TESTING THE TERRAIN:
My purpose for taking my first ever bus ride* was to test the friendliness of Richmond to the disabled and wheelchair bound. And too, occasionally escape the controlling confines of the nursing home.
My interest in public transportation extends back to over a year ago. I was exploring the possibility of using the Greater Richmond Transit Company’s (GRTC) CAREVAN. The CAREVAN would allow me to travel the Richmond area, point to point, at a reduced rate of $2.50 (now $3.00) one way.
The CAREVAN seemed to be a convenient way to get from point A to point B when using a power wheelchair. It is cheaper to ride the fixed route city bus. I based my reluctance to use the city bus on the mistaken belief that Richmond was unfriendly to disabled persons.
I had my reduced rate GRTC card for over a year and I only used it once. That was a pleasant experience dampened only by the fact that it required 24 hour advance reservation. The need for a reservation reduced the excitement of a spontaneous trip to downtown Richmond.
Then I heard that someone from Recreation Therapy at McGuire Veterans Medical Center was going to try taking the city bus a mere four tenths of a mile, across Hull Street, to Southside Plaza. Hull Street has no pedestrian crosswalk making it impossible to enjoy an Egg McMuffin and a decent cup of coffee at McDonald’s.
Having the location and the approximate bus time, on a whim one mid-morning, I went across Broad Rock Boulevard to the bus stop on E. Belt and waited. When the bus stopped, the doors opened and a ramp extended to the sidewalk, I asked the driver if the bus went to Southside Plaza. He acknowledged that it did and I got on the bus. The return trip was equally uneventful. The trip gave me satisfaction and a great feeling of accomplishment. I have since taken the city bus downtown.
I have given up any hope of understanding GRTC’s bus schedule. I started using my computer and the GRTC website to navigate through the city of Richmond.
My third trip took me downtown to 7th and Marshall. Once again, the trip presented none of the horrors that I had anticipated. In fact, on this trip, I found just the opposite. Sidewalks and crosswalks, although bumpy, were surprisingly easy to navigate.
Circling the block downtown, I noticed a sign on a window on 7th Street, “Richmond on Broad Café.” How excited can I get? Anyone who knows me knows how I am about coffee shops. Coffee shopping has been my hobby and passion since retiring several years ago. Give me a coffee shop, laptop, warm atmosphere, good food, and I am happy.
The café proved to be one of those wonderful places in Richmond. The wheelchair access is on the Broad Street side and very easy to enter using the ramp. It opens at 7:30 a.m. on weekdays. I was just a few minutes early and waited for the security guard to unlock and hold the door for me,. It wasn’t necessary, but his effort was thoughtful and appreciated.
The café was not crowded and easy to navigate towards the counter to place my order. The spacing between the tables was sufficient to find a place to put my wheelchair. There didn’t appear to be any tables designated for “Handicapped,” but the chairs were not difficult to move. Having moved the chair and adjusting my foot rests, I was able to get close enough to the table to be comfortable while eating.
I approached the counter and was immediately struck by the breakfast items in the display case. I was taken back by the pre-prepared items but was still tempted by the display. I ordered a bacon, egg, and cheese on a croissant and a large cup of coffee. When placing your order, they ask for your first name and give you a buzzer to let you know when your order is ready. Since it was early my order was ready before I finished preparing my coffee.
The cream and Sweet’n Low were easy to reach in a wheelchair. Napkins are on the table. Returning to my table that I had claimed with my hat, I opened croissant sandwich,. It was hot, and I was surprised to find a tomato hidden somewhere between the crispy bacon, provolone cheese and egg. The fresh tomato added flavor and moisture that separated the typical breakfast sandwich to a terrific breakfast sandwich.
The décor of the cafe celebrates the location as being part of the University of Richmond’s downtown campus. Exposed brick dominates one interior wall, but does not detract or diminish the overall warm and welcoming feeling. The floor is tile that makes for easy maneuverability in a wheelchair. The fixed seating is cushioned, making it comfortable for those wishing for long conversations or as a meeting place. The outside view is pleasant with a parade of workers going to their jobs.
The return trip begins at 8th and Marshall, which is right around the corner from the drop off point. At my home destination, I exited the bus at Horner and Broad Rock near the south gate of McGuire VA Hospital. At no point did I feel the least bit uncomfortable and I was surprised by how friendly Richmond is to those of us in wheelchairs.
* NOTES: In my case, both buses, down and back, came a little early. If you have questions, ask the driver before getting on the bus or you can call GRTC Customer Service @ 358-4782.