Rain, rain, go away

Along for the Ride

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Laptop? Check. Phone? Check. ID and keys? Check.

I scan my Cal 1 Card on the sensor and the exterior doors swing open. I drive outside, stop, then immediately turn around and go back in. So that’s what I forgot.

I huff and lean my head back against my wheelchair’s headrest, calculating my next move. It is freezing outside today, and I need a sweatshirt if I don’t want to turn into a human popsicle by the time I get to campus.

The problem? My attendant only arrives at noon, after my first class of the day. And I can’t put one on without her.

I begrudgingly let go of my plans to study in the Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library this morning and make my way back to my room. Hopefully, by the time I head to class at 11 a.m., things will have warmed up a bit.

I now try to make a habit of checking the weather every night before I go to bed — that’s the only way I can make sure that there are no surprises waiting for me after my morning attendant has left for the day. While I love the bright leaves, Christmas carols and mugs of hot cocoa that the changing season brings, I can do without unexpected weather fluctuations.

Rain is beautiful, but its logistical complications are immense — straightforward yet excruciating. I can’t hold an umbrella and drive my chair at the same time, and ponchos or rain jackets pose the same problem to me as sweatshirts. There’s still no good solution for me to stay dry. Whenever it rains, I need to wrap my wheelchair’s joystick in plastic to prevent water from seeping in and causing damage, which is impossible to do if the weather changes in the middle of the day. The lack of significant precipitation up to this point saves me from these headaches, but it also edges California back toward a drought.

I use my laptop all the time and bring it with me literally everywhere. Having one small device that can do everything I need is a godsend, but even a computer has its own set of problems. I have no easily accessible method of storing my laptop, which means that it is always just resting on top of my tray. Once the rainy season starts, I’ll need to use a waterproof case to protect it, but that’s tough for me to get on and off.

Let’s be real — California weather is nothing compared to that of most of the country. Berkeley’s temperature never drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and we don’t have hurricanes, tornadoes or blizzards. I lived on the East Coast for the first 12 years of my life, and my weather woes today pale in comparison to the ones from back then.

I used to have to wear huge, heavy jackets that weighed down my arms and squished me in my seat in order to keep warm. They made it uncomfortable for me to sit and impossible for me to move, but I had no option other than to expose myself to the elements.

That wasn’t the only problem. After snowfall, municipalities in the East Coast tend to clear roads and sidewalks pretty quickly, but as a rule, roads are usually maintained better than sidewalks. One morning, I drove from my driveway to the sidewalk to board the school bus. My tires began skidding and my chair spun as the wheels failed to gain traction on the slippery ice. As I tried in vain to move toward the bus, I began sliding down the hill. In a panic, my 70-year-old bus driver, who had grips on his snow boots, grabbed my chair and pushed it to safety.

That was the last straw for my mom. After years of struggling to find clothing that didn’t restrict me, waking up early to clear ice off our driveway before I left for school and watching helplessly as my fingers literally went numb from cold, she had had enough. During my seventh grade year, my parents made arrangements to uproot and restart in California. Over the next summer, we did just that.

As much as I gripe about the wind and the rain, I’m so glad I never have to worry about being unable to walk in the streets because of snow or ice and that I can suffice with a hoodie to keep me warm on most days. Life has gotten so much easier as a result of moving, and I don’t know how I would have dealt with the extreme East Coast weather living alone in college.

Part of me still longs for the setting of my childhood, abundant with pumpkin spice, snow days and secular holiday celebrations. But over time, I’ve grown to love the West Coast as much as the East Coast, grateful for the diverse, innovative and open-minded environment that has made me the person I am today.

Vyoma Raman writes the Monday column on how mobility disabilities affect college life. Contact her at [email protected].