Living dangerously, we had tea for breakfast. We are both men of the age where black pants are the only sensible solution — they say that the body is a temple, so as with all buildings the plumbing gets a little rusty — and typically we never have tea with breakfast when we have a long drive. But we were both hankering for a hot drink in the wee early morning as we drove north on US 101.

And we were punished.

Our first of several stops was at a small local grocery market. Joe ran in to see if they had an accessible loo and they did so he came back and began loading the wheelchair out of the car. All of his bustle was noticed by two men who were standing almost directly in front of the doors to the store. They were both chatting with each other but one of the men noticed me, my size and my chair. He took a step aside to get a better view, clearly the curtain had gone up and he was set to be entertained.

I hate being watched get out of a car, I find the stares intrusive and demeaning. Joe had finished setting the chair up beside my door. I opened the door and the sound caught the other man’s attention. He looked over at the scene then back at the fellow he was chatting with.

Then he did something remarkable.

He stepped into place blocking the stare that had been laser focused on me. I had been about to ask Joe to do the same thing but I didn’t have to. I hurried out of the car and got into the chair.

In complete privacy.

It was wonderful.

That guy, the one who moved and blocked the stare, gave me a gift that I really value. He acted in a way that told me that he understood the situation, understood my right to be about without.

Joe and I talked about this over lunch. Who was that guy and how did he know. Did he have people with disabilities in his life? Was he just naturally aware? How did he come to be? Further, and this is the bigger question, where did he get the courage to act on what he saw.

He didn’t just notice.

He took action.

To assist a stranger.

I am always so surprised when something like this happens, maybe because it doesn’t happen often. Maybe because I no longer believe that I will ever be really safe in public.

My right to be about without – I experienced that for a few seconds in a parking lot at a store on US 101.

I want more.

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