A Little Laughter – United Breaks Guitars

April 12, 2010

Speaking for a living has taken me all over the world.  I love seeing all the unique places and wonderful people.  The only problem is I have to go through the airports of the world to do it.

I guess it’s not so much the airport as the way that airport treats my one piece of critical baggage–my wheelchair.

It’s always scary to get off the plane to see what condition I am going to find my chair in. (For those who wonder how I travel on an airplane, see below.)

I’ve had it come off the plane with too many pieces and not enough pieces.  It’s come bent frames, bent wheels, bent backs and lost batteries (to name a few)–and when it does, I “get” to deal with the people in baggage claim because their people treated my $20,000.00 wheelchair like a $2.00 rag doll.

Then, after waiting in line, and processing my claim it still goes on.  Kinda like the time when Delta lost my chair, and after going through all the paperwork, they told me that I couldn’t take the Delta wheelchair with me. I spent literally 15 plus minutes trying to explain to the Delta rep. that I wasn’t real effective without any wheelchair at all. (At one point I wondered if I was going to have to crawl to the hotel on my elbows!)  But, in the end, just like everything else, things eventually work out and you move on to the next adventure.

However, all this experience made me appreciate Dave Carroll’s plight even more.  The trilogy below gave me a good laugh. It’s a healthy piece of the lighter side. If you don’t have the time, you don’t have to watch all three. The first is great all on it’s own.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.


PS.  When I get on a plane, they “gate check” my wheelchair, and I drive my chair right up to the entrance of the plane.  Once there, the airlines provide a couple of guys (hopefully guys–I’ve had two women over 50 show up before, and to say it was interesting is an understatement) to lift me from my chair onto a little “aisle chair”.  It’s called an aisle chair because it’s thin enough to travel up and down the aisles on an airplane. (See….the guys at the airlines figured that one out.)  Once on the aisle chair, they take my through the plane and lift me into a regular seat on the plane.


Just A Way To Travel Down The Road

December 16, 2008


You pick anyone on any street anywhere in the world and you’ll find there are things that they want that they cannot yet acquire. Each of us has wants. Everyone of us has things we wish that we had that we don’t have now. It may be a bigger house, or a nicer car. It might be new clothes or the latest gadget. No matter how old we get each of us could put together a list for Santa. We usually don’t, but it’s not because there aren’t things that we don’t wish for. It’s because we know the total in Santa’s bank account.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting things that we don’t have as long as we don’t allow those wants to get in the way of our happiness today. So often I hear people talk about the things that they want and how they are connected to their ability to be happy. They’ll say things like, “If I just had a bigger house, then I could be happy,” or, “If I just had a nicer car, then I could be happy.” Whether it’s a house or car, a higher income or vacation people seem to qualify their wants with the fact that receiving them would make them happy.

It’s always amazing to me. “Then… I could be happy,” they say. As if the only thing standing in the way between them and a happy life is the acquisition of a want.

Unfortunately, almost without exception when people do finally acquire the bigger house, nicer car, higher income, or vacation the only thing that follows is not happiness but additional wants. If the bigger house becomes theirs then they began to talk about how something else on their list will “then make them happy.”

The reality is that happiness doesn’t come with things. It’s not something you achieve at all. There are people in the world who spend their whole lives chasing those things that they believe will make them happy and end their lives never acquiring the joy they pursued all their days.

I remember when I learned this lesson myself. I was 16 years old and barely home from the hospital after my diving accident. I was working hard to find a way to live my life in a wheelchair. There were so many days when all I thought about was walking. I was sure that if I could walk again, then I could be happy.

As each new morning would come I found myself still paralyzed and in a wheelchair. It was more difficult to be happy always concentrating on this want. One day I made the decision that with all my heart I would hope to walk tomorrow. But as for today I would be happy in a wheelchair.

Twenty-three years later I still hope to walk tomorrow but today, I am happy. Had I not adopted this frame of mind I would have spent the past two decades wishing every day that I could walk–waiting for that day to come to finally be happy.

So too it is with everyone. There’s nothing wrong with wishing. There’s nothing wrong with wanting. The problem comes when those wishes and wants dictate our daily happiness.

Happiness is not so much a place we will ever reach as much as it is a way that we travel through our lives–a highway of experiences and moments. If we think about joy as an interstate for life’s journey we have to watch for the on ramps. Just like trying to get on our local freeway on ramps are the key.

The on ramps in our lives are those things that bring us happiness in the moment. A child’s smile may be an on-ramp. Remembering the kind deed from a friend may be an on-ramp. A little service may be an on-ramp. Each of us has different things that allow us to merge into the traffic of contentment and joy.

But, if we don’t watch for our “on ramps” will never find our way. Each of us must look around our lives and find those things that bring simple happiness and remind us to travel meaningfully through each day.

Joy comes in the journey and happiness is not a destination, it’s just a way to travel down the road.


Remember that the DVD contest closes Tuesday, December 16 at 9 PM PST. If you’re interested in winning one of my autograph DVDs follow this link and go to my previous post and leave a comment.

Also, if you’re a blogger check out alphainventions.com to increase your traffic.

Give A Push

December 1, 2008
My Friend James Johnson

My Friend James Johnson

From the day I first received my power chair to today, it has been my responsibility to ensure that my chair is plugged in at night. Although someone else has to actually plug the chair in, it is my job to make sure that it happens. I have to ensure that the batteries in my chair are recharged each night. There have been some nights where I have been negligent in my duties. When I have, more often than not, I “run out of gas.” One of the first times it happened was during my junior year of high school.

The next morning in school, about second period I noticed something was different. The power meter on my joystick showed my chair only half full. Usually at this time of day, my chair was still showing a full charge.  I was a little concerned but thought that half a “tank” would be enough to get me home.

Unfortunately, as the day went on the meter continued to fall. By lunchtime I barely had an eighth of a charge left.  I knew that to make it though my day, I would have to conserve every bit of energy I had in my chair.  I didn’t go outside to hang out with my friends.  I didn’t go back to the lockers.  I took the straightest and most direct routes to my classes and ate lunch near the classrooms.

By the end of my final period I was running on empty. The fastest I could manage was barely a crawl.  I felt I had conserved enough energy that, with a little luck, I could make it to my van. Knowing how long it was going to take me to get to where I parked my van, I left my last period class fifteen minutes early.

Slowly, I exited the school and began down the sidewalk that would take me to the road I needed to cross to get to the parking lot where I’d left my van.  My chair was yearning for power and the motors sounded like the moan of a sick animal.  I thought things were going slowly when I left the school, but that was fast compared to how slowly I was moving by the time I reached the road.  I could see my van; it was just across the street, and as soon as I got there, I was home free.

I started across the street. I was slow-moving, but I was moving.  It was at this time that I learned an interesting engineering concept.  When they build many streets and roads, often they build them with the smallest upgrades on each side so that when it rains, the rain will hit the middle-of-the-road. Because of this miniscule grade, that you literally have to stare to see, the water will run from middle of the road down into the gutters on each side.

Going up the grade on the road was enough that once I got to the middle of the road my chair was spent.  It was completely out of juice.  I heard a click, and all the lights on my hand control went off.  Of all the places I could have had my chair run out of juice that day, the middle of the road was the very worst.  Although I had left school before the final bell, by the time I was stuck in the middle of the road, school was not only out, but the kids were in their cars heading home.

In addition, the road my chair stopped moving in was the main route students took to get home. Just then I heard a roar that felt like it made the street rumble.

I lifted up my head and turned to see what was coming my way. Much to my dismay, I saw one of my classmates barreling down the road in his 1975 American-made something that looked every ounce of its hundreds of pounds of Detroit steel. It was obvious he hadn’t seen the “school zone” sign as his souped up motor brought the vehicle toward me at well over the prescribed 20 mph.

Fear really entered my heart when I saw that his radio was turned up as loud as it could get, with his arm and attention around his girlfriend, and he hadn’t taken either off of her since he left the parking lot.

The Jason Hall story began to flash before my eyes.

As the final chapter of my life flew through my mind, ending in a vision my chair and body flying through the air in opposite directions, I heard someone come to the back of my chair, lift up the handles underneath the motor, put it into neutral and push me out of the way.

My friend, James Johnson, got me out of the way literally in the nick of time. The car missed us by the smallest of margins. The car was so close, we could felt a rush of air as the driver unknowingly passed us by.

We stopped on the side of the road to catch our breath. Once we had, James grabbed a friend, and helped me get my chair into my car. That day I was grateful that I had a friend like James Johnson,

I had been in trouble that day, real trouble. I was stuck and had gotten myself in a situation in which, on my own, there were simply no more outs.  I didn’t have any options, but I had a friend.

A friend who was watching what I was doing.  A friend who knew me well enough to know exactly where the neutral levers were.  He was a friend who was willing to put himself in danger to give me a push and move me out of the way.

If we are to be true friends, then like James we have to be willing to watch out for those we care about. We have to invest time and energy into their lives so when we see them struggle, we know exactly how to help. We have to be willing to endure some risk that we might reduce theirs.

We have to be willing to give a push.


Just Listen

November 6, 2008


As you may have already guessed being a 16 year old and getting access and permission to use a power wheelchair opened up all sorts of interesting scenarios. For example, there was the time my brothers and I came across an old water ski rope in the garage. We thought about the rope, thought about the manual wheelchair that I used as a backup, and put two and two together. Minutes later I was sitting in my power chair in the middle of our street with one end of the ski rope tied to the back of my chair, and the other end firmly grasped by my brother Brandon. He was sitting in the manual chair about 10-15 yards behind me. He said, “Hit it!” and we were off.  I floored my power chair as he “skied” behind me. You can imagine the look on my mother’s face as she pulled into her subdivision with me driving as fast as I could down the street and my brother weaving back and forth from sidewalk to sidewalk.

It was after some such shenanigan that my mother took me aside and reminded me that my $15,000 power chair was not a toy and should not be treated as such. She warned me of the dangers that can come from “messing around” with such an expensive piece of equipment. She continued, and reinforced the fact that the chair was my responsibility and asked me if I understood. I told her I did and that I would be more careful in the future.

When I was in high school I was always very involved in student government. At my school, that meant that fourth period was spent in leadership class. This class wasn’t so much a place to learn about leadership as much as it was time for us to complete the tasks that needed to be accomplished in our respective offices. It was time to schedule DJs for dances, make sure service projects were planned, prepare for upcoming pep rallies and so forth.

However, if all of your assignments were fulfilled, then it was time that could be filled in any way we could imagine. We would simply check-in with the teacher over student government, give him our report, and we were off.

On one such day during my junior year, some of the senior officers and I began to talk about how “funny” a Funny Car was.  For those of you out of the know, the funny car is one of those racecars that has big wheels in the back and small wheels in the front. When it takes off it does so with so much horsepower but the front wheels fly off the asphalt and into the air. They stay like that for a few seconds as the car races down the track when they eventually come back down to the ground.

During this discussion, we noticed that my wheelchair also had big wheels in the back and small wheels in the front. We began to wonder. What would happen if we lined up in the hallway and used every bit of horsepower the chair could muster while someone simultaneously pulled back as hard as they could on the back of my chair?

The first try was a success. I threw the joystick forward it as hard and fast as I could, my friend pulled back as hard and fast as he could and for a few feet I rode a “wheelie” down the hall. It was beautiful. Just like the Funny Cars we’d spoken about.

We knew that if we could go a few feet on our first try a little more power and a little more pull could take us farther. Again and again we tried. Each time going a little farther than the time before. The hour was about over and lunchtime was about to arrive. We felt like we had one more shot. We decided to go all the way to the end of the hall and see if I could ride the back wheels the entire length of the hallway. Such a length could not be achieved using our normal configuration. We figured that the only way to keep the front wheels up long enough was to double the weight on the back of my chair.

At the very end of the hallway we prepared for our run. Two of my friends were on the back of the chair ready to pull with my hand poised on the joystick ready to give her all that she had. “One, two, three, go!” we exclaimed. The chair flew forward as my friends pulled back and just as the front wheels began to leave the ground we heard a deafening snap.

All that force going in opposite directions had caused the back of my wheelchair to break off completely. The chair continued to move forward for a few feet and as it did my back hit the ground and I slid completely out of the chair. Laying on the ground with a bump on my head I realized that my backpack had split open and I was surrounded with my books, notepads, and papers.

Just then the bell went off for lunch. Hundreds of kids began to fill the halls stepping on, over, and around me as best they could. My friends were shocked to say the least. After a half emptied, they helped to put me back in my backless wheelchair, and kept me sitting straight up as we slowly move down the hall trying to come up with a solution. Eventually we made our way to the welding teachers workspace where he helped us weld together the back of my chair as best he could. The job was good enough to get me home, but not good enough to fool my mother, or good enough to make it so the chair didn’t have to be repaired.

As I lay on the floor, my mom’s words of caution rang in my ears. Through the rest of the day and into the night I thought about how much easier my day would have been if I had just listened. Just listening would have saved me a lot of grief, a lot of pain, and a lot of money.

Every day everyone gets little pieces of counsel. Sometimes they come from a loved one, sometimes from a mentor, sometimes from a peer, and sometimes from our own conscience. Whether they come as words of advice or impressions to our heart, our lives end up so much easier and better if we would just listen.

So the next time you get a word of warning or impression to change, just listen and you’ll keep things intact instead of broken in the middle of the hall getting stepped on by every passerby.