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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Review of Harlan Coben’s The Woods

I recently finished Harlan Coben’s The Woods. It started very strong, so much so that I was reading at a rate that I have rarely achieved since being an English major. Honestly, I’m not completely sure why I slowed down, but my interest level did pick up again at the end of the novel.

The plot centers around Paul Copeland, a county prosecutor with some political aspirations who is suddenly pulled into a murder case tied to his past. As a camp counselor, he was on duty when four campers – including his sister – snuck into the woods. Two were found murdered, and the others were presumed dead.

From there The Woods follows the fairly typical popular novel format. It has some decent twists and turns, certainly nothing literary, and a worthwhile ending. What made it a cut above other such novels was an interesting character in Copeland along the lines of the protagonist in the Spenser for Hire series, though this wanes a bit and is likely what slowed me down, and an ending that is legit. The author brings the reader to the ending as opposed to dropping in major facts out of nowhere at the end.

If you enjoy these type of novels – plot heavy, but nothing too heavy - this is a good option.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Shield Finale

After seven seasons, The Shield came to an end on FX last night, and the best and worst the show had to offer came shining through. I’m not sure I have ever liked a series finale of a show I truly followed – in fact, this was the only show left that I made a point to watch – and this one didn’t break the mold as much as I’d hope it would.

I was actually excited to watch this series finale. Finally, everything had to come to a head. Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) either got out from under from all of his misdeeds or he would finally be brought down. It’s a testament to the show that there really wasn’t an obvious answer going into the final episode of what would happen to him. The fact that it ended with a debatable answer may be seen as another testament to the show by some. I’m not quite convinced.

The fact that the show is still on my mind the next day, as it often would be when it aired, proves I thought it was damn good. The Shield was the most unique cop show on. Vic, there was never any doubt since the opening episode when he shot and killed another cop, was a criminal with a badge. In fact, he was a scumbag if you really looked at it.

But fans never really did look at that side of him too closely. Early on the precedent was set that he was rotten but at least his actions were intended to bring down some of the worst criminals in East Los Angeles. The guy even had two Autistic children that, in his own way, he was devoted to. (Oddly enough, now that I think about it, this was the only prime-time show on that at least touched on dealing with a disability at all.) In that same first episode, his own bosses watched him beat a suspected child molester in order to get information on a child’s whereabouts – in fact, his chief adversary, David Aceveda (Benito Martinez), pulled him into the case to deal with the guy.

Gradually, Mackey was forced to be more concerned with covering his own tracks than law enforcement. It could be argued, though, that the show – or, maybe, those out to nail Mackey – lost sight of what the Strike Team, which he originally headed, was asked to do. They were policing the gangs of East L.A. by basically getting involved with them on their level. If typical police work had been enough, the Strike Team is never created.

That said, the Strike Team turned a corner once and for all when they ripped off the “Money Train” – a money laundering operation. That set in motion the events that eventually led to the demise of the Strike Team and all of it’s members.

Except Vic Mackey.

Now, it can be argued Mackey was taken down. No doubt series creator Shawn Ryan would say that the final deal Mackey struck to get immunity ended up sticking him behind a desk. That, coupled with his ex-wife taking the kids into witness protection, was supposed to be the worst punishment he could get.

Well . . . eh.

I mean, ok, I get it. He got away but he didn’t. I even got the symbolism or irony of Mackey walking around in a suit with the HR person at his new job. But, c’mon. His big “sentence” is hating his job? Who doesn’t? And, isn’t working for the agency that put your kids in witness protection the best way to find them? Plus, his oldest daughter was at least 15 or 16; she was just a few years from being old enough to find him if she wanted.

I thought that the final bust, which he needed to cement his deal, was going to get screwed up because he would tell his last Strike Team partner, Ronnie (David Rees Snell), that he needed to run. Ronnie was key to the last bust, but didn’t know Vic had confessed to everything as part of his immunity and bagged him in the process. Instead, Vic left him to be the one guy to pay for their crimes.

Vic’s redeeming quality was his loyalty. While there was an element to Vic’s deal protecting his ex-wife (which she didn’t actually need but he didn’t know that), I thought they underplayed that vital quality in the end. I also wanted more shock value, since that was what the show was built on. The murder-suicide of Shane (Walton Goggins), his ex-partner who killed his wife and child and then himself after their attempt to escape the law went, awry was the only stunning moment of the episode. But with him being the guy that killed Lem (Kenny Johnson), the first true crack in the Team’s loyalty to each other, he wasn’t really a guy to root for any way.

So, I guess my biggest criticism is that I wanted more of The Shield, which isn’t much criticism at all. The final episode could have been more satisfying, but the series was as good as it gets.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hancock — Movie Review

I caught Hancock in theaters this summer, and with the DVD release approaching, I figured it was time to finally write my first review in a while. I was actually a bit disappointed in the film when I saw it, but, as seems to happen more and more, I think the advertising hurt the movie more than anything.

Will Smith plays Hancock, a lazy superhero the public has actually grown to dislike. Sure, he does plenty of good deeds. The problem is that he isn’t exactly careful about how he goes about his superhero feats, usually destroying property among other things along the way. He eventually takes advice from a PR agent, Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), and tries to turn his image around.

I went to the movie, as I suspect most people did, expecting a light-hearted action-comedy along the lines of Men in Black based on the commercials for the movie. While there are some funny moments, including one that made me laugh harder than anything I’ve seen in a movie in years involving one man’s head and another man’s backside, it really wasn’t a comedy. This film had plenty of drama to it, and was fairly sad on some levels. In fact, the climactic scenes suggested some impending disaster for the characters involved that weren’t even close to light-hearted.

It turns out Hancock has lived for centuries, but he only remembers his life since waking up in a hospital in the 1800s. The twist comes from Emery’s wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), who can answer all of Hancock’s questions about himself but wants nothing to do with him. Again, one of the reasons she wants him out of their lives is, I think, more than the typical “sadness” offered in such films. Hancock is also part of what was once a group of superheroes sent to protect humans, and there are the requisite “bad guys” that would like to see his kind completely gone.

In the final analysis, this is actually a pretty good film and worth a look. Just don’t let the advertisements fool you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Week Later, Considering Obama’s Victory

President-elect Barack Obama’s speech after winning the election is the first political speech I’ve ever voluntarily listened to more than once. While I can certainly never fully appreciate how African Americans feel about the outcome of the election last Tuesday, I think I get just a minute taste of it as a 36-year-old white guy with cerebral palsy.

Certainly people with disabilities never incurred the level of brutality or open hostility faced by blacks throughout our country’s history, though our history is not devoid of cruelty. But I know what it’s like to be treated as less than someone else based on prejudice. I know what it's like to go into a job interview and know the moment I meet the potential employer that I may as well go home because their face tells me they're scared to death. I know what it’s like to go into a store and be unable to get service.

Ironically, or maybe not so ironically, if an African American male is working in that store, I’m 90% more likely to get service. Throughout my life when dealing with strangers as I go about my day, I’ve been treated much better on average by African American males than any other population. I’m treated like a person; I’ve never once had an African American man talk to me through the person I may be with. You know, at a restaurant having waitresses ask my mother what he wants to order. It’s something I don’t truly understand, but I wonder if that thread of shared experience plays a role.

Watching Obama’s victory was one of the first times I truly felt proud to be an American. It’s not that I ever was not happy to be American, I just can’t say I truly felt proud of it. It was just a reality.

Last week, I was happy for the elderly African American woman I saw earlier in the day weeping and saying that this day was why God had let her live so long. I was happy for all the people that had seen what she had seen in her life, and even those who only see a small portion of it.

I was happy our country had finally elected someone other than a white man. Yes, I think that in itself says a lot. I was happy that, in my opinion, we elected the right person, regardless of race.

I was also excited to hear what Obama said early in his speech:

“If there is anyone out there who still . . . wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time . . . tonight is your answer. It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches . . . because they believed that this time must be different, that their voices could be that difference. . . . It’s the answer spoken by young and old . . . disabled and not disabled . . .”

For me, the man has already put people with disabilities in a category of full-fledged human being more so than any president I've been aware of. He showed an awareness that we exist as full members of society with that one line more than Sarah Palin or John McCain ever did. They simply wanted to refer to people with disabilities as “special” or as if we lived an endless childhood, and then suggest that Palin was an advocate for us because, after all, she gave birth to a son with a disability.

Of course, America didn’t become nirvana over night last week. I’m genuinely curious why the Black Panther incident at a Philadelphia polling place seemed to get very little play. Certainly, I’m not one of the idiots saying “this is what you get with a black president . . .” No, this has nothing to do with Obama as an individual. However, it would seem to be a story equivalent to the robo-calls meant to invoke fear of Obama as president. If nothing else, the video responses and text comments on YouTube related to the incident prove that racism is still alive and well on all sides.

But what did happen last week was that a lot of people, including those of us with disabilities, were given hope that among other things we may be judged on our abilities as opposed to the minority status we were born into.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama Wins Presidency

Watching the celebration of the election of Barack Obama as the President of the United States of America, I kept thinking of words we all learned in school:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We have never been closer to making these words a reality.

Congratulations to President-elect Obama!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

One Last Election Rant

Believe it or not, the 2008 presidential election is finally going to end this week. Having focused more on this election than any other in my life, I’ve learned a lot about politics in our country – at least I think I have – and not all of it is very pretty. But, before it ends, I have a few things I have to get off my chest. Not that anyone should give a damn, but here’s my final pre-election two cents.

I’m almost embarrassed to have offered John McCain a modicum of credit for assuring supporters that there was no reason to fear a Barack Obama presidency. As much as I disagreed with McCain’s thoughts on the future of America, I wanted to believe he had some honor in this campaign. I was na├»ve enough to think he would finally put the brakes on the rhetoric suggesting Obama had ties to terrorists. Instead, the Republicans seemed to merely ramp up efforts to suggest such ties existed, while Sarah Palin continued to openly question Obama’s patriotism.

Last week, when reports about the campaign started to suggest that Obama was going to win, there seemed to be a sudden focus on the Bradley Effect. The suggestion is that white voters might tell pollsters they’d vote for a black candidate, but when they stepped into the voting booth they simply wouldn’t be able to bring themselves to do it. I’m guessing these weren’t talking points being pushed by the Obama campaign.

When John McCain was admonishing supporters for fearing Obama, where the hell did he think they got the idea? Certainly McCain can’t be blamed for the racial tensions in this country, but playing on them seemed to be a cornerstone of his campaign. As I sat down to start this post, the “shocking” news of the night was that Obama’s aunt is an illegal alien. I can’t imagine where that story originated, can you? By Monday they’ll be suggesting Obama’s an actual alien.

Or, maybe McCain will just keep editing audio and video tapes, like he did to make it sound like Obama was degrading U.S. troops (he wasn’t) and Joe Biden was inviting trouble from our enemies (again, not true). If he does, I hope McCain splices together a coherent explanation of how being a fighter pilot makes him a “proven” commodity in handling an international crisis as president. Last time I checked the military liked fighter pilots that followed orders without questioning them. Call me crazy if you must, but I don’t see a correlation between following orders as a pilot and being the guy in the Oval Office giving orders that could affect the entire world.

Then there’s Fox News, which I never really paid much attention to prior to the election. I recently stumbled upon a YouTube video called Barack Obama & Joe Biden Attack People With Disab[i]lities. I posted a comment stating that Fox is not a news outlet, it’s merely a Republican propaganda machine. I predictably got the following reply, “Why are they not a news outlet? Because they disagree with your views? It's the only conservative news outlet. Let it go, you've got plenty of liberal programming available to you. It seems that the democrats won't be happy until they're in complete and total control of everything. I don't know about you, but that's sounds pretty damn SOCIALIST to me.”

The person later apologized, which was a nice surprised, but the point that the comment brought out was key. As I replied, the mere fact, which those who like their coverage acknowledge, that the stations disagrees with any viewpoint proves that it is simply not a news outlet. They offer one, specific slant.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think any of the news coverage has been stellar. Why the candidates are still arguing over what the other guy’s tax plan does in raising or lowering taxes is beyond me. Shouldn’t we know by now? I’m not suggesting that I do. I’m asking why the media can’t set the record straight on what appears to be a fairly concrete issue.

For the record, I’m not a Democrat. It amazes me how people jump to that. The logic of supporting candidates based on party affiliation seems to me to be the ultimate in the dumbing down of democracy.

I found the video I mentioned searching for comments from the candidates on disability issues, which once again are the forgotten issues in the campaign. Of course, Palin is trying to convince us that she’ll be an advocate for people with disabilities. This is apparently based on the fact that she has an infant child with Down’s Syndrome. It’s equivalent to suggesting she’s ready to be president because she’s been governor of Alaska.

Never mind that McCain reportedly met her only once before offering her the second spot on the Republican presidential ticket, that she thinks she keeps an eye on Russia for the country, that McCain was (apparently rightfully) scared to death to even let her talk to the press, and literally went with her back to CBS to attempt to clean up her disaster with Katie Couric. He looked like a parent defending his daughter, but she’s ready to be president because McCain says so.

By the way, being a disability advocate takes more than using the word “special” a lot. Palin may figure that out some day, but she has clearly failed to do so at this point. While her son may have some health issues (I don’t know), he certainly hasn’t dealt with the “social” issues of dealing with life with a disability. Hearing Palin talk, she clearly thinks disability issues begin and end with children. They most assuredly do not.

Someone wake me when any of the candidates figure out that people with disabilities aren’t all children. That we can grow into adulthood, become educated and successful, and that we need a government that removes the physical barriers as well as the barriers of prejudice among educators and employers to allow us those opportunities.

There, I feel better. Of course, even those who will disagree with me will likely agree on my last point. The best news is that the campaign that made Joe the Plumber a household name is almost over.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

One More Great Saturday

My nephew giggled with delight as I tried to catch up with him in our bike race back toward the car. A fun, late-morning ride on a sunny, crisp fall day on Martin Luther King Drive that he may or may not remember very long is one I surely won’t soon forget.

It was probably the first time in his young life we’ve had a chance to go all out in a physical activity. I only discovered biking with the Pennsylvania Center for Adaptive Sports back in August. While he was a baby, it was easy enough to play with him and keep him somewhat amused. As a toddler, he was a little tougher to keep entertained as he began to run and want to rough house. A smart kid, he quickly learned the “gentle touch” of my cerebral palsy made it a little tough to fake wrestle, and it was more fun to run around the yard than it was to stay in my range when I’m playing with him on the ground. Soon enough, it was off to play T-ball or with his friends in the neighborhood.

Yesterday, though, it was fun to beat Uncle Rob at a race. I would love to put the word beat in quotes, suggesting a wink-wink, I let the kid win. But 20 years of fairly consistent use of a stationary bike hasn’t been much of a substitute for the real thing. He beat me, fair and square.

Of course, I can’t resist adding that I beat my brother in one of our races. To be fair, he was riding a hand-cycle for the first time in his life. And, no, it’s not really the point. Enjoying a physical activity on somewhat equal footing with my able-bodied brother for possibly the first time in my life was much more important. But when you grow up as one of four boys, “who won” is always part of the story (unless it wasn’t you).

As I continued to pedal around after my nephew and niece got bored, my mom joked that I didn’t want to give up the bike. She was right. It was only my third time on the foot-pedaled three-wheeler. Luckily, no one else was waiting – at least I hope not – and the volunteer who owns the bike didn’t seem to mind.

With one week left in the program until April, I was soaking up every minute. Since discovering the program, more Saturday mornings than not have been spent feeling the fresh air as I cycled around on Martin Luther King Drive. The little kid in me that never got to ride a bike is making up for just a bit of what he missed. The sports fan in me hears about the Paralympics attended by some of the rowers from the program, and can’t help a moment of wondering if there was a biking competition and what might have been if I was a bit younger. The adult in me wonders how difficult it will be to obtain an adaptive 3-wheel bike, complete with about a $4k price tag, so I can ride more than once a week from April through October.

But mostly I’m just happy to have found this volunteer-driven program that survives on donations and what funding it can find. I’m happy to ride around Martin Luther King Drive. I’m happy to soak in some fresh air while getting in a good workout on a bike that moves past trees, the river, and other people (or at least continues to move as other people are passing me!). I’m happy to start thinking about another Saturday of biking by Wednesday.

And, for a day, I enjoyed watching my nephew look back and smile as he beat me back to the car.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

McCain Shows Class on Rumors, Prejudice about Obama

I never expected to write this much about the election, and I’m not dumb enough to think anyone is reading my blog to gather political insight. I really only intended to write about the election once or twice to make my own small statement that people with disabilities need to become part of the country’s conversation on everything and anything. My hope was, and still is, to say that simply by doing that.

Just last week I wrote about some of the condescension coming from the McCain campaign against Barack Obama, as well as their efforts to link him to terrorists. I honestly believe it was playing into the fears and prejudice many people have about voting for a black presidential candidate. John McCain was confronted with these attitudes at a recent town hall meeting he held (in fact, I think it was last night). Video is below:

McCain flatly says that there is no reason to fear an Obama presidency, and literally takes the microphone away from a woman saying that Obama is an “Arab” (she likely meant Muslim) and unequivocally corrects her stating that he is not.

McCain deserves real credit here. Sure, some will say it’s too late or that he flamed the fans of these fears that are based on race. True or not, he stepped up to the mic, literally, in what is quickly becoming an ugly campaign and said enough was enough.

While I’m at it (“it” is, I guess, saying things that may be pro-Republican), I agree with those suggesting that voting for Obama because he’s black is as bad as not voting for him because he’s black. Let’s hope the geniuses voting on this basis cancel each other out.

On another note, I think the timing of the release of Oliver Stones’ W., a movie about our current president that apparently makes George W. Bush look like a dope, is just as wrong as some of the Republican ads. It’s acting as free promotion for Obama, and, while I know nothing about the legalities of financing campaigns, it’s clearly skirting some of the rules of campaign contributions. If the film is based on fact, I have no problem with it. But the timing of it stinks. The studio will call it business; it’s really just bogus.

There’s less than a month left in this seemingly never-ending campaign. It would be nice to see more moments like the one McCain provided this weekend. Then maybe we can elect a president based on issues instead of insults.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Jumping into Election '08

I almost feel like a little kid with those inflatable floaties on my arms about to jump into the pool for the first time. Writing about this presidential election is like putting a target on your chest and saying, “Ok, start shooting.”

I’ve watched more CNN than I ever have in my life over the last year or so. I registered under a particular party when I was a very young 18 because I asked my mom what party she and my dad were in and went with that. I knew the basic characterization of each party, but not much else. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal; after all, I figured voters tried to get to know the individual candidates and vote based on what they thought of them.

How silly of me.

About to vote in my fifth presidential race, I’ve never felt stronger about the side I’m voting for. Since it will likely become clear, I’ll just state now that I’m voting for Barack Obama. As I feel a need to put up my defense shield, let me add a few things. No, I didn’t decide that the minute he started running; I waited, listened, and learned. No, I’m not a Democrat, though I may actually change my party after this election. I freely admit I don’t understand the intricacies of our government, but feel I grasp the major issues at least as much as the average person. And, sadly this is relevant, I’m a white guy.

While I feel strongly about this election, I don’t see John McCain as this horrible candidate . . . until he starts talking about Obama. On the real issues as I understand them, I simply side with Obama. I think more drilling for oil prolongs the problems that our use of oil has created environmentally and in terms of national security. I also think McCain’s idea that you simply don’t talk to certain nations is outdated. The world seems to pretty much hate us, or at least a big section of it does, and the fact that our army is the strongest on the planet no longer keeps us safe.

But I at least see McCain’s point on these and other issues. If things ended there, I’d likely cast my vote on election day and pretty much assume the world would continue on without much change to my daily life regardless of who won.

What I can’t get passed though is the condescending attitude of McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin. McCain prattled on for months that Obama wasn’t ready to be president, and then went out and picked a woman who is so ridiculously unprepared her own party finds it scary. Are we not supposed to notice the double standard? Is it a coincidence that the black guy is “unprepared” but the white woman is “a fresh voice?”

When Palin says, “Our opponent is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country,” it’s disgusting. Her comments were really nothing short of saying, “You’re not really going to vote for a black guy, are you?”

And maybe it’s a stretch, but it just reminds me of my bosses at the publisher I used to work for finding ways to push me aside because I’m disabled. No, they weren't quite as dumb as Palin to say it out loud, but when I take a website from 0 sales to $250k worth in a year and I’m told people are being brought in to “help” me, it just feels like the same garbage. It’s the wink-wink, we know the crippled/black guy can’t really do the job / be trusted, but we can’t put it that way so let’s come up with every BS excuse around the disability/race and hope people get the veiled reference.

One report has McCain / Palin supporters shouting racist remarks at a rally, as the candidate stood idly by. Sadly, the message is apparently getting through.

The Republicans keep saying “the gloves are off” -- what the hell does that even mean? They already blatantly lie, and thanks to Sarah their racist attitude is pretty much out of the bag. What’s left? Contending that Obama was with O.J. on the night of the murders?

In one of their latest ads against Obama, McCain’s campaign has literally taken an obviously edited snippet of video to make it sound like Obama is trashing our troops as “air raiding villages and killing civilians.” A condescending voice follows the clip saying something like, “How dishonorable.” The voice is correct, just misdirected. In fact, it is completely dishonorable of McCain to approve such a blatant attempt to dupe voters.

CBS reports:
The fact is: That’s just part of what Obama said. He was actually saying, more troops in Afghanistan would reduce civilian casualties.

In August of 2007, he said: “and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there.”

People are finally buzzing because McCain called Obama “that one” in the debate Tuesday night. Who cares? That’s too easy to explain away. Don’t let him off the hook that easy. I was actually wondering just before the debate if McCain would have the guts to speak out about the racist e-mails that we’ve all received about Obama. Instead, it’s quite clear he is counting on the ignorance that generates those e-mails to win this election.

I wasn’t sure I saw what I saw when McCain refused to shake hands at the end of Tuesday’s debate until I read others discussing it. It seems sad that’s the type of thing that gets attention, but as Inquirer writer Dan Rubin suggested in his blog Blinq (see previous link), this isn’t the behavior of a guy that’s going to reach across party lines.

While I’m at it, here’s a few more things about this campaign I’d like to vent about:

• McCain can’t even come up with his own campaign slogan. Obama talked about changing Washington, so McCain simply adopted the same slogan. McCain saw the support Hillary Clinton received, so he picked a woman for his running mate. Is there an original thought in this guy’s head?

• Palin thinks having a child with Down Syndrome makes her an advocate to people with disabilities. This is an infant, and Palin has just scratched the surface on learning about disability (assuming she has the capacity to learn). I truly wish her well in that journey, but being at the start of it does not make her an advocate. Besides that, she cut funding for special education in Alaska. (CNN later claimed such reports are untrue.) And, finally, she needs to hire a damn babysitter and stop using the baby and her little daughter as props!

• The truth is, I haven’t heard enough from either candidate on disability issues. In fact, I haven’t heard Obama or McCain utter a word about disability. I expected more from Obama, and McCain can’t wait to tell you how he’ll support veterans, yet has not uttered a word on disability. Which veterans does he think need the most support? Those that come home perfectly able-bodied and without psychological damage?

• Every time McCain calls himself a maverick, he sounds dumb. It’s like a guy that really wants to have a cool nickname so he just makes one up for himself.

• Wasn’t McCain a pilot in the military? How does that make him such a brilliant war strategist? And if his ideas on Iraq were so brilliant, where were they before he ran for president?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New Name

As I dip my toe back into blogging, I’ve combined all my blogs under one name – Rob Q Ink. I was actually able to get the name I use for my byline, but then I decided that wasn’t the best idea in the world. Blogs make it far too easy to say something stupid. I don’t need my byline attached, even for a few hours until I realize hitting the delete button makes sense, to a brain cramp. Of course a big part of this blog will be to pull potential customers into The Stores @ Royal Steele, which has my full name attached to it. But I still think it’s best to avoid slapping it on every post. People will actually have to click a minimum of two times to find out the full name of the author of some of the dumber posts. Most people either aren’t that inquisitive or “patient,” and those that are generally prefer reading things that they can actually hold in their hands.

Besides the fact that just about every other version of “Rob” was taken – I begrudgingly added the Q – the name is a nod toward my dream of writing for a newspaper as a kid, which I actually got to do on a small scale at the Inquirer. (It’s a possibly weak reference to newspaper “ink” for those who never had the pleasure of washing their hands after turning actual newspaper pages.) It also works as a homophone for Rob Q. Inc., which appeased the side of me that still hopes to be filthy rich some day.

So, for now, Rob Q Ink is my new blogging home. I pulled in my old posts from Philly Sports Review and the Casual Critic, and have begun reshaping the Royal Steele blog. The two old blogs are now categories of Rob Q Ink, which I plan to re-start. I may even venture into some more disability issues, politics, and whatever else comes to mind.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Bike Ride Worth Remembering

Hours after my first ride on a hand-cycle with the Pennsylvania Center for Adaptive Sports my chest still feels the best workout its ever had, my arms still feel weak, I know I’ll probably fall asleep minutes after my head hits the pillow despite missing several innings of today’s game of the week on Fox due to intense study of the back of my eyelids, and all I really want to do is get back on the bike.

I had no idea what to expect as I headed down this morning, my mom having offered a ride. (I actually drive, but generally not into Philly, though I may be able to handle this particular commute.) I was hoping to get a chance to ride a recumbent 3-wheel bike with foot pedals, but realistically I would have been happy just to get some information on one.

I arrived to find that the program had no such bike and there was no sign of the only person who knew I was coming. Soon enough, though, the woman in charge for the day, Jane, was helping me figure out what I could ride. All I had to do was fill out a simple release form.

That was it. A clearly dedicated group of volunteers that had never heard of me minutes earlier had one goal in mind – getting me out on a bike. No big evaluation period, no questions about OVR or Social Security or anything, no commitment to show up every week, not even a request to pay the small seasonal fee (which I certainly plan to do). Just a chance to ride a bike. One brave soul was even ready to take me on a tandem, 2-wheel recumbent. I wasn’t nearly that brave.

Eventually, I decided to try the thing I’d been searching for an alternative to for months – a hand-cycle. As I’ve explained in e-mail after e-mail researching adaptive bikes, I have cerebral palsy, but I've ridden the stationary bike for years and I'd like to see if there's a bike I can actually ride outdoors. I figured I’d need the 3-wheel type with a seat with a back and foot straps on the pedals. My legs are actually better for a bike than my arms. I was hoping I might actually be able to rent one or try one out before I had to buy, as I'm not sure I can even use one.

But, I was there, it was the best fit for me based on what they had, and they seemed like a bunch of nice, every day people (or maybe better than “every day” people). So, I took a shot. With my left arm being much more spastic than my right, I wasn’t sure I’d get three feet.

Instead, according to a volunteer I only know as Reid who went with me, I went about three miles. Granted, I wasn’t setting any speed records, and I’m pretty sure a slow jogger could have passed me, but I rode a bike for three miles.

I went out on a street in Philadelphia and under my own power went three miles on a bike. That may seem like no big deal, but as someone who has met brick wall after brick wall looking for activity in my life, it was anything but “no big deal.” It was good exercise out in the fresh air. I felt alive in a way I rarely experience, sharing the road with other bikers – able-bodied and disabled. Instead of watching a digital read out or the five TVs at the gym, I was passing actual trees and a river.

Typically, I’m not the guy that puts on a bubbly smile and tells the world to just get out there and do it. In fact, I’d generally like to slap those people. I’ve seen too many programs not deliver. I’ve faced too much prejudice. I’ve spent too many days being too able for this group and not able enough for that group. It’s real, it happens, and people who want to pretend it doesn’t allow the public to think the biggest issue in the disability community is deciding whether to call us disabled or people with disabilities.

But, for me, today was a day to put all of those issues on hold. I got to enjoy what many get to do any time they want, and it was thanks to true advocates – a rare breed – and access to recreational assistive technology that I learned I could use because I got the chance to try it.

Today I simply enjoyed a bike ride down a Philadelphia street.