I just came back from Sleuthfest, the Florida mystery writers’ conference, where I was the only “wheeler.” Post-polio syndrome has caused that in the last few years, and except for the usual need to insist to hotel managers that ADA laws really do have to be observed, I’m fairly laid-back about it. Not like the first time I showed up at a writers’ conference in a rented scooter. In addition to being self-conscious, I’d never used one before and those things aren’t quite as easy to operate as they look.
The writers conference was on one floor, and a business conference was on the floor above us, so the hotel was packed. On the first day, I waited for an elevator with a group of women writers and one lone man from the business conference. It took eons to arrive, and when it did the women quickly jumped in and arranged themselves so there was an open space for me to wheel in. But the man, apparently thinking that any female on wheels needed a man to direct her, positioned himself inside the door and rotated his hand to show me the way.
Knowing we were all in a hurry and not having a good idea where my wheels were, I obediently moved forward and ran over both his feet. He yelped a little bit, and guilt caused me to forget that I was sitting down. I said, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” and shot out my hand to touch his shoulder in apology. Except of course one doesn’t touch a shoulder when one is sitting and the other person is standing and one’s hand goes flying out to the side.
When I hit his crotch, he screamed pretty loud. Mortified, I rolled the rest of the way in. Anything I might have said would only have made a bad situation worse so I didn’t speak. Neither did any of the women. They stood stone-faced, nobody making a sound. The man shrank against the wall and breathed heavily, I’m sure convinced that I was not only a bad driver but a pervert as well. When we reached his floor, I started to back out so he could get off, but for some reason he leaped to do the hand-circle thing again and I ran over his feet again. This time he didn’t scream, but he whimpered as he limped away.
Feeling like an ogre, I rolled back into the elevator. The doors shut and the women burst into howls of laughter. They pounded the walls, they cried, they laughed so hard they had to hold one another up. One of them, who turned out to be a senior editor of a major publishing house, stepped forward and handed me her card. She said, “If you’ll write about that kind of thing happening, I’ll publish it.” I never did, but maybe one day I will.