Charlotte is like a lot of large cities. It went from 1950 to about 2000 operating on the assumption that the ONE and ONLY way to move from Point A to Point B is to get behind the wheel of a vehicle and drive yourself there. There are some exceptions like New York that have a very robust mass transit system, but Charlotte went the car-only route as it grew. The 21st century has brought more awareness and funding for other transportation options, such as the 20-mile train line and streetcar, creating bike lanes and walking trails, and there are big plans for more mass transit lines. These are great developments, but they only address the physical structure of transportation. The mentality is a much bigger issue. And the assumption that you can only move by driving your own car still has a cast-iron grip here. The large-scale COVID-19 vaccination events illustrate this perfectly.
I’m keenly aware of this mindset because I cannot operate a vehicle due to my visual impairment. I live within walking distance of a stop on the city’s most frequently running bus line, and I use a ride-share if using the bus is impossible or impractical to get somewhere. (Lyft accepts more payment methods than Uber, so I use them.)
After a lengthy process of trying to land an appointment to get vaccinated, I got a slot for April 10 at Bank of America Stadium, home of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and Charlotte’s new Major League Soccer team. In the appointment confirmation, you are instructed to park at 720 South Church St, which is a new parking deck a block from the stadium. OK, I think, I’ll just book a Lyft ride and get dropped off there. One would assume there will be signage directing people to the spot where you actually get the vaccine.
Well, we all know what happens when you assume. I got dropped off in front of the parking deck and looked around. There were numerous people directing traffic, but no clear indication of where to go. I asked 5 different people for help. I could not convince the first 4 of them that I had just arrived to get vaccinated. They all assumed I was lost trying to find my car and leave. I kept getting directed to the parking deck elevators. At this point, I was about to panic. (I wish I had known this was going to be such a production; I would have taken an extra dose of my anxiety medication to be prepared.) One of the traffic directors recognized that I was about to have a meltdown and said, “Come with me, I’ll walk you to where you need to go.” As we walked, I said, “So the vaccine is administered inside the stadium?” Yes, he said, they’re doing it on the main concourse in one of the concession areas. OK, so why was the only signage in the entire Uptown area for the parking? Where are you supposed to go once you park? And what about people like me? Of course, I thought. The idea that you might come to this event in any way other than driving yourself never occurred to the event planners. I’ve lived here since 1988. I should have seen that coming.
Once we got to the gate where the event was taking place, I profusely thanked the kind man for helping me out. I did note that on our 1-block walk from the parking deck to the stadium, there was not one piece of information indicating where you were supposed to go. There was no clear indication of a place where you could get dropped off if you weren’t driving yourself. “Park your car and follow the crowd” appeared to be the line of reasoning the planners used.
Once you arrive, your temperature is taken. Good thing they don’t check your blood pressure; mine was through the roof. But I had plenty of time to calm down, because there appeared to be at least 1,000 people there. I felt like I was back home in Ohio, waiting in line at Kings Island or Cedar Point to ride a popular roller coaster. I opened the packet I was handed. There was this document, “Pre-Vaccination Checklist for COVID-19 Vaccines.” That’s all I know about the form because the rest of it is written in 6-point font that I had no hope of being able to read. Fortunately, the form was not needed to get the shot.
If I had been tasked with planning a mass vaccination event that included the condition, “make the event as hostile to disabled people as possible,” I don’t think I could do any more than this event. Those that planned it clearly believed driving yourself to the event was the one and only way anyone would attend, and they made no provisions for any other scenario, and definitely did not take people with disabilities into account at all.
We were unable to get my wife booked into this event, and that’s a very good thing. We dodged a major bullet. I’m not sure where the Special Transportation Services bus would have dropped her off (probably at that parking deck entrance). STS has no provisions for mobility-impaired people to get a drive-through shot. You have to book a trip to the site and a separate trip to go home, just like when you book a trip for a doctor’s appointment. Your return trip must be at least 1 hour after arrival at the appointment. Given how advanced my wife’s spinal stenosis and scoliosis have become in recent years, that would have been too traumatic to endure.
I finally made it home about 2 hours after my appointment time. And you can best believe I had a meeting with my buddy Jose Cuervo before bed. At least when I go back for my second shot on May 1, I know what to do – get dropped off 3 blocks away at the Mint Museum of Art and walk to the stadium, then walk back to the museum to get a ride home. And I will still wonder why the concept of going somewhere other than driving your own car has never occurred to some people.