It took me far too long to not to give a hoot about other people's opinions.
I was paralyzed in 1959. That was long before there were many people with wheelchairs circulating in day-to-day society. The civil rights movement caught up with disability in the late 1960s through the 1970s, and the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990. People with disabilities became visible.
It bothered me early on in my riding career that I couldn't mingle amongst walkers without being the subject of stares and whispers. I was always something of a self-conscious kid, and strapping a bright green wheelchair to my back didn't help me fade into the background as I would have preferred.
That self-consciousness begin to fade, oh, 25-years ago or so. I grew my hair—I had hair then—to my shoulders. I grew a beard. I begin to worry far less about how I dressed, at least in conformation to the standard suit/tie/white shirt uniform of the business world. I did make a concession and wear the tie when the tie was called for, although the tie was worn around the collar of a shirt something other than white, covered by a sport coat. My personal individualistic uniform was complete with a pair of jeans. Shoes? I usually wore desert boots or something similar to Hush Puppies.
Then about 10-years ago I discovered Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars, the old fashioned high top athletic shoes every kid used to wear in the summer. Here's a little factoid useful if you ever find yourself paralyzed and using a wheelchair: heavy shoes, leather shoes are uncomfortable for a person whose feet have grown as soft as a baby's butt. Even if you seek out the high-dollar brands of athletic shoes made by workers earning pennies, you'll discover those shoes are far too heavy and cumbersome to be comfortable on a pair of paralyzed feet. To my delight, the All-Stars are extraordinarily comfortable, and yet since they are on a rather solid but flexible rubber base and can lace up from near-toe to ankle, they are easy to wear if your feet are, again, as soft and tender as a baby's butt.
And so it began—Converse All-Stars every day, all day. And being no longer self-conscious, I bought the loudest, brightest color: red. People still notice the chair—it's hard not to notice 300-pounds of moveable chair—but funnily enough, the first thing they comment on is the All-Stars.
"Nice shoes," they say.
Or, "I love your red shoes."
If it's someone new I am meeting, it provides me with a chance for a joke my wife tires of hearing.
"Thanks," I'll reply. "They're magic. They never wear out."
Of course, that's not exactly true. The soles never wear out, but even with regular washing, the tops fade and get ratty looking, no doubt because I'm a bit of a slob, because the dogs stand on my feet, and because the kid who lives with us likes to stand on my feet as we ride through stores and other places.
Ratty reds sent me looking for another pair, and being the sort of fellow I am, I decided to see if there was something brighter, more eye-catching, than red. That in turn led me to the Converse website, where it turns out that, using assorted colors and patterns, a person can design—yes, design—Converse All-Stars of choice.
Since I have several Rastafarian knit hats, thanks to my friend Peggy Vincent, I thought to design a pair of Converse All-Stars in Rasta colors. The outside panels are red. The inside panels are green. The shoe tongue is yellow. The trim around the sole and the laces are black.
Delivery time is three weeks, and that should be just in time to wear to the Robert Earl Keen concert in Springfield, where we'll be sitting on the front row.