He is about 6 feet tall and as sturdy and tough as a Redwood.
Plus, he drove truck for more than 25 years, hauling steel to places all over the Northern California map. When it comes to the road, experience has taught me that no one is safer on four wheels.
So tell me this: Why do I worry about my 57-year-old father rolling around town on, of all things, a scooter? Because I genuinely do.
I worry about him crossing the overpasses nearest his home in the northeast corner of Manteca, where the posted speed limit is often ignored.
I worry about him accessing sidewalks or tipping from the slope of the road or the curb. I worry about him not being able to pick himself up after a spill. He’s heavyset with two bad knees, which makes even getting off the couch an issue.
I worry about him becoming someone’s hood ornament, because they couldn’t see him on the shoulder, despite an orange flag that bounces and flaps from his rear bumper.
I worry about him getting flung from his scooter because the sidewalk suddenly shifted and rose like a tectonic plate.
“I’ll be fine,” he likes to say.
Here’s the rub, at least for our family: As much as we fear for his safety on the pathways and roadways around town, we can’t ask him to stay home.
Hamsters survive in plastic bubbles – people do not. We need to be stimulated. We need interaction, fresh air and some adventure.
There are errands we have to run. There are doctor and dentist appointments, as well as friends and family we need to see.
Because his ability to walk has deteriorated in recent years, and we can’t always be there to chauffer him from place to place, he needs his scooter.
And we need his safety.
To ease my fears, or substantiate them, I decided to spend a few hours on his scooter, paying close attention to accessibility, the conditions of the sidewalk and roadways in his corner of town, driver behavior, and how the scooter reacted.
My finding: I have a new appreciation for what my father and others endure as handicapped residents. You really haven’t traveled Manteca until you’ve done so on a scooter or chair.
Our city’s streets and sidewalks are fraught with hazards that largely go unnoticed by those in vehicles.
I met with a few members of the Happy Wheelers at the corner of Louise and Cottage avenues. They were going to be my chaperone for the morning, alerting me to the issues the disabled deal with on a daily basis.
We traveled my father’s favorite routes, which meant we crossed over the Cottage and Louise overpasses, which, as a runner, I’ve learned can be treacherous on two feet.
The shoulder on the Cottage overpass has a seemingly pronounced slope. You don’t notice it while driving, largely because you’re traveling the crown of the street.
The Wheelers say you learn to live with the lean. I could see how this could give a much heavier and unstable man – like my father – reason to pause.
The Louise overpass has its own issues. The shoulder is fasten-your-seatbelts bumpy. A few of the potholes have been filled, but others remain.
On the other side, we decided to put our rides to the test. A short, steep ramp has been poured on the west side of the overpass, connecting the street and the sidewalk.
With his modified scooter, complete with bigger tires and shocks, Wheeler Ronnie Schaapman rumbled up the ramp.
Fellow Wheeler Brad Peters, riding a high-performance chair, only got his front two wheels up the ramp before he wisely decided to back off. Had he tried to complete the climb he would have surely tumbled backwards.
I inched the scooter up the ramp, careful not to tip it, but suddenly found myself high-centered.
I teetered there for a second, drawing a laugh from the rest of the gang. But this was no laughing matter. If that was my father hanging there, he would have surely been stuck or at risk for a fall.
Schaapman attempted to push me up the ramp, but there was no budging this scooter. My back wheels spun in place, while the front dangled in the air. I had to push myself off the ramp and use the curb cut at the nearest intersection.
Drivers were, for the most part, very conscientious of our gang, which was surprising. I envisioned a chorus of honking horns, burly men in burly trucks screaming “get outta the road” and a general lack of acknowledgment.
It went the other way.
Cars shared the roadways and gave us ample time to cross the street. The heaviest of the traffic – on Louise near the Main Street intersection – veered toward the center line to give us room to travel a thin shoulder.
We parted ways there, me and the Wheelers. I thanked them for the company and they wished me safe travels home.
“You got enough battery?” Peters asked.
Along the way, I contemplated what I had experienced. After about three hours, I had learned what I had feared was already true – that my worries for my father are valid.
It’s risky business out there for chair- and scooter-bound residents.
Even the ones built like a Redwood.