My husband, Todd, and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary in late August with a date at Fitzgerald’s, a restaurant built on the shore of Lake Superior in Eagle River, Michigan.
A permit to build on a beach would never be approved today, but it could be done in 1957, and now the inn and restaurant are grandfathered in. Its inaccessibility is also grandfathered in, so our access to the Fitz has been difficult since Todd has been in his wheelchair. Although Todd can get into the building through the kitchen, there is a step to get into the dining room, and the interior door is in the middle of the hallway, so a ramp is not an option there.
However, the smoked ribs are exceptional, the ambiance of the restaurant is charming, and the view is spectacular. So, five years ago, we figured out a way to get Todd and his wheelchair into our favorite restaurant.
When my brothers visited from out of state, they built a platform by covering a pallet with plywood. They put a wood lip around two sides to prevent Todd from rolling off. They set it in front of the dining room door, and Todd used his ramp to transition onto the platform. He inched back and forth to turn toward the door, then drove up another short threshold ramp.
We sat in the cozy, nautical-themed dining room with rustic wood furniture and wall-to-wall windows with a 180-degree view of Lake Superior. We enjoyed our Texas smoker barbecue and gourmet sides. It was a fun evening, and we relived it a few more times when we had help, but it is too difficult for me to maneuver the platform and ramps on my own.
Last summer, we didn’t attempt it, but the Fitz let me order ribs to go for our anniversary, although they usually don’t offer takeout.
In the earlier years of Todd’s disability, I fought to preserve some sense of normalcy with creative solutions like the platform.
Before we had an accessible van, when Todd could still transfer but couldn’t walk long distances, I drove Todd’s scooter up a steep ramp into the back of my parents’ pickup truck so we could attend the county fair.
We attended a small group Bible study with other couples from our church, bringing ramps with us each time to get into our friends’ house. It was stressful to get Todd fed and ready to go in time for the evening activity.
Ten years in, I don’t have the energy to take on accessibility challenges.
But in 2020, the Fitzgerald’s dining room became inaccessible for all. It’s too small for dine-in eating with adequate social distancing, so the Fitz is serving takeout only, and they have outdoor seating available.
I loaded Todd into the back of his accessible van, stuffing pieces of foam behind the ramp and in front of the rear hatch to dampen the road noise so we could chat on the 35-minute drive up the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Wait staff stood behind a table that blocked the steep stairs into the building, and menu boards listed the entrées and sides in chalk.
They weren’t serving ribs, so I ordered smoked prime rib, mac and cheese, and coleslaw for Todd, and brisket, garlic mashed potatoes, and sautéed green and yellow beans for me.
Todd pulled up to a picnic table in the parking lot, and we waited for our number to be called. One of their longtime servers came over to say she was glad we had made it out.
Another server brought our food and crossed out the smoked prime rib from the menu board. We got the last one, and everything else seemed to fall into place that night without much effort.
After we ate, I walked next to Todd as he rolled down the street to the mouth of the Eagle River. We sat on the edge of the gravel shoulder under a warm evening sun. We listened to the waves lap onto the beach and stared off into the distance where the big lake met the endless sky.
The days are long and caregiving is tiring, but in that moment, the stress melted away and life felt normal.
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