Back Away From the Handicap Spots!
On an icy and frigid Chicago winter night at the indoor sports dome where I pick up my son and his friends from soccer practice, some lady was illegally parked in not one, but two handicap spots. This parking lot is always a nightmare, with parents dropping off and picking up kids simultaneously for practice. There’s always a bunch of children darting between cars sporting nothing but soccer shorts in subzero temperatures. Any civilized regulations regarding social conduct and parking lot etiquette do not apply at this sports dome. It’s every man, woman, and child for themselves.
Since I was temporarily paralyzed in 2006, I have been issued a permanent handicap placard for my car. I try hard to only use my placard when I genuinely need it. My doctor qualified me as disabled because:
- I have neuropathy in my feet that makes walking long distances challenging and painful (it feels like running a marathon in stiletto heels that are three sizes too small).
- Like most scleroderma patients, I have Raynaud’s Syndrome. This means my hands and feet are extremely sensitive to the cold and I experience piercing pain and purple fingers when exposed to the winter elements.
- I went through almost a year of physical and occupational therapy to learn to walk independently. After being told by doctors that I may never walk again, I am thrilled to walk slowly with a slight limp. However, my balance is off, I have foot-drop and a funky gait. Walking on icy roads in the dark in my sexy orthopedic shoes is not a recipe for success.
Without fail, every time I’ve gone to pick up from soccer practice, someone is either blocking access to the handicapped parking or people without placards have taken all the handicapped spots. Two months ago, a woman in a fancy luxury car was hogging two handicapped spots. She was sitting in her car with the motor running. For the first time, I grew a pair and got out of my car to confront her. I put on my hazard lights, endured the biting cold, and marched over to her hotsy-totsy car (I can’t really march, since ya know, I’m disabled, but I would have marched if I could). Here’s how it went down:
I approached her car and she rolled her window down a crack.
Me: Hi, I see that you are parked in a handicapped space, but I don’t see that you have a placard or handicapped plates. Are you actually handicapped?
No response from Ms. Fancy Pants, so I continued.
Me: If you’re not handicapped, can you please pull out of this spot? I am handicapped and it is very difficult for me to walk in the cold.
The woman looked at me, sighed, and said, “…Okay.”
There was no sign of remorse or any hint of an apologetic tone in the two syllables she uttered.
Me: “Thanks so mu—,” her window rolled up before I could finish.
She did back out, though, which allowed me to park there.
Fast forward to a few weeks later. I’m again picking up from soccer, but this time, I couldn’t enter the area with the handicap spots because some dad in his oversized Land Rover was blocking off the whole area. I was wedged between cars that all wanted to exit the lot. I could not move forward because Mr. Land Rover was blocking where I needed to go. I could not back up because there was a line of angry soccer parents behind me. I tapped on my horn and motioned to the handicap placard dangling from my rearview mirror. Mr. Land Rover started mouthing and gesturing at me. I’m no lip reading expert, but the gist of what he was mouthing was, “I’M NOT MOVING!”
We exchanged angry facial expressions as I kept motioning to my handicap placard. In the midst of this delightful exchange, a mom next to me who I’d only spoken to once or twice rolls her window down and politely asks me to pull a little forward so she can get out. I unleashed a rant and explained that I was waiting for the Land Rover to move because I needed a handicap spot. I went on to say something ridiculous to this unsuspecting mom, like, “People are not very nice here!” Harsh words—I know.
Finally, Mr. Land Rover got out of his car and headed toward me. He looked furious. I rolled my window down and say, “Sir, I’m not trying to be difficult, but I am handicapped and I can’t physically walk very far in these weather conditions. You are blocking my access to a handicap spot.”
Mr. Land Rover pretended as if this was brand new information to him (like I hadn’t been wildly pointing out my handicap placard for the last few minutes during our vicious exchange). He sheepishly said something like, “Okay, hang on a minute.” He walked back to his SUV and miraculously moved, allowing me to pull in.
I found my son and his friends and delivered them all home. After my son got into the shower, I began to weep uncontrollably. The reasonable adult voice in my head said I was being absurd. I should not let a few jerks out there reduce me to child-like sobs. I couldn’t turn off the waterworks. It was as if Ms. Fancy Pants and Mr. Land Rover had poked a bear of emotions inside me. Once they came tumbling out, I couldn’t stuff them back in. I was inconsolable and irritated with myself for being so upset. I’ve thought about this for a while and determined I was justified in having such an intense reaction to two obnoxious people.
During my encounter with Mr. Land Rover, everyone in the parking lot was honking at me to move. It was as if they thought I was purposely trying to be annoying and disruptive. Why wasn’t anyone honking at Mr. Land Rover? I only wish I had the capability to park far away and scale snow mountains to pick up my soccer carpool, like most parents. Why didn’t Mr. Land Rover understand that? Didn’t he know that I clawed my way back to life so that I could be a normal mom who drives soccer carpool?
I try not to feel sorry for myself too often, but that night, in between sobs, I wallowed in self-pity. I lamented over the fact that everything I do is so much harder for me than for most. I can’t even open a bottle of water independently! As I’ve said before, sometimes we need to take a dip in the pity pool. Most days, I realize how lucky I am. It takes a lot to catapult me into uncontrollable weeping. So, to anyone out there who has ever parked in a handicap spot illegally, please don’t do it again. To all of you law-abiding citizens, thanks. No matter which category you fall under, please share this one for the people out there who aren’t lucky enough to walk from their car and ask Ms. Fancy Pants to move.
- I’m not saying that all people who drive luxury automobiles are rude or selfish. My sample size of two in no way represents all people who drive expensive cars.
- Even after a year of rigorous physical rehabilitation, I was still told I may never drive again without adaptive devices. I had to take a four-hour driving test and undergo three hours of cognitive testing to earn back my driver’s license. I wish there was some way that the able-bodied people who take or block the handicap spots could know that. Here’s an idea- share this post on your FB page and maybe Mr. Land Rover or Ms. Fancy Pants will read it.
Between a badly broken ankle (6 screws) and two knee replacements, I can somewhat relate to what you are saying. When I see a car illegally parked in a handicapped space, my first inclination is to get out of my car and write with my key some epitaph down the side of the care. Of course I would not do that because knowing me, there would be a policeman cruising through the lot. When I attend my art classes at the Botanic Garden, I have much to carry, plus my cane. Thank heavens for electronic doors. I have also found that when you carry a cane, people are suddenly more polite. I guess they feel sorry for me. Don’t! I am still able to get around, though slowly and my hands can still create beautiful drawings. So I guess I am lucky. I understand your crying jag. I’ve had them too, because a day does not go by that every joint in my body doesn’t ache. My wish for my next birthday is just one day without needing a handicap spot and no pain for 24 hours. I think that is reasonable, just one day.
Crying sometimes is good for the soul and it also washes your face. If we had lost you when you were so sick, life would have been mush less enjoyable. Spending time with you is a joy. Don’t ever change❤️
Miller- I hope you get more than one day pain-free. You deserve it 🙂 Thanks for being my most loyal commenter 🙂
I spent 6 plus months in a wheelchair and understand exactly what you are saying. It is a privilege to be able to walk. Have you thought about getting the police involved? One of my most satisfying moments was watching a repeat offender get a $300 ticket…
I did not know you spent six months in a wheelchair 😦 I have considered calling the police, but can never quite bring myself to do it.
In the Chicago area, I have called the police a few times about the handicapped spots being filled. They never seem to care. The fines must be bigger for traffic violations, but who knows.
Lisa, next time, take a picture of the car’s rear so the license plate is showing very clearly and post that on FaceBook. Be sure to get the Handicap Parking sign in and post as “Share” with the public! We only use my placard if there is no other spot to park in after Ron drops me and my walker off at the door. But, when we use it, it is because we really need it!
We’ve been really lucky with parking, but not so much with ramps. My room-mate is in a wheelchair from a stroke (I’m her primary method of transportation), and I swear about half the time I have to bump her up onto the sidewalk because someone is cluelessly blocking the ramp. And the reactions to me asking them to move a couple of feet? You’d swear I’d asked for a kidney. Really!
I hate confrontations, though, so a lot of the time I don’t bother. The only time I did and wasn’t my normally polite self, I found myself swearing at a tiny (tinier than me!) Indian woman with about 10 kids she was trying to shepherd into an SUV. I felt guilty about that for a week.
p.s. I saw this through a FaceBook share, so there are people out there are who are following your suggestion and giving your post a wider distribution.