continued Russo, a divorce lawyer, attends other stadium events besides Charger games. "I was here at the Aztec game last night, and I come to a lot of Padres games. The type of event doesn't make as much difference as where your seats are located. Originally, we had plaza-level seats, but the restrooms are so inundated with other people, it's hard to even get to the handicapped stall. We upgraded our seats to press level because of that."
Bobby and Daniel Collins both suffer from muscular dystrophy. Wheelchair-bound, Bobby, 11, and Daniel, 8, attend all the Chargers games with their parents, who are season-ticket holders. Bobby does most of the talking: "It's not really too difficult here. Sometimes it's hard to find a parking spot, even in the handicapped section." When asked about seating complaints, Bobby seems content until his mother, Starla, asks him, "What about getting down close to the field?"
Bobby: "We can't get very close to the players. Our seats are in the loge level, but we can't get near the field level. It's pretty much okay, but I can't get to the field level or anything close. And when they throw T-shirts and balls and stuff, I can't get low enough to catch them."
Daniel: "We can't see the fireworks because of the overhang."
Starla Collins elaborates on her sons' complaints. "If you don't come early to the games -- an hour or so -- you'll have a hard time finding a handicapped spot. Usually they have an area roped off, and sometimes they'll let you into it if you can't find a spot. It's pretty hard to see the fireworks and the skydivers coming down. They could put more on the big screen so that the people who can't look up can see what's goin' on. The seating is fairly good, except there's no way to get the kids down to see the players up close. But [attending games] is something that children and people who are handicapped can do pretty easily, so it's nice that everything is accessible for them."
Tim Walker, 42, relaxes in a folding chair, sipping a cold drink with his crutches on the pavement. His left leg was amputated just above the knee after an auto accident. Walker is here with his wife and friends, all Raiders fans who constantly tease him for being a Chargers fan.
"I live in Fallbrook, and I come to a couple of games a year," says Walker. "Usually, at the stadium, I go on crutches because it's really difficult when you're in a wheelchair. There's people all around you, they don't make room for you, and it's tough getting in and out of the elevator. And half the people using the elevator shouldn't even be using it. They're pushy and obnoxious, and I think the elevator should be left for the people who need it. But they do have a lot of handicapped parking and spaces where you can sit in the stadium. I don't really need it that much, and I really shouldn't be speaking for the people in wheelchairs 'cause I only use my wheelchair on occasion -- like at a mall.
"I come to Padres games, but football's the worst because of the crowds. There's still probably 10 to 15 percent compassionate people out there, but the rest couldn't care less if you are in a wheelchair or on crutches, and they won't give you any access -- especially at a sporting event like this!"
Walker points to a white car in another handicapped spot. A handicapped tag hangs on its rearview mirror, and the rear license plate reads "Pearl Harbor Survivor."
"This chick right here jumped out of her car and started sprintin' away. She was, like, 22 years old. We saw her plate and asked her if she knew what the Arizona was, and she was totally clueless!"
Cisco Soria, 42, lives in Huntington Park and arranges trips to Raiders games in San Diego with his handicapped friends. Soria lived in National City in the 1980s before moving back to Los Angeles. An aficionado of Southern California's major stadiums, Soria arranged for 44 people to come to the game -- some from as far away as Utah -- and had no trouble getting tickets.
"I have a friend who's a member of the Raiders' booster club in Utah who got the tickets for us," Soria reports. "We started this tradition eight or nine years ago. I became a Chargers fan when I lived here, but they've been playing so badly," he laughs, "that I didn't want to get beat up, so I wore my Raiders cap!"
Soria's wife, Olivia, lauds the stadium for its handicapped access. "It's a great, accessible stadium, it's great for tailgating, and it's better than the Coliseum in L.A.! We don't have any problems."
Their friend, Albert Martinez, also wheelchair-bound, is equally positive. "I love coming here. It's better than the Coliseum or the Rose Bowl. It's great for handicapped people here."
"The worst place was the Forum," Cisco pipes in. "They only had two handicapped restrooms in the whole Forum. But we go to Laker games at Staples Center, and they've made much better accommodations there."
Yacub Mitchell, 24, is attending the game with his nurse, Brenda Gamlin. Mitchell suffers from muscular dystrophy and requires the full-time attention of a nurse to keep his ventilator working. To power the extra machinery, his wheelchair is larger than most. A native San Diegan, Mitchell attends Mesa College. His appraisal of Qualcomm is less than enthusiastic.
"I come to a lot of Padres games and the Raiders games. I'm a big, loyal Raiders fan. There's a lot of disadvantages for the disabled. They have limited seating in one part of the stadium, no field-level seats, and no handicapped-accessible-only bathrooms. People like me need a nurse's assistance, and a female can't go in the male bathroom to help me. It's really a struggle sometimes. The Sports Arena is another joke -- it's worse than here. At the Sports Arena, a larger wheelchair can't even get in the bathroom. They need to work to improve and adapt to people in wheelchairs."