I left my heart in San Francisco

Posted by Elizabeth Forst in Life After Paralysis on March 17, 2017 # Travel

Traveling as a quad always brings adventures and funny stories. The logistics of packing "all the things", establishing accessible accommodation and performing safe, extremely fast airport transfers are the undertakings for every safe and fun journey. I affectionately call my travel team the EB pit crew 1000 as sometimes it seems like we are a NASCAR pit crew flying through airports at mock 10 speeds similar to the Daytona 500. Thus far, the EB pit crew has successfully made almost 20 trips in two years and I have such gratitude for my team whom are always up for the adventure!

My recent jaunt was five days to a fond city where I once lived, the city by the Bay – San Francisco, California. I stayed at the Villa Florence Hotel, a 3 1/2 star boutique hotel in Union Square where San Franciscans, tourists and homeless vagabonds mingle together like an interesting mélange of colorful potpourri. The interweaving of crazy characters in SF never disappoints and I could write five blogs about the hilarious anecdotes from this vibrant city. This trip, I was visiting my beloved friends and family that call the bay home but especially for my brother's 50th birthday celebration, an event I would not miss. Further, as with any journey, I am always interested in the handicap friendliness of hotels, taxis and close by shops, restaurants and bars especially in a city where steep hills are commonplace and trolley lines abound all major city streets.

I called my hotel in advance to arrange accessible needs: a roll in shower and a 6-inch space under the bed frame to allow clearance for a mechanical lift. Unfortunately, I arrived to find neither needs had been met. Yet within the hour, the front desk quickly arranged a room change and hotel engineering lifted the bed frame with extra books high enough to adapt for the lift. A genius MacGyver move. There was an elevator that I affectionately called "the coffin" as my power chair barely fit skimming my toes, and was out of service 50% of the weekend; we held our breath at every floor and luckily never got stuck. The hotel staff was more than accommodating the rest of my stay and provided complementary champagne and chocolates at daily happy hour. They welcomed my special needs and we were as fond of them as they were of us. All in all, I would recommend the Villa Florence to wheelchair users, especially since the location is central, rolling into the front lobby is easy with no stairs and they have a beautiful street café attached to the hotel lobby where people watching over a glass of wine or a coffee is nonstop entertainment.

Another interesting factoid about San Francisco is the lack of accessible taxis. There are only 2 to 3 in the whole of the city that accommodate power wheelchairs. After our fortuitous taxi ride from the airport to the hotel, the EB pit crew 1000 never entered another taxi again the entire time we were in the city – not for lack of trying. Potentially due to inclement weather or maybe the central location in Union Square, both Luxor and Yellow taxis never fulfilled delivering an accessible taxicab to help get us around town. Even with preplanned arrangements the day before, taxis just never showed leaving us stranded for hours in the hotel lobby. In creative desperation, we turned our attention to using Uber's WAV/wheelchair accessible van option – the driver was prompt, pleasant and I will most definitely use them again to avoid depending on the nonexistent taxi service. Accessible van rentals are also an option near the airport. I would recommend a wonderful company owned by a fellow wheelchair user called Wheelchair Getaways with a daily van rental of $110 /day with an additional $70/night valet hotel fee – expensive, yet assuring wheels around town.

The weather did not disappoint and in true San Francisco form, it rained and poured for most of the weekend including a massive wind and hailstorm to boot. My wheelchair short-circuited and broke down for the entirety of the weekend, our only umbrella blew away, we got soaked and had wet socks, flights were canceled and had many colorful conversations with the downtown San Francisco homeless population that loitered in front of our hotel. Looking back, the moral of the story of the weekend was the ability to go with the flow and laugh, for you never know what will go right or wrong. As long as you enjoy the ride, it will always be worth it. And of course, I left my heart in San Francisco – I look forward to returning back to my Bay home soon.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.