On the right is Teresa Baird The Lady on the left is Grocery Store Assistant Manager Kim Perrigrove
The Story of Teresa "Flying Eagle" Baird
The following is an article about Teresa Baird which appeared in the11/18/96 Everett HeraldOur thanks to Mr. Bob Wadkin reporter, Everett Herald
D E P E N D I N G on D A R T
Changes next year may leave rural residents without transportation
Ever since multiple scleorsis left her in a wheelchair six years ago, Teresa Baird has come out fighting. She's skydived from airplanes to prove it's possible. She's spoken to teen-agers about attidude and spirit. She's suffered strangers' stares when the MS stiffness suddenly grips her body and shakes it like a tree. But Baird's main battle now is over a simple bus ride. Simple for most peopole, complex and life-giving for Baird. Don't bet against her. At 10:40 a.m. one recent Tuesday, driver J.D. Gee cinched a series of belts holding Baird's wheelchair into the floor of a Dial-A-Ride (DART) bus. Baird was riding from her home in the Robe Valley outside Granite Falls to a regular Tuesday appointment in a Lynnwood office building. Like every Tuesday, it's a complicaterd journey that will take her to Lake Stevens and Everett as other passengers, some elderly, some developmentally disabled, board and depart. It will be dark before Baird arrives home, exhausted. She's not complaining, DART is her legs and her independence and she's desperately worried she'll lose it. Changes in DART service next year could leave Baird, and perhaps another 350 rural Snohomish County residents, without rides.
A last minute promise of money from Snohomish County, the state and Senior Services of Snohomish County, who operate the DART buses, may save the ride for Baird and other elderly or disabled rural residents through 1997. The years after are cloudy. "it's hard to explain, but when your existence relies on someone else you get real scared." she said. "Real scared."
Soon Gee has the DART bus shuttling down the Mountain Loop Highway toward Granite Falls where it pulls into the driveway of 80-year-old Bertha Johnson, a friendly resilient woman who rides it to the Lake Stevens Senior Center. From the back of the DART bus, the two women talk. They discuss vegetable gardens and canning homemade pies and children. The DART bus rides have made them friends. "I thank my lucky stars for DART," the older woman said.
Baird 46, is a widow with grown children in the area and others still living at home, but she can't rely on family and friends for all her outside transportation. She needs this ride once a week and to go without it is unthinkable. And so she, along with a core group who are also DART dependent, regularly call local elected leaders for action. She stuffs envelopes until her hands are stiff and weak. She arranges meetings with transportation leaders from Olympia. Calls, Calls, Calls, working any angle to keep her bus running. "It's horrible to be vulnerable," she said.
On the return trip from Lynnwood, music from a Seattle radio station dirfts through the small bus. Baird is in back again, her wheelchair strapped in place. DART drivers generally receive good marks from their passengers who appreciate their patience, their attitude, their willingness to help. DART passengers aren't ordinary and neither are the drivers. As Baird watched at a stop near Lake Stevens, DART driver Henry Moore helped an elderly woman with a walker off the bus and toward her mobile home. He held her front door open, making sure the walker didn't catch on the stoop. A few miles later the bus stopped at a grocery store in Granite Falls and a clerk emerged carrying paper sacks. Moore helped load them. Inside the sacks were groceries for Baird and her family. This too is a regular Tuesday stop.
The sun had set by the time the DART bus pulled into Baird's 22-acre property. She waited for Moore to unhinge her from the straps and wheel her onto a special lift that lowered her to the gravel. Moore pushed her to the front door and then waved goodbye. Baird believs it's because of these DART rides that she has retained some independence. Teresa Flying Eagle won't give it up without a fight. "I'm not gonna play dead," she said. "It's not just a want, it's survival." Baird began calling herself Teresa Flying Eagle after taking that first jump out of an airplane two years ago. She is considering writing a book about her struggles with MS that began 20 years ago and have slowly eaten her strength. The words are already formed in her mind, sentences ready to pour out. Once she locates a suitable computer she will begin. For Baird, life is a series of adventures. When she fell off a toilet at home one day and was stuck on the bathroom floor for five hours, her first reaction was to laugh. Another time her body stiffened and started shaking uncontrollabley and she fell from her wheelchair. A neighbor had to help her up. Still, there are other rural riders who aren't as able. "You're picking on the most vulnerble group of people," Baird said. "They can't fight back. That's not acceptable. You never leave people out. That's what America is -- not leaving people out."
Community Transit, which contracts out the DART service to Senior Services, has decided that starting next year it will limit service to those living within the bus company's boundaries. Other transit agencies across the nation have made similar decisions as they begin responding to the federal Americans With Disabilities Act mandates that become law in January and require a new standard of paratransit service.
In the past few years CT, using county and federal grants, provided DART service to Baird and others living outside the bus company boundaries. But over the years the demand and the costs kept growing. CT officials project that by the year 2000 there will be requests for more than 185,000 DART rides a year just from inside its boundaries. Currently, DART provides 145,00 rides a year.
A percentage of the sales tax generated inside its boundaries goes to CT to operate its buses and pay for DART. Much of the county, except Everett which has its own transit service is within those boundaries and has DART and regular bus service. Baird and others living outside the boundaries, argue that they do all their shopping and major purchase inside those boundaries, and so their tax dollars are going toward the bus service. The decision to limit DART service to inside its boundries, CT officials say was difficult but necessary. Baird and fellow DART riders Edith Vance and Del Varney weren't satisfied. They lobbied the county to add $57,000 to its proposed 1997 budget to help pay for rural DART service next year.
"This system is their lifeline," said Snohomish Coundy Executive Bob Drewel who recommended the money be included in the budget. The county council is scheduled to vote on the budget Wednesday. That accomplished, the three began lobbying elsewhere. Keith Spelhaug, director of Senior Services of Snohomish County, said that agency is willing to kick in some dollars and has applied fo a state grant for more. Taken together, the money should be enough to continue rural service through 1997. He is also considering a plan to use feeder buses to bring residents like Baird into area senior centers, which are all inside CT's boundaries. From there, they could receive regular DART service. Spelhaug said DART, which has about 45 buses, makes about 20 trips a day for residents living outside CT's boundaries.
Cathy Silins, manager of the state Department of Transportation's public transportation office, said a study of the need for paratransit service in rural areas is under way. Once the data is in, a stable source of dollars to provide service in rural areas of the state will be explored. The level of paratransit service provided to rural areas won't match that of populated areas, nor should it, she said. Silins likens it to a library. "If you live in town you might have a library within walking distance," she said. "if you live in the country you may see a bookmobile once a week." Once a week would be fine for Baird.