I’m Not Jennifer

My name is Kristine. See, it says so right up there ^ at the top of the page. Sounds like Christine, but spelled with a K, just like every other name in my family. We’re basically the Kardashians.

Variations on my name were huge in the 80s, so nobody can remember which one I am. I’m regularly called Kristina, Kristen, Kristy, Krissy, Kirsten, Krista, Kris… and every possible spelling variation of each name. But who came blame people? It’s not their fault all the 80s parents were reading the same baby name books. Besides, I’m just as bad with other people’s names. When I have a Marco or Marcos in my class, I have to just say one randomly, figuring nobody will hear the difference. Irene and Ilene have to be very patient with my efforts. And for reasons I don’t even understand, Brandon and Bryan are interchangeable when they come out of my mouth.

So, yes, I will answer to Kristina, Kristen, Kris-anything….. and, Jennifer. I also answer to Jennifer.

The Jennifer thing has been happening all my life. I run into someone that I’ve only met once or twice before, and they make that face people make when they’re trying to remember your name, then they finally come up with, “It’s Jennifer, right?” I haven’t found a non-awkward way to say, “Close… Kristine.”

Do I just have the face of a Jennifer? I guess living in a world with Aniston, Garner, Lawrence, and Lopez, that’s not the worst thing. Or do I have a twin running around somewhere named Jennifer?

Those were my questions for many years, but now I’m actually pretty sure that the doppelganger theory is the right one. Because I think I met her. On Amtrak.

I had just gotten on my train in Portland, and one of the workers asked, “Are you headed to Vancouver again?”

“What? No… Everett.”

He looked confused, and looked at me closer. “Oh, sorry, you look a little like another passenger that used to ride regularly.”

“Was her name Jennifer?” I asked mostly for my own amusement.

Now he did look surprised. “Yeah, well, Jenny… How did you know??”

“Seriously? There’s a Jennifer who rides this train and looks like me??”

“She used to! She was a makeup artist. Traveled back and forth to Vancouver for a while for some work thing.”

“Weird…. Wait! A makeup artist in a wheelchair? Going to Vancouver? I think I rode with her once!!”A couple years earlier, there was this lady who was very concerned about her giant makeup case, refusing to let it out of her sight, saying Amtrak had lost it before.

Guys, that had to be her! That was my Jennifer! She’s the person everyone apparently meets before they meet me, and then can’t keep us straight! The world finally makes sense.

I wonder if my makeup artist doppelganger ever gets called Kristine. Or if she’s connected the dots and realized that we’ve met before. I hope we meet again someday. Now that I know she’s a real person, I’m dying to compare notes and figure out which of us is the evil twin.

Words I Can’t Say

There are two ideas about schools that people love to repeat with a sad shake of their head, and neither one of them has much basis in reality…

  1. Schools don’t do the Pledge of Allegiance anymore.
  2. God has been taken out of schools.

These are pretend problems invented by people who want to distract us from the real problems. But let’s talk about them…

Oregon, like nearly every state in the country, has laws requiring that public schools give students the opportunity to recite the Pledge. We recite it weekly in accordance with law, and at school assemblies in accordance with tradition.

And do you really think that God left schools just because we obey the constitutional separation of church and state? You think God’s bitter because we’re rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s? It was his idea; I’m pretty sure he’s cool with it. No student or teacher is stopped from praying. We don’t sponsor prayer, but we both allow and accommodate for it. Kids wear and carry religious symbols, books, etc as they choose. Open and respectful interfaith conversations happen all the time. I have very good reason to believe God approves.

So here’s the thing. We also have the right not to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

I had never exercised that right before, although I’ve always been grateful to know I have it. I’ve read enough about the world’s dictatorships to know that forced loyalty is no loyalty at all. So I’ve always freely, willingly, and sincerely recited the Pledge to an imperfect country that I believed was riding that long moral arc towards justice.

The last time I said the Pledge of Allegiance was Monday, November 7, 2016. I have no idea when the next time will be.

After so many months of feeling the earth shake and my foundation cracking, desperately trying to stop a force much bigger than myself, the ground finally fell out from under me on November 8th. Since then, I’ve asked so many questions that I never before imagined asking. Way more questions than answers; little certainty about anything. But there was one thing I already knew for sure that very night–I can’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance right now. It would be dishonest.

I feel deep loyalty to the country that I was born into. I feel even more loyal to the US that I lived in, say, two years ago, than to the US I was born into; it got better with time. But I feel no such loyalty to the country I’m living in now.

I can’t call it an indivisible nation, when we voted for an agenda of division. I can’t claim liberty and justice for all, when we voted to severely limit “liberty,” “justice,” and “all.” I can’t lift my voice in ascribing values to a nation, when the nation rejected those values. I can’t pledge allegiance to a country I don’t even recognize. My word and my honor mean more to me than that.

It’s been five months, and I really miss saying those words. I miss believing them. I didn’t even know how much the Pledge meant to me until it was gone. I’m painfully wishing for a day when I can recite its words in good conscience again, about a country that’s at least trying to realize the ideals it proclaims. But until I’m living in a place that resembles the US I know and love, I’ll continue exercising my right not to pledge false allegiance.

I also believe that you can’t take something away, without somehow filling that space. I lost my faith in many things on November 8th. I have serious concerns about the systems and institutions and “democratic” processes that allowed this to happen. I have serious concerns about human nature. (Trust me, I hate it when I get existential more than you do.) I’m having a hard time trusting anyone or anything.

So I had to ask myself what I do have faith and trust in…. I still have faith in God. I still trust God.

I understand why people object to the “under God” line in the Pledge. It definitely implies some mixing of church and state. I also think God himself might object to the arguably vain usage of his name to separate ourselves from the Communists during the Cold War. But all of that aside… it might be the only phrase from the Pledge that I currently believe to be true. I still believe we are under God’s watchful eye and care.

So that was part of my November 8th decision. When others are reciting the Pledge, I take that moment to say a quick, silent prayer. I pray for the country. I pray that we can make it through the storm and someday be better for it. Mostly, I pray for the people suffering right now. I pray for those being threatened. Those whose lives are falling apart. And more than anything else, because they’re right there in the room with me, I pray for my kids and their families.

(I can personally guarantee that there will always be prayer in school, because I’ll never stop praying for my kids.)

So I show my love for country by refusing to pledge any allegiance to this dark shadow of America. And I resist by praying instead. We live in a day when believing in science is an act of rebellion. Maybe prayer can be a rebellious act too.

Is the bus accessible?

I hate flying. Like, I really hate flying. Words like “nerves” and “anxiety” don’t even come close to covering it. “Sheer terror” comes much closer. And my fear has nothing to do with thinking the plane might crash–that possibility doesn’t even bother me. So what if the plane crashes? I imagine it’s a pretty instant death on impact. (If I’m imagining that wrong, please don’t tell me.) No, my fear is about the fact that my chair will be broken every time I fly, and I’m just waiting to find out how bad it’s going to be this time. Hopefully it’ll just be minor, mostly cosmetic stuff. But is this going to be the time that the plane lands, and I’m left without an operating chair? No mobility, no way to leave the airport? There’s no emergency service to call in those situations. It can easily be weeks until anyone comes to even look at the broken chair. Weeks that I’ll spend wishing the plane had just gone down!

I haven’t flown since college, and that was ten years ago. When I moved to Portland, somebody asked, “Are you going to take the train up to Seattle for the holidays?” I was confused. People travel by train? In the 21st century? In the United States? I had no idea.

Turns out, people do travel by train! I travel by train! I love the train! I can stay in my chair, so nothing is getting broken–not the chair, and not me. I can even move safely and easily inside the train–dining car, bathroom, the train is my oyster! It’s a lovely route between Seattle and Portland, lots of pretty coastal views along the way. The station is loaded with charm and magic, straight out of Harry Potter. And it’s the most relaxing thing in the world to settle into my lil’ nook in car three and lose myself in a book, until the rhythm of the tracks usually lulls me into a nap.

Cue my extreme disappointment last week, the day before I was scheduled to take the train for spring break, when I got an email from Amtrak. Due to mudslides, the trains weren’t running, and “alternate transportation” would be provided. There was a phone number to call and discuss this alternate transportation. I immediately called it. I assumed they were putting people on busses, but would the bus be accessible? Would I be accounted and provided for?

The phone number was just Amtrak’s national number. After repeating “agent” to the phone tree–sorry, Julie, her name is Julie–a few times, and waiting on hold for nearly half an hour, I finally got to talk to a human. This human confirmed that “alternate transportation” meant bussing.

“Will the bus be wheelchair accessible?”

“Yes, it’ll pick you up at the same time as the train would.”

“Ok… but is it wheelchair accessible?”

“Just like the train, same time….. oh, wait, did you say wheelchair?”

“Yes. Is the bus wheelchair accessible?”

“Oh…. Let me check on that…”

<another ten minutes on hold>

“You purchased an accessible space on the train, so your needs will be accommodated for.”

“Great. What does that mean?”

“It means that they’ll accommodate for your needs.”

“Is the bus accessible? Is there a lift to get my chair and me onto the bus? Is there a designated space for my chair, where it’ll be secured to the ground??”

“Well, you might not be the only passenger in a wheelchair, you know.”

“Right…..” (???)

“Your needs will be accommodated for.”

“They’re not going to try something crazy, like thinking they can just carry my chair onto a bus, right?”

“Well I don’t know about that. I just sell tickets!”

“Can you transfer me to someone who can answer my question?”

“Um….”

“How about Portland? Can you transfer me to the Portland Station? So I can talk to the people who will actually be there tomorrow?”

“Yes! Portland! I can give you the station’s phone number.”

She sounded very relieved to be getting off the phone.

I called the Portland number….. and it rang, and rang, and rang. Nobody answered, no automated message or voicemail kicked in. It just rang…. I hung up and called back. And again. At some point, I got a busy signal! (Sidenote: when was the last time you heard a busy signal??) Then I became very persistent, figuring that when they hung up from that call, they’d be able to take mine next…. Nope. Eventually the busy signal turned back into endless ringing. I called throughout the afternoon and evening. Nobody ever picked up.

The next day, I showed up at the train station hoping for the best, because what else could I do? I was there several hours early, because Train Day has become a tradition with my friend Jill. We always hang out for a while before I leave, and it’s always an adventure, even when we just hang around the train station. (Everyone there knows our tradition. The coffee shop guy welcomes us back. The guy loading bags onto a cart asks if I’m heading to Everett. The train station is our Cheers bar.) With hours until the trip is scheduled to start, I figure they have plenty of time to figure out what they’re doing with me.

I asked the guy at the ticket counter about the busses and accessibility.

“Yep, the busses will be pulling up here, and taking everyone where they need to go.”

“And is there an accessible bus?”

“Oh… well…. let’s see here….”

He stumbled around and looked at his computer screen for a while.

Finally he asked, “Could you travel tomorrow? The trains will be back up and running tomorrow.”

“No….” (Seriously? I’m here with my luggage. I have a ticket to travel today. It’s your job to transport me today. Do you job, please.)

“Ok. Well come back at about 2, and we’ll figure something out.”

“K. Come back… here, at 2? To this counter?”

“Oh, you know, here.” He gestures to nowhere in particular.

As we walked over toward the baggage check, Craig the red cap crossed our path. Perfect! Craig always comes through for me.

We asked Craig about accessible busses, and he assured us, “Oh, we’ll figure something out. Worse comes to worst, we’ll get you your own special cab, just for you.” That didn’t sound so bad! Hearing that there’s a Plan B made me feel a little better, but… why didn’t there seem to be a Plan A? Why was everyone confused when I asked about accessible buses? Mudslides happen and train tracks get shut down semi-regularly around here. I couldn’t possibly be their first passenger with a wheelchair in this situation!

Craig offered to take my bag, and we gave it to him. I walked away without a claim ticket, or any evidence that I ever had a bag. But it’s Craig, and it’s Amtrak, and for some reason we just trust this system that they always seem to be making up as they go along. Craig told me to come back and meet him around 2. “Meet you where at 2?” He made the same nondescript gesture toward the station in general. Ok…

Jill and I left to have our Train Day adventure. We picked a direction and walked, letting the universe take us where it would. And it worked! When the wind picked up and we were done with the outdoors, we stepped into what looked like a bakery. They greeted us at the door with “Two of you?” and we nodded. Next thing we knew, we were being seated under this tree….

IMG_9189

We really didn’t intend to enter a restaurant, or an enchanted forest, but that’s where we ended up. So we went with it, and had an amazing brunch!

Back at the train station, Craig found us, and they finally decided that yes, they did have an accessible bus for me. I have no idea why that was such a big question mark, but whatever. They got me on the bus without drama, and we all headed to Seattle. Not nearly as charming and atmospheric as my train ride, but it got the job done.

Except my final destination wasn’t Seattle, it was Everett. So when the bus let everyone off in Seattle, my little circus started all over again!

“Where do I go now? How do I get to Everett?”

“There will be a bus.”

“Is it accessible?”

“Some of them are.”

“Is the bus to Everett accessible?”

“Tom will figure it out.”

“Where should I go now?”

“You can wait inside if you want. Or right here.”

I decided to stay right there, under their noses, where they couldn’t forget me.

A few minutes later, another guy came and sat down next to me.

“So I’m driving this bus over here to Everett. Do you have your own ramp that you bring with you?”

“No….” (He thinks I carry a ramp that will get me onto on of those giant buses with me?? Where did he think I was carrying this 30 foot ramp??)

“Do you stand up and walk onto the bus?”

“No…”

“Well what do you usually do then?”

“I usually take the train!!”

“Well I understand that. But I don’t think this bus has a ramp for you.”

“So how are they getting me to Everett?”

“I don’t know. I’ll talk to Tom. He’ll figure it out.”

He and Tom walked around pointing at things and looking at clipboards.

A guy in red took over the spot on the bench next to me. Apparently he was the red cap, although the lack of a cap on his head seemed off to me… This guy pointed to the bus that the other guy had been talking about, and said, “I think that’s where they’ll get you on, right there.”

“So this bus does have a ramp?”

“It looks like it. Probably.”

“The driver just said that it doesn’t.”

“Well I can’t imagine what else that door would be for.”

(Why are we guessing?? Why doesn’t anybody know?? There’s a bus ten feet away from us, and nobody knows if it has a ramp. Nobody opens the door to see what’s behind it. The existence of a ramp is treated as an unsolvable mystery.)

Up until this point, I’ve been mostly maintaining my teacher voice. The voice that says “I’m not upset or angry. I’m calmly stating the expectation, because that’s my job, and you will follow through, because that’s your job. There is no ‘or else;’ you’re just going to do it. I’ll wait. I can wait all day.” But I can finally hear hints of my teacher-in-May voice creeping in, the one that isn’t so patient and has HAD IT with all of the stupid.

“Why is this so complicated?? I know that I’m not the first passenger to come through here with a wheelchair!”

“Nope, you’re not.”

“Then why is everyone acting like today’s their first day on the job?? Why doesn’t anybody know what to do??”

“Oh, because we’re just like a bunch of chickens with our heads cut off, running around here. Haha!”

“How am I getting to Everett?”

“I’ll go talk to Tom.”

Everyone seemed to have a lot of faith in Tom. But all I saw was a guy with a clipboard who liked pacing and pointing at things. I’m sure Tom is very good at his job, but his name was starting to irritate me.

The red cap came back and told me, “Tom’s going to call you a taxi. Or if he doesn’t, I will.”

He led me down to the other end of the curb, and we waited. I don’t know what we were waiting for, but at some random moment, the red cap said, “Ok, I’ll call.” I don’t know why he couldn’t call earlier, or how he knew that Tom hadn’t called. Whatever! He made the call. He wrote up a voucher so that the cabbie could collect his fare from Amtrak. The taxi took me to Everett.

(Sidenote: they definitely paid more to send me in a cab from Seattle to Everett, than I’d paid for my ticket from Portland to Seattle. Almost as much as my round trip ticket!)

The whole time they were scratching their heads in Seattle, I was mentally debating about how much I was willing to put up with before calling my dad. He was waiting for me in Everett. With traffic, he probably could have made it to pick me up in about an hour, maybe less. I was never in danger of being stranded at the bus station. But I didn’t feel a need to tell them that. It’s not my job to accommodate them and make their lives easier! I bought an accessible ticket from Portland to Everett. There was no reason for everyone to seem so surprised when I showed up expecting accessible transport from Portland to Everett.

I guess another one of my teacher faces is the one that says, “Looks like you need to solve that problem. I’m not doing it for you. Be a problem solver!” I wasn’t going to bend over backwards so that they could get out of providing me with the service I’d paid for. I wasn’t going to apologize for expecting the service I’d paid for.

I just want to point out two things:

1) It’s been 27 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, and I still can’t get a straight answer to a simple question like, “Is the bus accessible?” Even from really nice people, working in a well established system, disability is still a surprise that they don’t know what to do with.

2) For everyone that’s gung-ho about building walls, how about you leave Mexico alone, and do some wall building along the train tracks? Mudslides get in the way of train travel every single year. It seems like a predictable and preventable problem…

(You thought I was going to get through an entire blog post without a jab at our ugly, Trumpian society, didn’t you?)