Monday, January 17, 2011

Parkinson's Disease and the Loss of Privileges

Only after waiting 30 minutes in line and then completing the paper work and interminable blind initialing of forms at the airport car rental counter was I told what kind of car we would drive. “What is an “Accent”?” I inquired. The young Alamo "manager" gave us neither a stirring description nor reassuring endorsement but simply stated, "It will get you from place to place." Expecting her to follow this by happily offering to rent us an upgrade at a very modest price increase, I cut her off. "That will be fine", I said, and dragged our suitcases outside to seek out stall #46. I hoped for something foreign, stylish and sporty. Seven rows up on the right we found the forlorn looking thing. I knew better than to expect our “Accent” to be luxurious. But I had underestimated the overstatement of its name. It was instantly clear that the marketing of this vehicle was not based on sleek design, aggressive lines or sparkling colour choice. One glance at the small, sea foam green Korean automobile and I was left with one inescapable conclusion; "ECONOMY" was its sole selling feature.

Despite the 4-door attribute of our “Accent” I was relieved that there were only two of us traveling. The trunk was slightly larger than the glove box in most standard size vehicles and accommodated only one suitcase, with the rest of the luggage occupying the backseat. Trying to fit four small people with overnight carry-on would have given the appearance of an overstuffed cargo vehicle. Having no keyless entry system I struggled with the key in the driver’s door and discovered immediately how my Parkinson’s disease had increased my dependence on electric locks. Finally getting the door open and reaching across the front seats to unlock the passenger door for Renae, I was struck by the disappointingly military-drab interior. I continued to wonder how Hyundai had chosen the name for this modern definition of "non-descript".

Challenged as I am by any repetitive movements, rolling down the manual windows to cool off the vehicle proved daunting. I felt a pang of guilt as I realized how I had taken for granted the electric locks, windows and seats of my car at home. “A little humility is a good thing” I said to Renae as we drove out of the parking lot onto the 50 mile per hour roadway. Despite the gas pedal being pressed to the floor in earnest with the motor emitting a high-pitched whine I was certain would deafen dogs for miles around, our rental refused to accelerate. It was as if the four-wheeled glorified golf cart was waiting for some other command. I checked the emergency brake and the two-speed gearshift, but nothing seemed awry. Then, slowly, our speed began to increase so that the SUV’s and trucks were not passing us at quite such a pace, their drivers glancing at us with unmistakable disdainful sneers. I reached to set the cruise control to rest my tremour-ridden leg, but found none. “This is going to be a challenge,” I muttered, feeling stressed and fatigued after traveling only a few miles. I was finding more things to complain about with each mile that passed.

Did I mention we were in Palm Springs, where it seemed that every second vehicle that passed me cost the same as a modest home in most suburbs? If there ever was an image of humility, I was riding in it. I felt like Jed Clampett, Jethro, Elly Mae and Granny driving into town as the “Beverly Hillbillies’.

Isn’t it amazing how quickly we get accustomed to a lifestyle? We complain if we are not accorded "proper" treatment. We are secretly prideful of our “gold” credit card, “elite” travel standing and “preferred” customer ranking. We feel cheated and become embarrassed when we slip a notch or two in apparent status, seeking to maintain ourselves in “the style and manner to which we have become accustomed”. Before PD paraded into my life, I was nearly oblivious to my pursuit of that to which I felt subconsciously entitled. Now, I feel like I am beginning to understand a new humility. Just like the sidelong looks our less-than-attractive rental car gets, people sometimes notice that my shaky right hand cannot take notes and some days my stiff right leg cannot stop bouncing. Both my rental and I need more patience than others and do not function with quite the speed and efficiency of some. And while it takes some humility to put up with our frustrating functioning, perhaps we learn necessary lessons through it all. I hope to keep the "accent" on the positive.

           A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

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