not to continue to try to walk.

At this point we’d been married 6 years, together 8 years, and been together through family crises, my accident that left me a paraplegic, moving for school, moving for the Army, long trainings, long distance loving, and countless events that began to shape our identities. He learned how to dress me, stretch my hip flexors, stand by in case when I became independent, and how to be a soldier with a disabled partner. I learned how to be second to the Army in his time, yet feel secure that I was first when given choices. We grew up in our adulthood together.


Like young friends do, we also teased each other. Made fun of each other’s failings, jokingly at first but always with an element of our true feelings. Then it began to happen in public, at dinners with friends or with our families or even when meeting other couples for the first time. “Don’t ask Dusty, he can’t make choices,” I’d answer for him when friends would ask where to meet for dinner. Joking? Sure. Truthful of my own frustrations with some of his mannerisms? Yes.


And for the first six, Dusty simply absorbed this undertone of belittling and patronizing that I had brought into our marriage. And he took it because he too only knew that it was the husband that was wrong and was constantly needing to get his act together. It breaks my heart to know the man of my life and the hero of my story felt this way for so long. It didn’t matter how tirelessly he worked to make my life accessible, to tune all the kinks from my wheelchair whenever it needed it, to watch for mental and emotional roadblocks in our military life and prepare us for them; if I was unhappy, it was Dusty’s job to fix it. How miserable of a marriage.

But Maybe She Wheel Not A TV Husband back story

But Dusty went through a minor quarter-life crisis in realizing that he simply was not happy. He couldn’t put his finger on the reason, he loved his position in the military at that time, he was hiking and camping all throughout the beautiful Ozarks on weekends, he was enjoying CrossFit… but still he wasn’t happy. We prayed together, I prayed for him and he prayed. And God replied to me, through an article I found on Pinterest. (God totally talks through Pinterest, I’m sure it was His will that wanted me to turn into a wooden pallet sign label maker for our house). Reading through the article, it forced me to ask myself this question.


Would I want to be married to me?


If I was married to myself and played the role of Dusty, would I appreciate the things I said to myself? Would I want to have the responsibility that I’d just shove over to myself without another thought?

Of course not. I’d make myself miserable after a day. No wonder Dusty was unhappy. It wasn’t that who I am as a person made him unhappy or that he didn’t enjoy being with me or we didn’t love each other or anything in that thread of thought. It was the patronizing and belittling comments that had eaten away at his self-esteem, confidence and happiness with who he is. And I crumbled when I realized it had been my mouth from which those comments had come, no matter what my intention had been.

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Copenhagen, Denmark

And so together we learned how to communicate both the negatives and positives of each other. We’re still learning how to build each other up instead of cutting away the edges we don’t like. And we’re going to be just alright. We have a foundation of communication that has carried us through my accident and more and now we rely on that to teach us how to fight fairly.


I urge new couples in a serious relationship to practice fair fighting when tempers run high and expectations are skewed. A couple that doesn’t fight could be pushing down the life force of communication that love between two people need. When I’m angry now, I talk honestly instead of passive aggressively belittling his choices and person. He feels affirmed that I think he’s the incredible, strong amazing man that he is when we’ve finished an argument and I feel the same from him. We now know what is a healthy conversation and what isn’t and that’s an education for which I couldn’t be more grateful. Because I’m not married to a husband on TV. I’m married to true person with a spirit like myself.

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Losing More than My Mother

Losing More Than A Mother But Maybe She Wheel Julia Rodes



A week ago marked the 10 year anniversary of losing my mother.


These past ten years of grief have shaped how I see relationships. I’ve fallen in love, made the lasting friendships that’ll stay with me, became a wife, a sister and an aunt. But in the first six years after she was gone, I also endured the worst experiences I know I’ll ever live to have. There wouldn’t be any waking up from experiences harder than assault, a traffic accident, a spinal cord injury, waking up to a paralyzed body. What I missed most in those moments was the ability to call my mom, have her take me into her arms and make it all better.


I’ve learned I grief much more than just not having my mom in my life; I also grief not having A mom in my life. Because when you lose a mother, you lose so much more than having that person. You also lose the security that a mother gives her child, the comfort that there is someone wiser and always available to help. When a daughter loses a mother, she loses the relationship between mothers and daughters AND she loses the security a mother provides her daughter. My mother surrounded, protected and loved, sometimes judgmentally or intrusively, but with well-meaning and adoring  intentions. I miss the person my mother was, but sometimes more than anything I miss knowing my mom would be there any time I needed her. And how I’ve needed her.

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I needed our mother-daughter relationship when I fell in love with a soldier and made the choice to be an Army wife. I needed the security my mother would’ve brought when I couldn’t pull pants over my paralyzed legs. I needed her smile when I embarked on mentoring other disabled people on traveling, a passion I inherited from her. I needed her wisdom in medicine to help me manage the chronic nerve pain. I needed her pride when I walked across the stage at my college graduation. I needed her for every milestone in my life and for the lives of my siblings and now her grandchildren. What losing her meant that she’ll never be there to see the adult she helped shape me to become. And I’ll never get to turn around and thank her.


In the Hindu religion, time is thought of differently. Hindu’s believe time is not linear like most of the Western world believes, where days and months march forward minute after minute. In Hinduism, time is cyclical and revolves through the four phases, or yugas, of Sat (or Krta), Treta, Dvapara and Kali that repeat themselves endlessly. Think the only period of awkward insecurity is when you’re a teenager? What if we revolved around a period of awkwardness in the circular time when we’re 15 and then revolved through time to again move through that phase at 24, 43, and 68 years old? What if I moved back through the childishly sweet phase of falling head over heels in love with Dusty when I’m 31 and 59 like I did when I was 17?

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If time is circular, then I will continue to move through phases where I have a mom and where I don’t. Her death is a permanent fact of my life, but that never meant my life would be absent of her presence. As I revolve around and around the circular timeline of my life, I’ll move through periods where her presence is so acute it’s as if she’s alive and then phases where her absence is like a widening void. It’s comforting to think that when I feel her presence, it may be because I’m revolving through a past time as a teenager or child when she was alive.


In the linear timeline of my life, my mother is gone and abruptly removed. But in the circular way of thinking, I both have a mother in one phase of a revolution and then do not in another phase. For fans of the Big Bang Theory, this is what I’d call my Schrödinger mother. In circular time, her presence will still be there at each milestone. Her absence will be felt but her presence will still be alive. I can have the relationship, but still have lost the realistic security. I can still look up and thank her.

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I am an overly fortunate person in that I’ve had multiple women step in and provide that missing security of a mother. Army wives all over the world have taken my husband and myself in to provide comfort and help during our crises, actions that I will not soon forget. Her fellow nurses were there when I fell in love and married my soldier, hosting bridal showers and hastily tying the back of my wedding gown so I could dance. The wives of Army chaplains were there when I awoke paralyzed, patiently explaining that everything would be okay while they fed and comforted Dusty. They were also there to smile with pride when I graduated college two years later. I have incredible, strong, and passionate women who have surrounded me and won’t be quick to let go.

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The cycles of grief have moved through me over the past 10 years and have subsided to echoing ripples in my day to day. She’ll always be painfully missed in my accomplishments, adventures and pitfalls and that’s when the waves will splash over my head. But I know now that she can be both present and absent, gone and alive, in the circular spinning of my life. I’ll be glad the next time I move through the phase where I can feel her presence again.

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The Wheeling Diaries: Salt Lake City to the Grand Tetons

But Maybe She Wheel Wheeling Diaries Salt Lake City to Grand Teton National Park

But Maybe She Wheel Wheeling Diaries Salt Lake City to Grand Teton National Park

Dusty and I were a little unprepared for the yawning abyss of problems an RV can. To be fair, we frugally researched and bought an older RV who’d had previous owners and already been driven not a small number of miles. And now we’re learning everything there is to know about how an RV works, how to keep an RV working and what to do when the RV doesn’t work. I don’t know if I ever thought I’d be consciously grateful to say today I’m fairly confident we live in a waterproof home or the toilet is flushing just fine again. Between resealing our windows and fixing our generator, Dusty has become a mechanic of all trades. There will never be too many times I’ll say “Thank God Dusty is an engineer” or “Wow, Dusty, you’re looking sexy in that tool belt”.

But Maybe She Wheel: Dusty the Mechanic Wheeling Diaries
The One and Only Dusty

But there’s always a steep learning curve when embarking on an adventure with a new piece of machinery, whether that be a bike, boat or RV. The first few weeks are all about grease covered hands and frantically googling stores that carry the right parts. We call our RV “La Tortuga” because, like turtles, we carry our home with us wherever we go. And while she’s older and a little rickety on the highway, she’s ours and we love her.


We saw family in Salt Lake City and tried some local beers with a cousin whose smile warms the room, but we were anxious to get back on the road and head north.

But Maybe She Wheel Utah Salt Lake City Wheeling Diaries But Maybe She Wheel Utah Salt Lake City Wheeling Diaries

Before leaving the Great Salt Lake area, we drove to Antelope Island. This state park is a large island north of the city on the Great Salt Lake and connected to the mainland by bridge. Suddenly out of the metropolis, we found ourselves weaving through long grass and scrub brush with towering giants of green and brown hills watching us from above. The road wove along the coast of the Great Salt Lake, which had receded enough to leave a muddy bank covered in white salt. We could see the mountains of the Wasatch Range on the eastern side of Salt Lake City off in the distance. Further along in the island was a ranch positioned on higher elevation, where we could park and walk along paths to see the bison roaming on the grass fields below. Ethel’s nose lifted high into the air as she caught whiffs of the grazing beasts below and I explained to her that these were not friends to meet but a “leave it” to remember. As far as accessibility goes, there was a paved path from the parking lot out a ways to the viewing area but then the path became a dirt road only fairly level. We didn’t see the campsites, but I’m told they are on gravel sites.

But Maybe She Wheel Antelope Island Utah Salt Lake City Wheeling Diaries

Dusty headed out with his trail shoes on to go run to the peaks of the green hills and Ethel and I began our run along the deserted road. With the hills to our left and the white bank of the Great Salt Lake to our right, Ethel galloped along the road with a tongue out. I looked out to the sun over the glistening white salt mud of the lake and had a thought. How cool of a picture would it be on the barren salt desert of the lake below? There was a steep embankment leading down to the lake, but up ahead was what looked like a mowed four-wheeler trail. “Surely,” I thought to myself, “that’ll be flat enough ground to get down to the lake. I have FreeWheel on, I can do this.” Ethel was more than happy to start heading towards the grass and all its’ new animal smells and we started rolling down the hill. Then careening, then bouncing and then falling down the hill. The mowed grass had looked deceptively flat, but underneath the green were mounds of dried bison dung, cut stumps and mud puddles. I’m sure a four-wheeler could navigate this terrain and once again I cursed myself for thinking my wheelchair was also an all-terrain vehicle.

But Maybe She Wheel Utah Wheeling Diairies


With one hand on Ethel’s harness and the other on my wheel with a white knuckle grip, I tried directing her to pull me away from the bison patties and tree stumps. An impossible task, there were simply too many, and soon my hand was slimy with still-warm bison poop that had smeared the hand grips on my wheel. I squished the warm poop in between my fingers as I clutched my wheelchair going through the last few meters until the lake. “I know that was crazy,” I told Ethel, “but you did a good job. Stay close, now”. I looked around in vain for anything to wipe my hands with and settled on the tall straw brush on the side of the trail. It wasn’t effective.


But the view was worth the poop. The salt flats of the Great Salt Lake bank are spellbinding and Ethel happily galloped across the white desert. The scene didn’t make sense; the white ground looked like snow, but the day was warm and the bank should be mud, but the ground wasn’t brown. Ethel and I rode around on the white mud from one side of the bank to the other, daring to move closer and closer to the actual water in the Great Salt Lake until I started to sink in the wet salt. A plethora of selfies with Ethel later and we began to head back to the road.

But Maybe She Wheel Wheeling Diaries Salt Lake City to Grand Tetons
Antelope Island, Utah

With the daunting trail ahead, I held on to Ethel to begin the treacherous ascent. Stubby, brown grass spikes pricked my hand pushing my wheel and I hopelessly tried to dodge what seemed like a field of leftovers from diuretic bison. “Walk on, Ethel,” I commanded, but she was biting away at the swarm of black flies who’d picked us as targets. Coming down to the water, we were falling too fast to fall prey to the black flies but now we were slowly, painfully crawling our way back up.


Twenty minutes later, we’d moved three meters.

Ten minutes after that, I began crying and Ethel wasn’t sure if were stopping or going.


One of Ethel’s services to me is to pull me along in stores, on sidewalks, up hills, down hills, wherever. We move slowly with the “Walk on” command and she starts running with the “Giddy up” command. But when I’m pulling on her with my full weight and am stuck in the ground, she gets confused. Her other service to me is to stand still and brace so that I can climb up over her and get back to my chair. So if we’re walking and I get stuck, instinctively she stops and braces so I can pull myself out. On terrain like we found ourselves, I needed to continually switch from “I’m stuck, brace” to “ok we can move now, walk on”. But an emotional handler, especially with the trademarked Julia overly dramatic sobbing, will confuse the service out of the service dog. Ethel didn’t understand what was going on or what she was supposed to do.


I felt my wheels squish into an especially juicy dung pile and I gave up. I called Dusty, who was just finishing his run, and he got the RV and drove to my rescue. I was frustrated, embarressed and angry that I hadn’t been able to finish what seemed like a simple, off-road trail hike. Dusty just laughed that of course, once again, I had found myself in a situation like this.

But Maybe She Wheel Grand Teton National Park Wheeling Diaries

While Ethel was slurping water, I vigorously washed my hands in the RV bathroom. When sufficiently clean, although I was considering the possibility of dousing myself with bleach, I showed Dusty the pictures we’d taken. A beautiful place plus a big dog makes for some fun pictures and glancing through them made me realize a hard truth.


I was never supposed to do that trek alone. As hard as it is to admit, I know there are places in the world where I just can’t go. The top of the Eiffel Tower, for example, doesn’t have accommodations for wheelchairs. But I’ve climbed, scratched, hauled and lifted myself into “not for disabilities” sites around the world. The key, though, is that I always had help. Dusty would be by my side, hauling my wheelchair while I low-crawled up stairs or carrying me into over fences and into towers. When Dusty’s help wasn’t enough or when he was absent, there was always someone. In college, I had wonderful friends and I hunted down the nervous freshman who wouldn’t say no to a push. In Europe, there were the good people who restored my faith in humanity time and time again. We’d communicate through hand gestures when I’d explain the elevator had broken, but wheelchair problems and smiles are universal.

But Maybe She Wheel Grand Teton National Park Wheeling Diaries

But Maybe She Wheel Grand Teton National Park Wheeling Diaries

Now that I have Ethel, I’ve got an invincibility complex. With my four-pawed SuperGirl, I feel like I’m The Wheeling Rider, a famed superhero known for the flames that follow her wheels when she takes off. Together we can face the cobblestones, gravel, hills and curbs of the world with ease, fighting crime and saving babies along the way. And some of that is true. But there’s always room for help and I forgot how to ask.


I’m not invincible, I learned today day crawling through bison dung back to the road of Antelope Island. But that doesn’t mean Ethel isn’t my SuperGirl and I’m not Wheeling Rider. Because even superheroes ask for help sometimes.

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Finding Ethel: Part 2, Over the Weekend


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In the two weeks on the farm, I learned more about the purity of animal companionship than I ever had before. Great Danes are capable of a bond to their person or people that has truly unmatched strength. A Dane doesn’t judge, won’t hold grudges and will always be happy to be near their person. Yet as strong as the bond is, that joined cord can still bruise from trust being broken or grow loose from training not enforced. The bond between a service Dane and their person, I learned, is a paradox of strength in the incredible amount of trust a dog has for their person and fragility in how easily a person can damage that cord. I learned it takes building blocks of mutual respect and unyielding commitment to communicate and express love to begin growing this connection. I can only pray that I’m doing this right with Ethel.


The first time Ethel wagged her tail when I pulled out her vest shattered my shield of pride and stubbornness. I have been alone, separated from my husband from deployments and training, for one third of my years being a paraplegic. Dusty prepared me the best he could before he would leave, stocking the kitchen with months of food and necessities, getting his friends and family to call daily to check on me, but there’s always the unexpected. I learned how to get myself through sinking, muddy fields to get back to my car, how to handle being locked out my apartment when I really had to pee, how to not freak out when I wake up with unusual back pain…. And how to still be happy when I’m all alone. Through this I developed a stubborn refusal to give up and a prideful determination to not rely on anyone. I sat firm in my independence and grew bitter at the looks of sympathy I received while struggling to carry groceries alone.

My friends helped me with Dusty's Welcome Home from deployment
My friends helped me with Dusty’s Welcome Home from deployment
One of my friends helping surprise Dusty at the airport coming home from deployment
One of my friends helping surprise Dusty at the airport coming home from deployment
One of my friends helping surprise Dusty at the airport coming back from deployment
One of my friends helping surprise Dusty at the airport coming back from deployment
First hug coming home from deployment
First hug coming home from deployment


So when I saw Ethel looking at me with her blue eyes and wagging her tail because she saw her vest, I broke. She wanted to help me, but not because she felt sorry for me. She wanted to help me out of trust, training and hopefully love. She wasn’t judging me when I asked her to brace so I could reach something on the top shelf at Stop & Shop. She only wanted me to love on her and rub that spot under her ears. My prideful refusal to accept that anyone would respect my independence while giving me help was broken.


Our weekend alone at the guest house gave us a chance to go out on outings without supervision from the trainers, Meg and Kati. Dusty lined the backseat of our small car with fluffies and I packed a backpack with cookies, extra kibble, water with the attached water dish and her vest and leash. Ethel is still on steroids from her case of thrombocytopenia which causes her to drink a lot of water and frequently pant. We try to finish each outing with a water break and we bought a water bottle with an detachable doggy water dish so that we’d always have water for her.


The three of us left the guest house after breakfast and hopped in the car to do a few errands. By this time Ethel and I were pros at grocery stores, having gotten the hang of simultaneously telling her to “Leave it!” while navigating small pathways. We got what we needed for the week from Stop & Shop and then, for fun, headed to the nearest bookstore. Books were incredibly important to me growing up and continue to be a cornerstone in my life. I daily escaped into the simple worlds of Redwall or the American Girl Dolls, stories where the good guy will always win at the end. These stories gave me hope that only continued to grow as I passed from the Children’s section to Young Adult to finally simply Fiction. Leading Ethel through the colorful bookshelves of Barnes & Noble was a cementing variable to our relationship; I wanted to take her somewhere so special to me so that she could share it too.


Now, some people would say that a dog knowing what a bookstore is could be crazy but Ethel was simply serene as we wandered in between the shelves. People commented left and right as they passed, a little shocked at seeing a black and white animal flopped out on the floor of their bookstore, but we were happy. She braced so that I could reach titles on the top shelves and then flopped down to sleep while I took a minute to read. With Dusty by my side, reading his woodworking manuals, and Ethel’s paws in my wheels, I felt that true happiness that only comes from true peace in a person’s heart.


To the end of the second week on the farm, we tested our abilities with trainer Kati and volunteer Margaret by taking the Boston T (train) out of Beverly station. I fell in love with public transportation in Europe; the convenience, the availability and the cleanliness of German public transportation is unmatched in my opinion to anywhere else in Europe.

Train Station, Northern Germany
Train Station, Northern Germany

When we first moved to Germany, we stayed at the base hotel for two months while we tried to find an apartment. The base was at the top of a steep hill and there was a train station in the town at the bottom. The first week we arrived, we were already planning for what adventure we were going to try that weekend. In those two months, we didn’t spend any of the eight weekends in town. We saw villages and castles and drank German beer out of steins while eating pretzels like the genuine tourists we were. But on Sunday nights, when we were exhausted and dirty and let me repeat, absolutely exhausted, we learned that the buses going from the train station to the base stopped running early. We’d pull in to the town below the base at 10 o’clock at night, waking up from catching a quick nap on the ride to the realization that we’d have to walk the mile back home, up the hill. Well, Dusty would have to walk the mile home. He’d shoulder his rucksack full of everything we had used during the weekend (let me pause here to point out that for a female paraplegic, being able to share just one backpack with everything that’s needed for a weekend is very hard to do), tighten his belt for me to grab onto and begin to trudge forward. Every Sunday night, because we kept saying to ourselves “Oh, we can walk home, it’ll be fine. It’s totally worth staying later here at blank so that we can eat more blank”, he’d lift foot by foot to drag me hanging onto his belt behind him up the steep mile back home in the dark. So when we looked for an apartment, our priority was to find one next to a hauptanhof (train station).


And we did. A fabulous apartment close to grocery stores, bike trails and just a block away from the trains. Trains in Germany are all accessible and very clean. Almost all the stations in the major cities of Germany will have a lift to get down to the trains (something we found, the hard way, that is VERY VERY rare for Europe. I saw one station with an elevator in all of the train stations of our travels to Italy, for example) and will have handicapped seating in a roomy cabin on the train. With a German issued disability ID, riding that local trains are free for you and your companion. When I received my ID, we took advantage of this amazing opportunity as often as we could. We rode trains to Berlin, Heidelberg, Octoberfest, Frankfurt and countless Christmasmarkets (Christmas festivals celebrated all over Germany during the holiday season) in a countless number of villages. I could ride the trains by myself easily and preferred the trains over driving.

Esslingen Christmas Markt, Germany
Esslingen Christmas Markt, Germany


Christmas Markt in Cologne, Germany
Christmas Markt in Cologne, Germany


So learning how to be on a train with Ethel was very important to me. I love to travel, live to travel and I want to be able to share that with her whether we drive or fly or train. We climbed the raised platform for boarding the train and waited for it to arrive, enjoying chatting with Kati and Margaret and the two dogs they were training. Ethel’s very funny to watch when she’s with other dogs, whether or not she has her vest on. She’ll watch the other dogs run around or in this case wag tails and slobber goofily and then she’ll look up at me with a glance that says, “How disgraceful. It would behoove them to take this more seriously,” and then turn her head away like she just can’t handle their nonsense. That’s my girl.


When the train came, all three dogs shook and cowed from the incredible noise. We waited for one of the conductors to bring out that steel transportable ramp so I could board. The cabin openings were narrow and cramped with the tracks underneath visible on either side of the walkway. But the cabin itself opened up to a wider space next to the aisle for wheelchair seating and with direction from Kati, I gave Ethel the “Back Up!” command to back herself in the space in between the seat and my wheelchair for her to lay down. And as the incredibly professional service dog that she is, she backed up, laid down and crossed her paws like a lady as she waited for the train to start. I, however, kept dropping my sunglasses and sliding forward because I forgot to brake my chair, like the klutz that I am. But the ride was smooth and the other passengers and conductor were friendly.


Ethel and I learned that we are more than ready to start traveling on our own and I couldn’t be prouder. Let’s take on the world, girl.

Heading on the train in Beverly, MA
Heading on the train in Beverly, MA
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