Birmingham, Alabama—a baseball game. My wife and I went to see the Barons play. It was a well-attended game.
I stood in the concession line for a forty-five-dollar beer. A girl in a wheelchair was ahead of me. She was a happy thing. Early twenties. Pretty.
Our line was long. But not like the line to the women’s bathroom. Ladies stood single-file, stretching clear back to Chatom.
The girl in the wheelchair turned toward me.
“You go ahead of me if you wanna,” she said. “I got a REAL big order.”
She had labored speech and a nice smile. She explained that she would be stocking up on beer, buffalo nachos, Magic City Hotdogs, and burgers for her friends.
I asked why her friends had chosen her to be the neighborhood pack mule.
“‘Cause I got a motor,” she said. “Check me out, I’m practically riding NASCAR.”
She demonstrated her motorized wheels, spinning in a complete circle.
Richard Petty, eat your heart out.
“Sure you don’t wanna cut in line?” she went on. “My order will take a while.”
“It’s only baseball,” said I.
So, we talked. I was hoping to learn some of her story. But that didn’t happen.
All I learned was her name, and that she has cerebral palsy.
Instead, she asked me questions. The more we talked, the more personal her questions.
And since I have my mother’s talkative genes, I talked. I told her about myself, about my mama, my wife, my coonhound. I told her about a rocky childhood, and a daddy who died too young.
I talked about my education—and lack thereof. I told her I spent the first three quarters of my existence as an aimless kid, working grunt jobs, playing music in bars.
She listened. Then, she fired strings of well-formulated follow-up questions.
The fact is, I’ve done a few interviews in my day. I’ve talked with grannies at church picnics, coaches at championships, ER nurses, burnt-out honky-tonk patrons.
A.A. facilitators, Vietnam veterans, EMT’s, immigrant children, and on one occasion I interviewed a tranquilized raccoon. Interviews are uphill battles.
Not for her. This girl was a natural.
When she got to the counter, she recited a food order that nearly short-circuited the cash register.
She pointed to me and told the cashier, “I’m buying whatever this guy wants.”
I declined her offer. She insisted.
I ordered a beer.
When her order was ready, I helped her carry things to her friends.
We came upon a small group. There were a few in wheelchairs. There was a boy with crutches, a girl with an oxygen tank, a kid with Down’s Syndrome.
She introduced me. I shook hands. I told them I’d better hurry to my seat or else my wife would call the Jefferson County swat team.
The girl pumped my hand and said, “Thanks for talking to me. Learning about other people really grounds me, you know? It helps me not feel so sorry for myself. Maybe I’ll write about you in my blog.”
Maybe I’ll do the same thing, Mila.
Thanks for the beer.