The labyrinth of New York
My worst experience ever dealing with hotels was in China Town, New York. Since I had stayed at the same hotel in 2017 I thought the journey planning would be a doddle. From experience it’s stress free and doesn’t cost much to travel if planned well. Having said that, to avoid the unforeseen transport issues that I had encountered earlier in May going to Cyprus, I made sure that I go to Manchester Airport early in the morning though my flight was departing in the afternoon, at 14:00. At the airport I checked-in betimes, as soon as the check in commenced.
Earlier that morning I had failed to locate my phone charger. Never mind I will buy one at the Airport, I thought. As I was being checked in, “make sure you empty all the contents from the side pocket of your chair… Also take your wallet and remember to take it with you into the plane”, said the lady on the counter. After the check-in the lady put my wallet in the side pocket of my hand luggage.
In the lounge I decided to go to Dixon’s, a renowned U.K. electrical shop. In there I took out my wallet from my bag, which was on my lap. The shop didn’t have an American or universal adapters but they allowed me to charge my phone and to keep an eye on it. When I left the shop the time was 12:40 which means I had roughly about 20minutes to charge it before thinking about boarding. I then went back to the lounge and soon after I was bursting for the loo. I couldn’t see no signs for disabled toilets on the ground floor, I asked someone and I was told to go upstairs. Aware that I was pushing it, I decided to take my phone from Dixon’s. In the shop, I was getting frustrated because I couldn’t see my phone where I had left it, let alone all the sales personnel were busy helping customers. Finally, “do you want your phone?” Someone asked me to my great relief.
He then went into the office at the back of the shop and brought it to me. Thereafter I went to find the lift to go upstairs. After the loo and in the lift I alarmingly heard my name being announced. “Mr Mteliso can you please make your way to flight number…” I assumed that the ground staff couldn’t find me where I was supposed to be. Trying to up my speed but to my frustration I was annoyingly in a lift seemingly slow moving. In the moment I forgot that I had left my crutches behind in the lounge. In the tunnel to board the plane is when I recalled and I asked one of the Aeroplane crew to go get them where I had left them. Instead of being one of the first passengers to board as a disabled person, I was the last one.
After 30 minutes the flight arrived in London at Heathrow airport. One of the grounds staff came to me and suggested that they were going to load my chair in the connecting flight. So I was pushed to yet another check-in where the ground staff who was pushing me had an altercation with the girl at the check-in desk. The check-in was subject to stringent checks similar to American Airports. As the ground staff was pushing me towards the check-in desk, she whispered in my ear, “if she asks you to take off your shoes, tell her you can’t… As a disabled person they can’t force you to do anything”. “Sir can you take off your shoes” the lady at the check-in desk looking like Janelle Monáe cried out. I thought they looked alike, maybe it was the similar hair style effect. “Unfortunately I cant” I retorted, boy oh boy, she was apoplectic. She said to me with a voice festered with anger “if you can’t take them off then you can’t go through”. Back in my mind I wanted to compliment her looks but after the unfriendly remark I didn’t. I therefore asked to speak to the manager and when the manager came, I was given a green light to go through without any further checks. Whence I was taken to board my flight. After around an 8 hours flight we landed at JFK Airport.
No wheelchair No worries
In a taxi from JFK Airport using my crutches only
I was taken to a baggage collection area to wait for my scooter. After a while I was disappointedly told that “unfortunately your chair is still in London… we promise that it will be here at 11:30 am tomorrow”. Thankfully British Airways assisted me to procure a taxi to take me to my hotel coupled with a $40 credit card to pay for it. Conveniently I was asked to provide the address of the hotel I was staying at so that my chair could be delivered there.
Afterwards I was escorted outside the airport to procure a taxi. I was all smiles thinking all will be well going to a hotel I considered a second home in NY since I had stayed there in 2017.
Sheraton La Guardia East Hotel
Frustratingly, when I arrived I couldn’t find my wallet so I decided to check in for one night using a Western Union credit card which had a credit of $500 and I promised to pay for the rest of my stay the following day after I find my wallet or after contacting someone. At this point in time I was deeply concerned about where my wallet was. Worse more the thought of having lost it was problematic and disconcerting. All I could remember was the lady in Manchester advising me to put the wallet in the bag (hand luggage). For that it was a puzzling endeavour to try and figure out where and how I could have lost my wallet.
The guy who escorted me to my room was rude and not considerate at all he kind of foreshadowed what I was to face in the morning. When I woke up in the morning I tried to call the reception to no avail, the phone had been disconnected. On my handset there was an option to contact other rooms in the hotel that said I tried ringing the room next to me, after a while I was notified the room was vacant, finally and automatically I was connected to the receptionist. “Can someone please come to take me downstairs so that I can arrange to collect my chair” I asked. I stayed for a long time and no one came to assist me. I then decided to ring the reception again through my neighbour’s room since I was disconnected. Guess who was on the other side of the phone, the manager. “You shouldn’t be here Mr Max because you checked in with an invalid bank card … the guy who let you in is a very compassionate man and he is in trouble with me right now” the manager said with a calm and reasonable voice. But what ever he was saying wasn’t making sense to me at all. A few minutes later after he hung up the phone I heard a ‘no nonsense’ hard knock on the door, first a short Chinese guy with a mean looking face walked in followed by the manager. I don’t know what they expected me to do without my chair. The wheelchair is like my outdoor legs. You can’t be expected to run an errand without legs. How cruel is that?
The mean guy started talking to me as if I was an American soldier held as a prisoner in the Vietinamese war. Like Mutsuhiro Watanabe (the Bird) tormenting Louis Zamperini. He literally wanted to kick me out of the hotel, his eyes were devoid of mercy and remorse. However and thankfully the manager insistently told him to let me be. With my goods not properly packed I was left on the remote corner of the hotel lobby to wait for a taxi. I had been kicked out of the hotel and had nowhere to go, worse more I had no cash. The manager then offered to pay the cheapest taxi service from China Town (the gesture that brought tears to my eyes). However the driver couldn’t speak English which was another potential disaster in the making because when I arrived at the airport he couldn’t call help for me. After I collected my chair to my elation I found my wallet and I decided to go back to the same hotel since it’s an ideal location for Tennis fans visiting the USOpen. I told my niece (who was staying in Manhattan) about my decision and she warned me not to go back citing that most people smile at a person when they want something. I was naive and thought that I had built a relationship with them after my stay in 2017. When I arrived at the hotel the hotel staff told me that I wasn’t welcome. Vulnerable and crestfallen I had no option but to move elsewhere since I couldn’t go back.
First I thought of looking for nearby hotels in China town but what I had gone through put me off. I needed a new adventure and to experience other parts of New York. The late evening session which I had a ticket for was due to start in few minutes. Therefore I thought of using the WiFi at the stadium to find a hotel on my phone
Looking sorry in the remote corner of the Sheraton LaGuardia East hotel after I was kicked out of my room.
At Arthur Ashe stadium I managed to look for a hotel in Manhattan through booking.com. After specifying that I required a disabled accessible room I found a room which was spacious, a rarity in New York and global cities alike in general. After the match around midnight I went to Manhattan by the Subway. The journey was flawless, the elevators were in good working order at Grand Central. From there I procured a taxi because it was dark and I didn’t know where I was going. After a short ride I was at my new hotel the taxi fare meter was indicating $4 but the driver demanded that I pay him the fare plus $10 extra for his service. “No man that’s ridiculous and unheard of” I refused with cojones. “You gon have to calm down man, this is New York and that’s how we do business” said the taxi driver showing increasing frustration. Well I wasn’t going nowhere if I didn’t succumb and I didn’t want inflame the flames. Therefore after consenting to pay the unjustified extra charge he let me go and assisted me to enter the hotel. However and maybe he was genuine. Going to the airport I heard as if the driver was telling to prepare to pay the service charge and I was like “nah I ain’t paying that if I do I will give your taxi number and find out if you are mugging me or not”. Then the driver said he didn’t mean his taxi company but he was referring to other companies.
It was great relief to be at the hotel and to have somewhere were I could retire. I had had a long day and I was as tired as a dog after being chased like a dog from Sheraton LaGuardia East hotel, all I wanted was to sleep. “The card you provided is not working sir” Chris the receptionist notified me. I couldn’t fathom what was wrong with it so I tried to use my credit card which was denied as well. I was scratching my head wondering what the hell was occurring. At the back of my mind fears of the worst where raging like a volcano ready to erupt, I thought I was going to be kicked out yet again. In my head I was thinking of ways I could get some help or raise cash. Money on my western union credit card was spent. In the worst case scenario I could flog some of the valuables I have on me, I thought. I had two pairs of shoes good ones too, Valentinos and Balencigas (just as valuable as the Jordan’s in America even more expensive) I continued to wonder.
However I thought of contacting my niece who was staying in Manhattan. Though the guy at the reception knew what I was going through he needed something, so I asked him if it was ok to provide a card number of someone else I know. He needed that someone else to be there and sign a consent form. To my great relief, after a careful consideration he said “give me the card number and that should do it”
After I checked in I was escorted to my room, it was spacious and I liked what I saw. Albeit, when I woke up in the morning I went to check out the shower but disappointedly it wasn’t accessible, it wasn’t a wet room shower or roll in shower as they call it in the USA.
After reporting my concerns I was allowed to swap my room for a supposedly wheelchair accessible room. To my horror there was hardly any space to allow me to go around in my chair. However when I parked my chair and started to move about using my crutches, I checked out the bathroom and surprisingly it looked practical and after taking a shower it felt like the best shower I ever had away from home.
Best shower I ever heard away from home, I thought. The weather was burning hot and the water was refreshing
Battery charger & Devine intervention
Before I took the shower I had put my chair to charge using the American adapter after switching my battery charger to the 115 volt electricity with 60 cycles per second which is used in the United States for small appliances. Annoyingly, this meant my chair would take longer to charge. To exacerbate my annoyance after my chair had been charging for circa 45 minutes I walked past my chair and alarmingly a danger warning triangle sign with an exclamation mark was flushing red. Straightaway I switched it off and I wondered and asked myself why going through such trying and testing times. I called the hotel engineer and I started praying but I was struggling to put my words together and that’s when I decided to pen down my humble and sincere words/ prayer on my notes app on my phone. In my prayer I expressed my gratitude that I had had a safe journey, I confessed the things that I thought I was doing wrong in my life and finally I asked for serenity and the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Hallelujah! when I turned on the switch again to my great relief my charger was working fine. Very excited I was and gagging to share what had just happened to me. The hotel technician walked through the door “the issue is fixed and I thank God for that” said I with a big hallelujah smile written all over my face. After recounting what transpired to him, “I believe you brother because I was wants in a sticky situation in Mexico but after I humbled myself and prayed everything was all sorted” said he assentingly.
Santander Bank Cards
Thereafter I thought of finding out why my bank cards were not working. At first I tried to call USA Santander but I was unfortunately informed that the issue had to be resolved by the U.K. staff. Like most people these days if I want to find an answer to various questions I simply google and I also tweeted my bank. Straightaway my bank Santander tweeted me back with a number to call from abroad. When the problem was finally resolved I breathed a sigh of great relief. After I had made several attempts to call the U.K. but to no avail. “Sir calling outside the USA with a hotel phone will never work” said the house keeping lady as she entered my room. “But I was given a code by the operator to allow me to make the call” I replied but noted her point. Hence i eventually used my mobile phone, my priority at that time was to be safe and comfortable in a foreign land over minimising my mobile phone bill.
It turned out to be a simple problem, I had forgotten to notify my bank that I intended to use my cards abroad. To be fair, prior to my to my trip to the USA I had visited France and Northern Cyprus (Turkey) and never had problems with my cards. A bit inconsistent.
Subway lift out of order
The following day I went to Grand Central, where I could get the subway line 7 which goes direct to Mets Willet a station located in Corona Park (home of Citi Field the baseball stadium and the U.S. Open Tennis). However to my dismay the elevator leading to line 7 wasn’t working. The subway staff, helpful they were “let me write down the directions of how to eventually connect to line 7”. The main issue is that, not every subway station is wheelchair accessible I wrote about this at length when I made my first trip to New York in 2017 after encountering a similar situation (the story can be found in my book ‘Headfirst Thrills on Wheels’ on Amazon it can be found by the key words ‘Thrills on Wheels’-or a copy directly from me ). So the directions wasn’t straight forward but circuitous and tortuous at best to avoid inaccessible stations. “Get it?” He asked, I was confused nevertheless I nodded dumbly to agree, I didn’t want him to think that I was a thicko and wasn’t cut out for the labyrinth of New York. I told myself I would figure out things as I go. If I don’t know something I don’t hesitate to ask, suffering alone is unnecessary and unwise when there are people around you. From my experience of travelling alone I learnt that asking for help is not a sign of weakness but strength.
However I asked him to give me the piece of paper on which he scribbled the directions. I was told to drop off at 51st street and take line E which in turn was supposed to reconnect me to line 7 at a different station and eventually get to my destination. For the return journey, I was advised to take the same route visa-vis. Now that I am writing about it and no longer under the pressure of getting it right without fail, I think this was simple to understand. To exasperate my uneasiness, as soon as the subway doors automatically closed “this train will not be stopping at 51st street” the announcement was aired. My head was instantly filled with hot air and at the very same time spinning because I was confounded, I was going to a totally different route and that worried me because I didn’t know the next wheelchair accessible station, despite holding a map in my hand (the subway map highlights wheelchair accessible stations), but under heated pressure I didn’t think of that. As I was flummoxed and considering to ask someone I raised up my head, my gaze met a very elegant woman dressed in all white. “Do you need some help” she asked. I explained my situation and that I was deeply worried. She reassured me that everything was going to be fine. “I will tell you were to get off because that’s my stop as well” said she to my great relief. At 69th street we both got off and she tried to give me the directions but later suggested to escort me all the way which I thought was a very kind and a remarkable gesture. From there the next stop was at 125th and we went back to 51th street using the same line so as to follow the directions I was initially given by the subway steward. Thereafter we went to the station to connect the line 7, on the way she entered her contact details into my phone and explained that when she met me she was actually going to work. I expressed my heartfelt gratitude to her “thank you very much Ankie you are an angel and you far too kind, I promise to contact you as soon as I’m settled”. Then she told me that as a Health Healer it was within her to care and help people. As we were heading to the lift to take us up to line 7 we got talking to a lady, while watching a street performer on the subway https://share.icloud.com/photos/02V1ElZxfLOyonTLFP0Qh0EKQ (the lady dancing), who said she was American but from Huston and going to a baseball game at Citi Field. She was considerate as well because we all criticised the people who were seemingly rude because they were reluctant to give way for me in the elevator yet I was in a wheelchair. For that Ankie trusted her to escort me to my final station since we both wanted the same station, Mets Millet Point. She was a nurse by profession so like Ankie she remarked that she was a caring person but oh dear! she cussed and complained all the way about people who don’t respect disabled people. When we parted i thanked her as well though I knew my way from when Ankie parted with me. Sticking to my promise I checked Ankie’s contact details but disappointedly nothing was there. Out of all the contacts in my phone hers was the most valuable to me and I wanted to let her know that I had gotten to my destination alright. As I’m writing now I’m actually thinking that she was an Angel sent from above to help me and that she didn’t belong to this world. Probably she wasn’t from above but for me she will always be that Angel who came to my rescue when I was in a sticky situation. Ankie wherever you are and if you happen to read my memoirs please get in touch, because of you I now believe in Angels.
I was supposed to meet someone at the tennis stadium but arrived two hours or more later after an unplanned subway trip adventure, heigh-ho.
Around the Mets Willets Point the express station on the Flushing line. Served by the 7 train at all times.
I arrived at the stadium when the second set was just finishing after a tightly contested first set between Rafael Nadal, the tournament favourite vs Juan Martin Del Porto. A grand slam tournament is best of 5 sets so I was expecting to see some more tennis and hoping that Nadal (who happens to be my favourite tennis player) would fight his way back. Unfortunately and rightfully so he retired due to an injury, to have any chance he needed to be fit against a big Tennis server. However they was still yet another well anticipated semi final, Djokovic vs Kei Nishikori.
After the match I thought of getting a taxi trying to avoid the alternative circuitous subway trip. However the ordeal I went through in 2017, trying to procure a wheelchair accessible taxi from tennis to China Town (within a 5km radius) was still lingering at the back of my conscience. Having said that I suggested sharing a taxi with my niece I met after the match, so that I could have company while waiting for the taxi. However she was hell bent on using the subway without fail in order to make the most of her weekly rider. Inconsiderate I thought, she wasn’t willing to compromise her plans in order to help me out so in the end I decided to go with the Subway line 7 which goes straight to Grand Central with the hope that the access issues would have been sorted. Thankfully there were no issues at all going back to the hotel. My journey back home was also flawless curtesy of British Airways.. As a writer I see the world as words and I the main character. When I was in the rehabilitation hospital I was addicted to watching tv preferring the idealised life version on the screen than mine own miserable and uncomfortable one. Lying idle in the bed waiting for my next physio session or the insipid meal. Put yourself in my shoes, what else was there to do? The worst thing you can do to a person is to take away his independence and autonomy.
On my travels I undergo invaluable experiences and I hope to enlighten and share my experiences with you. Thank you for reading, to read more about my travels get yourself a copy of Headfirst Thrills on Wheels. I welcome constructive criticism. I bless God