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By Paul Bendix

Rugged in Retail

Uploaded: Jan 20, 2015

When it comes to shopping, I am all efficiency. A preemptive strike on Trader Joe's. A raid on Draegers. A daylight sortie on Cook's Seafood. I do not linger over the retail experience. Except for the Sunday Menlo Park Farmer's Market, briefly transforming a Wells Fargo parking lot into the 7th Arrondissement. There I browse and hobnob. The vegetables are many. The wheelchair obstacles are few.

Problem is, furniture tends to get sold in stores. And we are frequenting the latter, my wife and I, preparing for our imminent move. Retailers generally do their best to accommodate wheelchairs. But store space is expensive. So, some aisles are wide enough, some aren't. Some displays are approachable, some aren't. And so on.

Which doesn't matter all that much, because for a couple, furniture shopping is relational. Having gotten into a co-nest-building space, you can easily forget the ADA aspects of the retail space. If my wife really wants me to see a lamp, this will happen despite intervening sofa beds and wine racks. And when retail passages prove impassable, there's always the smartphone. In other words, where there's a will, there's a way. Unless there's a rug.

Thing is, there's always a rug. I had been eyeballing a local retailer's coffee table when things started to ways they shouldn't. It was things under me. While people around me were yelling "stop" and "wait." And, yes, it was the rug, all high-fashion and open weave. My wheelchair had snagged it. As I inched away from the coffee table display, the rug inched with me.

I sat there. Sales personnel swirled around me. The difference between a bull in a china shop and a wheelchair in a furniture store began to blur. Retailistas were down on hands and knees, advising me to go forward, go backward. One advised me to roll sideways. My wife explained about the bolt. There's a large one dragging under my wheelchair. It slots into a lock in my van. The bolt is fine if you're a Chrysler, not so hot if you're a rug. It was hopelessly entangled in the fluffy loops and strands below me.

Somehow this is the essence of the disabled experience, things going mysteriously wrong and lots of waiting. I was only moderately self-conscious. That's progress. Besides, there was much to divert and hold one's interest. A team of thirtysomethings and twentysomethings was attacking the rug with scissors and box cutters. Everyone wanted this episode over, including its star. I apologized for destroying one prime piece of inventory. The sales guys did too. There were no lessons or morals...only fragmentary thoughts of cutting a rug, having a rug pulled out from under me...and mild horror of the next furniture store.