|Riley, returning from stage (after graduating, Magna Cum Laude)|
|Riley w/Proud Parents, Mike & Susie|
|Riley w/Grandmothers, Gloria & Grace|
I am writing my blog on a Wednesday morning because both brain and body are too fried from the underbelly of Riley's graduation last night to do what I usually do each morning—add another scene to my latest novel. Yes, I'm really glad I was there, but the mish-mash behind the joyous occasion is mind-boggling. If I put it in a book no one would believe it. The oddest thing about it all is that everyone was attempting to the right thing. Yet, due to misinformation, misinterpretation, and plain old bad luck, disaster followed disaster, only the graduation ceremony itself going off without a hitch. (Thank goodness!) Below, I will attempt to record the events before my horrified mind hopefully shuts them out forever and ever.
Early Tuesday morning, with a rain prediction of 80%, I told my daughter Susie that I simply could not cope with a cane and an umbrella or manage wet cement steps (at the UCF football stadium). So, regretfully, I would have to pass on Graduation. Her response: the venue had been changed to the indoor arena where UCF plays basketball, and she would pick me up at 5:30.
Okay . . . I was still not happy about getting caught in a Florida rainstorm, but I could endure it for a few steps from the car to inside. Ha!
Mike, Riley (our graduate), and her sister Hailey (a UCF student) went ahead, while Susie drove the two grandmothers and Cassidy—blessedly with only light rain instead of the predicted downpour. While we were driving, Mike called to say he had staked out great seats, if the grandmothers could manage "four" shallow cement steps. Naturally, we said yes. (Please keep this number in mind.)
We made good time from Longwood, but came to a standstill in the interminable line of cars snaking single-file down the road to the arena. It probably took as long to go the last mile as it did to drive down from Longwood. As we finally got to the BACK of the parking garage, Susie asked the attendant where to find Handicapped Drop-off. His answer: we'd just passed it. He held up traffic (which was only inching ahead) so she could turn around and drop us off at at a barricaded street. Gloria (Mike's mother), Cassidy and I got out and made our slow way—both Gloria & I with canes—toward what we thought was the entrance. Except each canopy marked the entrance to a shop, not the arena.
About half-way down this street, which was approximately the length of TWO football fields, we stopped for breath and asked two people wearing "official" vests WHERE the elusive entrance was. Answer: all the way to the end of the block, turn right. And to add insult to injury, we were told there was a Handicapped Drop-off at the front entrance! (We, evidently, had been dropped off at the BACK of the giant building.)
By the time we made it to the front, we were exhausted and unable to rest on any of the wrought-iron chairs there as they were all wet. Cassidy, bless her, asked for special dispensation for Gloria and me to jump the line, which was granted. And then—this definitely was not our night—as Cassidy passed under the Security scanner, red lights flashed, alarms went off. Gloria and I were waved through without so much as a bag check, but Cassidy got the complete bag search. And guess what? Our beautiful 16-year-old granddaughter, a leader in Air Force Junior ROTC and Police Explorers, was carrying a knife and pepper spray! And obviously chagrined that she had forgotten about them. They were confiscated, though with amused goodwill.
After that, we had to find the elevator . . . except Gloria could hardly stand by this time, so a wheelchair was brought forward (Mike finding us at this point). We all waited in line for an elevator and finally made it to Section 102. And then, wheelchair abandoned, Mike led us toward our seats—FORTY-FOUR steps down! For someone with a cane, a balance problem, and exhausted from the long walk, it was absolutely terrifying. But, determined to be good sports, Gloria and I settled into what were the best seats in the house and turned our attention to the stage. (It was a good 15-20 minutes before Susie joined us—it had taken that long to get a parking space in the garage attached to the arena.)
One thing I knew: I was not repeating that walk! Ever. Except . . .
The Graduation Ceremony was very well done—the Procession of the graduates, the speeches short and well-delivered. Riley, ever-photogenic, exuberant. With Susie's help, the 44 steps up went better than the 44 steps down. In the upper lobby, a young man was holding up a big sign saying "ADA EXIT," which helped us get through the crowd where the wait for the elevator was minimal. There were even folding chairs in the lower lobby for the large number of handicapped people to wait until their rides could maneuver out of the garage and pick them up.
And that's where things again went wrong. A number of people, in an attempt to be helpful, royally screwed up the pick-up. Mike, Gloria, and Hailey had disappeared out the door into the rain. Susie, after a long conference with a kindly arena employee in the lobby, announced that I was going to be taken by wheelchair to a side entrance, where she could pick me up. And off she went before it was discovered the wheelchair driver had no idea where the side exit was, a supervisor added an additional glitch, before, finally, the helpful employee led us down a number of back corridors, picking up a folding chair along the way. She spoke to the guard at the exit, helped me into the folding chair, warned me it could be some time before I was picked up and to keep my cell phone on. And then she was off, leaving me to watch everyone scurrying about, closing up for the night, and one by one, exiting out the side door, leaving me alone. "Behind the scenes" in this vast arena.
At long last, my phone rang. Susie was waiting! But when I went out into the rain, no sign of her car. The Security Guard immediately stepped up, took my phone, and discovered Susie was on the FAR side of the building! At which point, we began a walk nearly as long as the one it took to enter the building. (Believe me, that building is huge!) But the guard, leaving his buddy to protect the gate, escorted me the all the way out of the building, (at least I got a great look at the arena from in front of the stage), then across what felt like acres of sidewalk, artificial grass, and across a street marked by those terrifying "bumps for the blind" (in the rain), until finally, FINALLY making it to where Susie was waiting, totally blockaded from the front of the arena by a row of four patrol cars, blue lights blinking.
That Security Guard surely earned his halo last night! There was no way I could thank him enough. At the end of our long trek, he not only opened the car door but, recognizing I was on my last legs, coached me into my seat! Nightmare ended at last. I don't think I've hiked that far since coping with the Underground in London in 2015. It will likely take me a week to recover. Sigh.
Fortunately, we ended the evening with a lovely dinner for eight, topped by cards & presents, but I had to warn Cassidy that I would likely miss her graduation in 2024.
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For a link to Blair's website, click here.
Thanks for stopping by,Grace (Blair Bancroft)