“Ma’am, what you did, because you didn’t want to walk an extra ten steps from the parking space right over there, is make a hard life just a little harder.” As we drove out of the parking lot, it flashed through my mind, that’s what I really wished I had said.
It was sprinkling, just enough moisture in the air to get your hair damp if you stood out in the open, as we turned down the open walkway from the hair salon. Basey’s salon, where we both get our hair cut, is in a small boutique shopping center consisting of three or four hair salons and a couple of shops. The center is square and small with shops in each corner of the square so anywhere you park you are never more than a few steps to one of the boutiques.
As we turned the corner I saw a car with a handicapped placard hanging from the rear view mirror parked right beside our van. It was parked in the yellow cross-hatched part of the handicap parking spot, a spot where you are not supposed to park anything. The car blocked wheelchair ramp and prevented us from lowering Marty’s wheelchair ramp.
Renee B, our caregiver of the day, and Marty stood under the canopy of the shopping center as I pulled the van out in the middle of the parking lot all the while mumbling about the idiot that blocked us. I then walked over to Marty’s wheelchair and carefully lifted the back of her chair and gently let her down off the three inch curb. Renee then rolled Marty in the afternoon mist over to the waiting van.
About the time I started raising the lift with Marty on it I saw a woman with a couple of bags walking down the breeze way from the shops, walking where we had just been. She saw us and I could tell she hesitated just a moment before walking to her car. She was busted, she was watching the results of her cavalier parking and she knew what was happening. Unfortunately for her she knew I had seen her and it was too late to beat a retreat.
Personally, I’m a bit conflict averse, but there are times I’m not and as I stood in the wet air, in the middle of the parking lot putting my wife in our van I just couldn’t help it. I looked at the lady as she kind of tip toed toward the offending car.
“Is that your car?” I asked.
“I don’t meant to sound harsh ma’am (notice the ma’am, I’m born and bred Southern), but you blocked us in and you blocked the wheelchair ramp. You are parked illegally.”
She looked at Marty as she was sitting in her chair and rising into the van and said, “I’m so sorry, you should have come and got me.”
I was really trying not to be harsh and aggressive, I said, “Ma’am I don’t know who you are and where you were, how in the….” I caught myself. “There’s no way I would know where you were.” I bent over and started hooking up Marty’s chair in the van so it wouldn’t slide around.
She unlocked her car and started to get in. “I’m sorry.”
I turned and looked at her and said simply and stupidly, “It’s just inappropriate.” Yes, that’s what I said. Of all of the pithy, nasty, biting comments I could have said, I chose, “It’s just inappropriate.” I’m a killer.
She looked at me and I could see she was getting a little ticked. “I’ve said I’m sorry, I’m not saying it again.”
I said, “Yes you did, yes you did,” and turned and fastened the last hook to Marty’s chair as the lady slammed her car door, pulled out and drove around our van.
I checked with Marty to make sure I hadn’t made her too anxious, I checked with Renee to make sure she wasn’t freaked out by my confronting the lady. I was agitated but I had not been overtly rude, I had “Mamed” her to alleviate the sharpness I felt and I had turned away, accepting her apology, sort of.
Before disability came to roost in our lives I never once thought about living with a disability, I never gave a handicapped parking spot a second thought, I never paid any mind to a wheelchair ramp or how doors were positioned or how wide aisles were. Now I see things differently and I get my hackles up when people make life harder by not playing by very simple rules.
The rules really are simple and require a level of decency that is not that hard to summon: don’t park in a handicap spot unless you really need to, even if you have a placard or a license plate, don’t park too close to a vehicle with a wheelchair lift, they are easy to see, don’t park in those yellow marked areas and don’t park in front of a wheelchair ramp, even if you are just running a quick errand.
Remember, when you are breaking the rules for your convenience you are trapping people who already feel trapped and confined.
I really wish I had explained to the lady that getting around in a wheelchair is hard; handicap parking places doesn’t make anything easy, just a little less hard. I wish I had told her that we happily deal with the harder every day. It's not great, but it’s okay that “doing things” is more difficult, it’s okay that it takes longer for us to do things and to go places. I wish I had simply said, it’s hard enough, please don’t make it harder.