Jimmie sits in front of one of the retired busses used for training and evaluation at the Access Evaluation Center

The trip to the Access Evaluation Center this morning reminded me a lot of my trip to Lourdes back in 1983. I don’t know what I expected but when we entered the warehouse I didn’t expect a full blown episode of Mister Rodgers neighborhood gone to seed. The entryway was lined with people in varying stages of physical impairment. Arrayed around the roughly 10,000 sq. ft. warehouse were busses and ramps, carefully laid out pathways lined in yellow paint. The walls of the warehouse were decorated with large color photographs of the various types of busses in use in the city of Los Angeles, interspersed with gray line drawings of more busses, trains, trees and even an ungainly plane taking off into the dingy white acoustical tiles that covered the ceiling.

I brought my extremely indulgent husband, the ex-marathoner, here today to see if he is sufficiently impaired to take advantage of the para transit services offered to people in Los Angeles. While I am more than willing to drive him wherever he needs to go, I thought it would be nice for him to be able to get around without driving.

The process is outlined below at the website for this service. Check it out. We had done the steps to get here today, and had arrived a few minutes early for J’s 9:00AM appointment.

Access Paratransit Eligibility

This is an impressive facility, with dozens of people in the process of being evaluated. Each person sports his or her own means of battling the indignities of time: walkers, canes, scooters. We all find ourselves in this downtown purgatory for what we have been told will take from 2-4 hours.

After sitting for an hour or so, and watching the rhythms of the room, I gleaned that following the brief intake session, we would return back to the original seating area to await the next evaluator who would walk him through his paces. In the intake session, like a well-tuned team, the evaluator held up a small camera and said, “I’m going to take your picture now.” Jimmie leaned forward, and just as the man was about to snap the photo, one of his colleagues swept in with a large piece of white poster board to block the camera’s view of the row of waiting patrons behind where Jimmie was seated. It was impressive. We returned to our spot and watched approximately ten people march or roll or limp by, their attentive evaluators carrying clip boards and prepared to grab them by the belt which was wrapped around each applicant’s torso. The general sound of bustle in the room was broken occasionally by the chirping sound of a traffic-crossing sound, the light of which was just visible over the top of one of the busses.

Desks for the horde of evaluators were cleverly and discretely scattered around the room, the walls of their cubicles decorated with playful storefront designs, suggesting that we were in a perfect version of LA with people to assist you onto and off of the busses.

I have to say, as a bus passenger, I have always been impressed with the care and respect the drivers give to those passengers requiring assistance with their wheelchairs and walkers. So the testing is understandable, given that the Metro already has considerations in place.

This facility may be where old busses go to die, but they don’t die, they continue in their service here, providing a live set for the practitioners. IMG_3585

After an hour of waiting, I can see that my husband was bored with this exercise. I, on the other hand, was avidly interested in the process and continued to jot down my impressions.

There appeared to be about 20 evaluators, and at the end of the testing area, a man in a mauve polo shirt sat at a computer and processed out people as they completed their testing. I could see we wanted to get to the mauve man. That was how you won the game in this warehouse.

We sat on purple plastic chairs arranged in front of one of the busses. To our left stood a dusty looking Palm tree and a small 3′ round of AstroTurf at the base of the tree. When we arrived, we were told to sit by the palm tree. I thought about how much fun the designer of the warehouse must have had with this assignment.

A trip to the restroom revealed another completely full zone of waiting, about thirty more people in relatively good cheer in this purgatory of paralysis.

An industrious employee in a blue polo and sweatpants, with one phone headset in his right ear, the other dangling over his chest, swept periodically dirt and dust tromped through from all our urban feet.

Robert’s desk is past the two busses on the left, behind the mint green ramp.

Finally, my husband was summoned by a young man named Robert who was both kind and observant. After leading us past two parked busses to where his desk station was, he asked some questions about current medical conditions, took down the list of medications that we brought.

“This is an amazing place,” I said to Robert as he typed the medications.

“Yes it is,” he said. I noted that there were a lot of people there.

“How many people do you evaluate a day?” I asked. Robert responded that there were anywhere from 150 to 200 people evaluated every day. Impressive.

Robert rose from his table and said, “Follow me. We’ll go for your orientation.” I had heard the language “orientation” earlier and knew that that was done at the final station, by the man in the mauve polo shirt.

“Jimmie doesn’t have to do a tour of duty?” I asked Robert.

“I think he’s done his tour of duty already,” he responded, as he led us to the mauve man’s desk. In about 5 more minutes, we walked out into the parking lot and drove home. In 21 days, Jimmie should receive his Access card which will enable him to call for the van to pick him up and take him well, wherever he wants to go.

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