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Friday, January 23, 2015



Thank you loyal readers for following our stories on urbanism, travel, advocacy for people with disabilities and more.

There are more than 65,000 of you (readers) from more than 100 nations.

This blog has earned mentions in major publications and in electronic media.

It has featured more than 1,000 posts -- all original material, no simple pasting in of someone else's words and pawning that off as a meaningful blog post.

In late 2014, Heidi Johnson-Wright joined our stable of writers.

She crated some of the most poignant and humorous posts we've ever read.

Her pieces are lengthy and are some of our most highly-read articles.

We will feature more of her featured blog posts, including excerpts of her upcoming memoir, Earthbound Tomboy.

In the meantime, keep visiting for our future posts on Panama City -- with lots of photos.

Our new friend Roberto Duran will show up in a few posts about hanging out with the champion with Los Manos de Piedra.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Become Famous! Get Hit by a Car!

earthbound tomboy

By Heidi Johnson-Wright
About a week before the end of the fifth grade school year, I was hit by a car.

It was a rainy afternoon when the school day ended. I had ridden my banana seat bike to school and would now have to ride home in the rain without a jacket. I would also have to negotiate a line of backed-up traffic. In our bedroom community, nearly every mom was of the stay-at-home variety. Now a legion of them was swarming the school to pick up their kids. To let kids walk home in the rain meant they were in the same “bad mother” category as women who used Hamburger Helper as a crutch instead of making home-made meatloaf.

As I came out of the building my mom was there, with my raincoat in hand. I whined that I wanted her to put my bike in the trunk and drive me home. She insisted I would be fine on my bike, that I needed the exercise and could negotiate the half dozen blocks on my own. She was right, but something made me uneasy. I put on my coat and headed for the bike rack.

One second I was leaning over to unlock my bike, the next I was lying on pavement surrounded by a group of kneeling adults. My eyes slowly began to focus on the faces of my third grade teacher, my fifth grade teacher and my mom. I could hear people crying and sirens wailing. My mind was equally split between panic and “what the hell?”

A mother had jumped the curb with her car and mowed through the school yard. Had she wanted to inflict maximum damage, she couldn’t have picked a better spot: right through a crowd of kids at the bike rack. I had gotten a glancing blow that fractured my leg. When I fell, my head hit the pavement and I received a concussion and the retrograde amnesia that went with it. I was the second worst casualty; another little girl had actually been run over and was in critical condition.

Had I been an average kid, I would have been sent home with a simple cast and crutches and told to use my arms and other leg to get around. But the arthritis's damage to my wrists meant I couldn’t use standard crutches. Nor could my one good leg bear the weight of two. Instead, I went home with a long leg cast with a rubber heel on the bottom and a platform walker without wheels that was so heavy and primitive, it would have been better suited to Herman Munster.

The first two weeks after the accident were a non-stop procession of my parents’ friends dropping by to offer condolences and nights on the couch in agony as my tibia began to knit. By week three, the pain eased and I traded out the long cast for a below-the-knee model. It was then that I began to enjoy my new-found status as a local celebrity.

In my town, the mere possibility of a McDonald’s opening – the only chain fast food joint besides a Dairy Queen -- was cause for controversy and excitement. So it’s not hard to imagine how just being one of those girls that got hit by that car at the school upped my suburban Q score considerably. But this time my notoriety had nothing to do with my arthritis and everything to do with fame earned by mere happenstance. I was "famous" for being famous. Kind of like being a Kardashian.

Friends dropped by my house daily: close friends, casual friends, even long-lost ones. Often they had a card or a small gift, and a story or joke to share. Naturally, they wanted to hear my version of The Accident. Did I see the car flying toward me or hear the engine rev? (No and no.) Did I remember being hit? (No, but I had nightmares about menacing cars.) What was it like to ride in the ambulance? (Claustrophobic.) Did my leg itch inside the cast? (Often.)

An older sister of one of my friends worked as a summer parks employee, teaching arts and crafts to kids. Several times she brought me goodie bags loaded with supplies and trinkets from her class. Though I couldn’t get out of the house to catch butterflies, I enjoyed the treasures she brought. On hot afternoons, I sipped my mom’s sweet tea while I taught myself to make lanyards and drew pastel sketches of fuchsia plants in hanging pots.

My leg healed fine by the end of July, but the weight of the cast and my struggle to walk with it had put a lot of strain on my knee. It swelled to soft ball size and hurt like hell. I lived in daily fear that I would need to have it aspirated, a procedure in which a large needle is inserted deep into the joint and fluid is withdrawn.

I was starting junior high in the fall. Grades six through nine were housed in a building bigger than my old school, which meant a lot more walking between classes. The school was too far away to walk to it, so I’d have to depend on a bus that was supposed to change its route and stop in front of my house. I was nervous about meeting new teachers and kids, brand new people to whom I’d have to explain why I limped or why I sometimes struggled to get up out of a chair.    

The richly-symbolic menacing cars and the increasing awareness of my precarious health were always with me, in the back of my mind, as I drifted into sleep on late summer nights while the crickets chirped and the cicadas sang.

Monday, January 19, 2015


Earth Bound Tomboy

By Heidi Johnson-Wright

Check out the link below to the excerpt from my forthcoming memoir, The Earthbound Tomboy at New Mobility magazine online. It's about my stint as a poster child for the Arthritis Foundation. New Mobility is the premiere lifestyle magazine for wheelchair users.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


EarthBound tomBOY


A film has just been released about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the 1965 civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to demand voting rights for African Americans. The film is called Selma.

I haven’t seen it yet, but I plan to. So what am I doing writing about it?

What stirred me is the promo photo that ran with the film’s review in my local newspaper. (Yes, I still read one of those.) It shows the actor portraying Dr. King with actors portraying a Jewish rabbi and a Greek Orthodox clergyman.

What struck me about the photo was the coalition it depicted between people from other groups who –like African Americans -- have also faced bigotry. A united coalition fighting for the rights of a marginalized group of people.

Fifty years has passed since the march on Selma. Like other minorities, people with disabilities are still fighting for equality. For access to jobs. Housing. Attendant care at home rather than in nursing homes. Medical care. Transportation. And on and on.

While the passage of the ADA in 1990 was a landmark of progress, I fear that the disability rights movement is at a stand-still. That we’ve reached a plateau we may be stuck on for quite some time.

Everywhere I look I see steps at the entrances of businesses which have still not undertaken barrier removal. The demand for accessible, affordable housing far exceeds the supply. In many cities, it’s still nearly impossible to get a wheelchair-accessible cab. Even public transit in many locations has barriers. Young people with significant disabilities and few resources end up in nursing homes because community-based attendant care is a pipe dream.

We still have so many barriers to get past. The way to do this is for leaders in the disability community to come forward and form coalitions with other minority groups who have made significant progress in their struggles towards equality.

I look forward to the day a disabled person stands at a podium with leaders from the African-American, Jewish and gay communities and the speakers tell the world that discrimination against one is discrimination against all. That refusing to put up a ramp at an entrance is equivalent to posting a sign that African Americans or Jewish Americans people or Gay Americans will not be allowed to enter. That transit inaccessible to wheelchair users is the same thing as banning women or Asian Americans from riding the trains, buses or taxis.

U.S. Rep. and Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver said, “There is more power in unity than division.”