Don't get me wrong -- I love living down here in the Houston area. That said, I sometimes find that our "little town" (America's 4th largest city) has more in common with places like Khartoum and Pyongyang than it does with other metropolitan areas that spring to mind when you hear the term "world class city". That particularly is the case when it comes to infrastructure accommodating individuals with mobility issues that require the use of wheelchairs and scooters. This is even true of parts of town that are supposed to attract visitors.
Now Rice Village has been a destination for shopping in the city since the 1930s. Sadly, it often seems like infrastructure has not been modernized since that time. My wife and I went to the village for a show at Main Street Theater the other evening, and found the area so handicapped unfriendly as to be unable to attend the production. After all, the experience of getting her and her wheelchair the single block to the theater caused such jarring and jostling as to make it physically impossible for her to sit through the performance.
We were lucky -- we were able to find a handicapped spot with a ramp a mere one block from the theater at the corner of Kelvin and Times. We were up the ramp and making good time -- until we suddenly found a physical obstacle.
Yeah, that's right -- no ramp down from the sidewalk across the parking lot a half block away at Times and Village Parkway. We might have ventured into the street to cross, except for the fact that the pavement and gutter were mismatched by enough that getting my wife across would have most likely involved dumping her from her chair and onto the pavement. So it was back to the ramp we started at, in the hope of crossing the street.
Well, it seemed like a good plan. Only there was no ramp on the other side of the street -- we had to go a couple of yards on to reach an uneven driveway to get her into the parking lot of the store across the street. It was a rough journey from there -- punctuated by crumbling sidewalks, uneven surfaces, and a couple of restaurants with tables set out -- thank goodness that the folks eating and drinking were kind enough to move to let us through.
By the time we made it to the door to the theater -- having spent some ten to fifteen minutes taking my wife on what felt to her like an off-road ride in a four-wheel drive with no shocks -- she was in excruciating pain and asked me to leave her outside the theater so that I could bring the car to pick her up and take her home. I did so -- a much-anticipated night of fun instead turning into a painful disappointment.
By the way, I did make a point of stepping into Main Street Theater to let them know that we would not be staying because of the problem. I had hopes that they might offer to accommodate us on another evening. Instead, all I got was a pointed comment from the guy at the box office that the bad parking and inaccessible walkways were beyond their control and that I should complain to the mayor --but not so much as an "I'm sorry to hear that". The message was clear -- as was mine when I pointedly stated "we won't be back."
Houston claims it wants to be seen as a world class city? Maybe Mayor Parker and the City Council might consider reaching that goal by making what is supposed to be one of the jewels of the city compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and other laws related to handicapped accessibility.