Saturday, February 18, 2012

Wheel of Fortune Unlucky for this Disabled Fan

I tried out for Wheel of Fortune the other day. Or tried to try out. 
Didn’t work out too well.
Here’s why: The folks who were running that “Wheelmobile Event” -- that’s Wheel lingo -- were woefully unaccommodating for those of us who were disabled. Or aged.
In recent years, when I solved Wheel puzzles easily family members would say, “You should try out for that.”
No, I would say, I don’t think I physically could. After all, even though I am a habitual Wheel watcher, I remember seeing only one physically challenged person on the show -- and that was a guy who partnered with his mom. And I’ve never seen anyone use a wheelchair, walker or cane while being led to the bonus round by Pat Sajak. 
But this time, when I learned Wheelmobile was coming to a casino near my home, I considered going. A casino would be handicapped accessible. My son said he would drive and accompany me. At minimum, it would be a fun adventure and at best, we would both get picked for the show and go on to win bundles of cash, fabulous vacations and at least one car.
So I checked it out online via the local ABC station (as viewers were instructed to do) and learned the basics of a contestant search. We were to show up about an hour before one of three shows: at 6 p.m. 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Then our names would be randomly selected to play in a mini Wheel of Fortune game on stage. If you pass that audition, you would be called to a final one at the Wheel of Fortune studio.
Here’s the language that convinced me to give it a shot:
It appeared just like that, in large, bold capital letters. So I assumed it was the truth.
Turned out, it was not. No accommodations were evident.
We were to show up about an hour before the show to get an application. It would be put in a drum from which someone would randomly select contestants to come up on stage, in groups of five, for about an hour. You didn’t have to get there early.
But some people got there seven hours before the first event. My son and I were killing time in the casino when we noticed a huge line had already formed. So we followed it to the end where there was a roped-off maze like you see in Disneyland. Wheel attendants passed out application forms and pointed to the end of the line.
It was about two hours before show time.
“I can’t do this,” I told a guy with an official badge.
I can’t stand in one place for long periods of time with my walker, I told him. Is there a place where I could sit and rejoin the line later?
“Just get in line and it will start moving soon,” he told me.
I did and it did. When we finally got to the escalator to head up to the conference room where the auditions were held, we had to get out of line so my son could ask if they had an elevator I could use.
On the second floor, we were herded into an empty conference room with huge posters of Pat Sajak and Vanna White and a mini-Wheel of Fortune set. Speakers blasted rockin’ oldies tunes and just being there seemed to make about 95 percent of the people ecstatic. 
I was looking for a chair.
There were two and they were both occupied.
As hundreds of aspiring contestants of all types entered the room to stand up and face the stage for hours, I sought a chair in the entry area outside.  I told my son I would find him later. There were two comfortable chairs in the foyer and both were taken. I rested in one around the corner for a while.
I watched many abled-bodied people of all ages streaming in. But I also spotted some using wheelchairs, walkers and canes. No one was offering the less-abled their seats.

I would occasionally join my son to see if I was missing anything. No, he said, nobody was making any announcements. I leaned against the wall for awhile, which helps with my back pain. But even finding a spot against the wall was nearly impossible. Along the edges of the room were men and women sitting on the floor, using the wall for support.
When I went back outside to sit in my chair,  a restricted area sign had been just placed in the hallway. “So I can’t sit there?” I asked the security guard, pointing to the chair about six feet away. “No, this area is for employees only.”
Like I was going to steal casino secrets from my easy chair.
He did offer to move it into the public area for me and I thanked him profusely. But after a few minutes, I had to go inside because it was close to game time.
I went to the side of the room with my son in search of some wall space where I could lean. Next to me was a lady sitting on the floor with a service dog and beyond her was an older man in a sport coat with a cane, leaning like me. In front of me was a mass of humanity. I spotted one woman with a traditional walker turn it around and try to sit on the crossbar. Eeeks. They really weren’t made for that. But when you are disabled and have been standing for hours, you’re willing to try anything.
Finally minor league versions of Pat and Vanna took the stage to thunderous applause. They called five or six people at a time to come up, be interviewed and play a quick game. 
After about 30 minutes, the white-haired man next to me with the cane made his way to the ground, so he could rest. My son suggested I do the same, but I knew I couldn’t manage getting up or down.
They did not call any contestants with a disability, so I’m not sure how they would have made it up to the stage. I couldn’t even see it from my vantage point. 
In an hour, they selected some 25 people from the 200 plus standing and waiting. 
The rules said they were looking for people who are “energetic, enthusiastic and fun.”
I’m glad they didn’t call my name, because I wouldn’t have exhibited any of those qualities after waiting for hours in a room devoid of basic needs, like water or chairs.
As the older man near me struggled to his feet with the help of his wife, I exited out the door, grabbing a coveted spot on a couch outside the conference room, where I sat until my pain subsided.
Don’t forget, Pseudo Sajak was saying into the mike, if you didn't get picked, you can go downstairs and get back in line for a chance at the next show. Or the next.
“No f_ck_ng w_y,” I thought.