Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Queens Welcome

We had talked about it for a day of two. We even asked Scott if he would like to go with us, but we hadn’t made any definite plans. We both love World War II history and the Queen Mary served duty in that era. “It might be fun to go watch the hoopla and fanfare,” was about as far as our plan making had gone.

“I need a ride to Cassy’s house,” my grandson announced that morning.

“Why do you have to be there so early?” I asked.

“Because we’re going somewhere with her parents, but I don’t know exactly where that somewhere is!”

So, I found myself in the car with my grandson at 9:00 a.m. on a glorious Southern California morning. It almost felt like Spring was in the air. I made the decision. We were going!

When I pulled into the driveway at home I beeped the horn and when John stuck his head out the door with that “What the hell does she want now look on his face,” I yelled at him to get his butt moving because we were going to go to downtown Long Beach.

That put a smile on his face. Downtown Long Beach is the permanent home of the English ship ‘Queen Mary'. It is a beautiful ship with a long and glorious history. I had been on it numerous times to attend weddings and other such occasions, but John has only been able to watch her from picnic areas. He was intrigued.

The HMS Queen Mary has a mysterious history of ghosts from its many crossings as a troop carrier during WWII. My son and his buddies had sneaked in to the “Do Not Enter” area several times searching for those ghosts and their macabre history. He has great tales to tell of his female friends screaming and his male friends shivering.

Downtown Long Beach was throwing a Queen Mary Party. The Queen’s counterpart HMS Queen Mary 2 was going to visit the cities port for a bit. The two Queens were going to be feted and compared. And we were going to join the party!

Although we fully intended to watch the festivities from the car, “Like watching a drive-in movie,” is the way John worded it, as an afterthought he did throw my wheelchair in the back of the car. And off John, the beagle, and I went!

We were almost there when I found myself stuck behind a driver that was going 25 in a 45-mph zone. I sat there hoping that I was able to quit driving before I became the ‘old person’ behind the wheel that caused traffic to back up to the next county, when I was zapped with a revelation ... the young people would most likely be in school, the middle aged people would most likely be at work. We were going to a function where the majority of the people would be ’retired’. And just as that hit me, we drove straight into the gray haired majority! Everywhere, there were people 60 and over. But these 60 and overs could walk, run, and stake out a prime piece of viewing Real Estate.

“John, I think we’re out of sync here. Our hair isn’t gray and we can barely move, AND there isn’t a parking place to be had, disabled or otherwise.”

Then I remembered a quiet, little stretch of beach that few people ever paid attention to. It’s where the Strand merges with the Seaside boating/touristy area. It’s nestled back and behind. It’s not much to look at, but it has trees, benches, rest rooms, grass, sand, and, most importantly, several dozen open parking spaces. We had arrived!

We pulled into a space next to the only other car that was parked there. An African American woman was sitting in the car all by herself. After a few minutes a city owned truck pulled in next to us and a man got out and wandered around a bit to see if he could get a glimpse of the ’gala festivities‘ from this vantage point.

John and I wondered about that too, so to quiet one of our questions I stuck my head out of my car and asked the man if there was a wheelchair cutout in the curb on the other side of the woman’s car. By this time she had gotten out of her car and joined the man. My question gave them both a reason to chat and investigate. We were quickly becoming a society unto ourselves. We all were on the same mission ... the quest to see the meeting of the two Queens.

There was one slight difference in us though. The two of them were dressed in nice beach going attire. John and I were dressed in ‘staying in the car’ attire. John had on the bright yellow nylon shorts that he usually slept in. It’s not that they weren’t acceptable in public. It’s that the public won’t accept them. They are the ugliest shorts ever created, and they are so bright that they hurt your eyes if you actually look at them.

And me, I had on one of the patio dresses that I usually put on over my nightgown in the morning. It’s not that the dress wasn’t acceptable in public. It’s that it gets caught in my wheelchair wheels and tries to yank me sideways out of the chair. Normally, I just tuck bits and pieces of it between my legs to shorten it and go about my morning duties. I am usually a jeans and sweater person, but in the morning I don the dress until domestic chores are completed. The only one among us fit to go in public was the beagle. He had on his beautiful coat and his fancy leash.

John and I were not prepared to parade ourselves in public, much less on the beach where spandex, shorts, and tennies are the norm. But hey, we’re disabled! We decided that people would think maybe we were on the verge of homelessness and accept us among their midst.

And what a midst we found.

The man that had parked the city owned truck came over and took the beagles leash, my diet Pepsi, and gave John instructions on how to get my wheelchair over the lip of the cut-out. The African American woman stood and pointed to where she felt was the most optimal area for us to park ourselves. We went there, she went further.

Then a man that must have weighed close to 400 lbs wandered over to where we were sitting. He was obviously disabled. A woman with her developmentally challenged grown son wandered over. A chatty woman that acted as if she might be lost, several lonely men, and several unaccompanied woman all gravitated toward our area. Mostly they wanted to talk to the beagle, but he was more interested in sniffing around the trees, and rejecting the areas filled with sand. Our community was growing larger.

The 400-lb man was obviously well educated. He regaled us with the history of the very spot we were sitting in ... it had once been under water. He had watched the workers make it a landfill. His words were entertaining and attracted other strangers that soon became part of our group.

Then overhead the sky writers wrote, "HAIL TO THE QUEENS". The show had started.

The African American woman that we had parked next to came running toward us. She was so full of excitement and wonder. She had come all the way back to tell us of a wonderful spot, where everything could be seen, if we could only get that far. She even volunteered to push the wheelchair for John, not understanding that the only reason John pushed the chair was to give his legs support. She was so full of enthusiasm that she came back a second time to see if we were going to be able to make it. She was by far and large one of the nicest, most caring people that I have met in a long time. Plus she was unconcealed joy.

We did try to move closer to where she suggested, but John’s legs were beginning to cave, and the beagle’s arthritic hip was beginning to cause him to limp a bit. We went back and sat on one of the benches instead. We soaked up the warm sun, felt the cool breeze and watched a bit of history unfold, an old Queen greeting a new Queen.

We saw both ships, we heard both ships blow their horns, we saw the fire boats spraying their water, we saw the sky diver’s twist and twirl in their descent, we saw the helicopters hang in mid-air as they hovered around the ships, and we watched as dozens and dozens of small boats greeted and accompanied the new Queen into the port. But mostly, we had one of the most amazing days we have had in a long time meeting all the people that came up to talk to us, all the people that shared a bit of their lives with us, all the people that were just a bit on the edge of the festivities like we were. We may have been dressed wrong, we may have been disabled and slow, but we felt like a King and Queen. We had such a wonderful time it was hard for us to give up the day and come home.

That evening as I was telling the rest of the family what a unique and thrilling day we had had, my grandson announced that he too was at the ’Meeting of the Queens’. But, contrary to us, he had actually been on the original Queen Mary amid the privileged spectators.

Well guess what ... he may have been part of the pomp, but we were part of the circumstances. What more could two poorly dressed gimps desire.


PS Please be patient with me. I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. The routine of journal visiting is something I love, but I seem to have lost the flow. I really enjoy visiting and making comments on all of your journals. I just need to find my mojo again. Please don't be offended if I haven't been there. Never fear, I shall return.


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