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 a chronic 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’ve 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:
1. 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).
2. 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.
3. I went through almost a year of physical and occupational therapy to learn to walk independently. Doctors told me I may never walk again, so I’m 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. A month 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 you’re 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 Miss 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 long distances in the cold.
The woman looked at me, sighed and said, “OK…”
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 couldn’t move forward because Mr. Land Rover was blocking where I needed to go. I couldn’t 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 rolled her window down and politely asked me to pull a little forward so she could 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 said, “Sir, I’m not trying to be difficult, but I am handicapped and I can’t physically walk long distances 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, “OK, 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 Miss 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? 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 able-bodied people who take or block handicap spots could appreciate that.
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 Miss Fancy Pants to move.
By Lisa Goodman-Helfand for The Mighty