One Night Only

I have no idea what time it is, but it’s late – maybe eleven or midnight? But, because we’re strolling back to our hotel on the night of MedTrade’s big parties, Atlanta’s downtown sidewalks are still busy. Block after block, people have been congratulating me on my performance, as if I’m the real deal.

“You were awesome tonight!” a woman shouts to me as we wait to cross a main drag. “I was one of the women security pulled off the stage when you were up there – that was me!”

This all started a few hours ago, harmlessly enough. Every year, my company throws a provider appreciation party one night during MedTrade. First and foremost, the annual party is a terrific opportunity to socialize with the providers we work with throughout the year, an inspired occasion to get to know those who we strive to support. Secondly, many of us have spent a lot of time leading up to the tradeshow, preparing details and products, then once at the show, we work very long hours, so the party is an opportunity to relax a bit, and get to know providers and co-workers while enjoying great food and music.

Somewhere along the line this year, however, I decided I should get up on stage and sing karaoke with the live house band, reckoning that would be one heck of a good time, for me and the huge crowd.

…Well, in good conscience, maybe I need to stop that part of the story, and go back a tad farther in my retelling of the evening to explain exactly how I even got to the epiphany that I should get on stage in front of a huge club of people and put on the rock and roll show of my lifetime….

Somewhere along the line, I asked a bartender for an empty glass, a straw, an energy drink, and a double-shot of Jack Daniels. Not only had I never had an energy drink, I never had Jack Daniels, either – and by the looks on my friends’ faces, I concluded that no one had ever combined the two, no less. Indeed, my college chemistry was somewhat limited, but I knew enough to instruct my friend how to place the double shot in the glass, then add double that amount of energy drink, and then with a constant draw on the straw, I took it down in one breath. It burned like kerosene going down, but, surprisingly, it had no affect on me whatsoever – that is, until I felt compelled to get on stage with the band, and rock the house as no other.

“Brian,” I yelled to my co-worker and travel partner over the loud music in the packed club, “we have to get me on stage with the band.”

Brian chuckled and smiled at me, appearing skeptical but tempted to go along with this for the ride.

“Really – I’m serious,” I yelled. “Let’s get me on stage with the band – I’ll rock the house.”

We made our way through the crowd to the side of the stage, to the woman who was handling the band’s play list.

“I’m Mark Smith, with Pride,” I yelled into her ear, pointing to the company T-shirt I was wearing. “Can you squeeze me in quickly to do a song?”

I was trying to play two trump cards – the usual move-the-guy-in-the-wheelchair-to-the-front-of-the-line card, and the I’m-related-to-the-host card. I figured that she couldn’t say no to getting me on stage in short order.

“The band’s going on break till 9:20,” she yelled. “But, I’ll put you on the list for then.”

I thanked her, and realized that a wheelchair, a position in a company, and a self-invented cocktail is really all you need to become a rock star – what an easy gig.

Brian and I headed out toward the lobby to plot my performance coming up in half an hour.

“We have to spread the word,” I told Brian. “Let’s get everyone.”

Brian went upstairs in the club, and I stayed downstairs by the lobby, both of us spreading the word that I was going on stage at 9:20 – a performance not to be missed. And, word spread like wild fire, people pouring into the downstairs club room.

Close to show time, I rolled up toward the stage, everyone patting me on my back as I squeezed through the crowd, and security moved the front-row barricade, allowing me to the side of the stage, where there was a ramp. Off to the side, in the dark, I waited in the wings, ready to rock the house.

“Mark Smith,” the MC announced, and the crowd cheered.

I rolled on stage, looking out to the crowd of cheering people, a guitarist to my right and left, a drummer behind me, colored lights shinning down. I took the microphone from the MC, and was ready to roll.

“I’m Mark Smith with Pride,” I shouted. “I’m in my Q6000, and I’m on the highway to Hell!”

The band immediately went into playing the AC/DC’s classic, Highway to Hell, and the crowd went nuts.

With the mic in hand, fist in the air, I went into the lyrics.

Living easy, living free
Season ticket on a one-way ride
Asking nothing, leave me be
Taking everything in my stride….
…I’m on the highway to hell….
No stop signs, speed limit
Nobody’s gonna slow me down
Like a wheel, gonna spin it
Nobody’s gonna mess me round….
…I’m on the highway to hell….

Women were jumping on stage, and being removed by security. The crowd was pulsating up and down in sync with the beat, fists were pumping in the air. And, I was a man possessed, screaming the lyrics, working the mic, and playing to the crowd – my rock-n-roll attitude in full affect. At the guitar solo, the guitarist came up to me, leaning back with his guitar in play, rockin’ to each other, a scene from any great rock show. On queue, I went back into the lyrics, and the crowd was shouting along.

Make no mistake, I was up there, with the crowd in a frenzy, my stage antics in full affect, and the band blazing, living life at 300 miles per hour, with a wheelchair, and cerebral palsy, and an understanding that there’s nothing more liberating than simply enjoying every moment as you are, in your own skin, for the world to see.

Now, the woman on the corner is still going on and on about how I rocked the house. And, she leans in and hugs me, and my chair moves, suddenly powered.

“You ran over my foot,” she says smiling, stepping back.

I glance at the crowd around us.

“No, honey, you hit my joystick,” I quickly reply.

The crowd bursts into laughter, and I realize that there was something left to interpretation of my reply.

“If you know what I mean,” I say, winking at her, spinning my chair around, heading back to the hotel with my friends, a ruckus rock star for one night only.


Author: Mark E. Smith

The literary side of the WheelchairJunkie

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