About three times a week Marlene Simecek, 66, and Nancy Fleischman, 57, leave their small trailer on Holly Avenue and head into town in their electric wheelchairs. Side by side they roll down Bayshore Drive, over to East Naples Community Park through Sugden Regional Park and on to U.S. 41.
The first stop is usually Goodwill.
“We’re addicted to Goodwill,” Simecek admits. Just last week she found a purple and gray raincoat that covers her and the wheelchair. Price: $4. Around the same time, Fleischman found a crockpot for $5.99. It’s one of the nice oval ones, she said.
If they feel up to it, they might head to another “junk shop” and then onto the pet store to buy food for Fleischman’s rabbit, “PT,” and Simecek’s cats and dog. The final stop is the grocery store, either Alberton’s or Publix.
Usually it’s the basics, like milk. The only thing they have to stay away from is ice cream, because it will melt before they can get home.
“If we want ice cream, we have to eat it there,” Simecek said.
The pair have known each other for years but have been living together only since February. Fleischman fell on hard times after an accident in her wheelchair, so Simecek let her move into her trailer. Both women can still walk, but suffer from health problems that prevent them from getting to the grocery store without their wheelchairs.
“I’m lucky to walk to the mailbox and back,” Simecek said.
Simecek still has her old driver’s license but hasn’t owned a car since 1972. Fleischman hasn’t driven since the early 1980s. A car is just too expensive for either one.
That means they’re out in the elements — sun, rain or shine. This time of year it’s pleasant, but in the summer, they dread the trip.
“During summer, it’s like someone put us in the crockpot,” Fleischman said.
About two weeks ago it rained hard while they were shopping. When they got out, the streets were flooded. The only way they could travel was to roll down the middle of the street where there was less water.
“The chairs about turned into airboats,” Simecek said, laughing.
The pair also has to deal with the occasional inconsiderate or dangerous driver.
“Man, you should see Nancy,” Simecek said. “She almost stands up in the chair when she yells at them.”
Nonetheless, both Simecek and Fleischman are happy they are mobile and can get out. They enjoy each other’s company and feel fortunate to have the wheelchairs.
“It’s definitely the thrill in our lives,” Fleischman said.