Be honest: have you ever met or seen a person with some kind of disability and just stared? Or done the opposite - looked away so as not to be rude?
Five or so years ago while I was a shy (so not good for radio) co-host on the Saturday Asylum on WMNF, I briefly met a musician who brought up these insecure feelings in me.
Luckily I happened to have been recording the musician, Susie Ulrey, and her reunited 90's indie band Pogoh, with a video camera at the time of this occurrence.
That made it easy to look her right in the face without having to look her in the eyes. I admit I often hide behind media when real life is hard to handle.
Fast forward to this year, a few months ago, when Susie was playing a solo show at New World Brewery. No one could really tell me much about her story.
I knew that she's around my age (thanks Facebook!) and that when I first met her she used a walker. Now she uses a scooter to get around.
The place was not crowded and I hid behind a digital camera. I left that evening without even saying hello.
And felt crappy because of that. Although what would I have said? Hi, we met a long time ago and I want to know what it's like to be you?
Actually there is a career path that's a bit hard to come by these days but if you're lucky enough to snag it, you get paid to ask strangers these very questions.
So I pitched the story to the St. Petersburg Times, which I've been writing for every few months or so for the past year and a half, and my editor accepted (and polished) my idea.
I spent a few hours with Susie and a microphone, from a coffee shop to her physical therapist's office to her home, asking the lamest questions. She was happy to have someone asking and was very open to all of it.
She used to hate the stares, now she hates the ladies who use handicapped stalls as their own personal dressing rooms. She had special business cards made up for the jerks who park in handicap-accessible parking spaces that thank them for making her day that much more difficult.
But the best story I found wasn't just hers, it was the story of her and her husband. A love story. You know, the good stuff.
The story is online today and, of course, in the paper. Go buy one. There's lots of other stories in there too, about this lively Tampa Bay community that you might be missing out on. It'll be the most valuable $.50 you've spent all week.