Most people are familiar with rolling through Midtown on a Sunday night.
Most people don’t do it in a wheelchair.
Brad Heron, 33, owner and piano player at Rockeys Dueling Piano Bar, barhopped five establishments Sunday to raise awareness of issues that affect communities with disabilities. He said he is one of 30 volunteers who is participating in the Wheelchaired for a Day Challenge in Gainesville this month.
"It’s definitely a learning experience," he said, his wheels skidding over the rain-soaked ground. "You have to get good at making friends quickly."
Heron said he apologized "about 100 times" while navigating winding hallways, narrow doorways and walkways lined with people and chairs. It was a particularly stormy Sunday and Midtown was nearly deserted.
He began at Gator City Sports Grill, moving on to Salty Dog Saloon before maneuvering to his third stop at 101 Cantina. At each place, he and a handful of friends drank beers and took shots "to awareness."
"Imagine if this place was packed," he said, as he easily passed people standing at Cantina’s outside bar.
While he managed to make his way to The Swamp Restaurant, Heron faced his biggest and final challenge at The Rowdy Reptile. While Heron can normally stroll up the stairs with ease, he was forced to spend part of his night yanking himself around corners and figuring out how to use the elevator.
"They don’t take the time to actually educate themselves and understand what those people need, and some of the needs are a little extra," said Wesley Mann, 29, a Rockeys security guard who accompanied Heron. "Bigger doors, more bathroom access, ramps — more ways to move around."
Heron’s efforts were especially meaningful for Mann because his 18-year-old sister, Alyssa, has been in a wheelchair her entire life.
"I think it’s good for people to put themselves in the position to understand what it’s like as a disabled person," he said.
Despite his difficulty moving through Midtown, Heron said it was nice to see a side of humanity he would not otherwise witness. Various people offered to help him, and everyone moved out of his way.
For Marylin Prado, who bartends at Rockeys, it was a shock to see her boss in a wheelchair.
"It’s weird because he’s such an active person," she said. "He’s always on stage, then off stage, all over the place, so it’s just strange to see him so immobile right now."
Though his activity was limited, Heron said he was glad he did it.
"It’s about awareness," he said. "I couldn’t be more aware."