At the end of a shitty week, all I looked forward to was happy hour with a good friend at one of our favorite local Mexican restaurants. Cars had already filled the tiny parking lot. As I drove up to the handicapped parking spaces, my bad mood worsened.
A long plastic table occupied a handicapped space. I caught the eye of a woman who had set up a similar looking table across from the table that illegally blocked the handicapped space. I pointed to my handicap placard and pointed at the table as if that nonverbal communication would convey to her to move the damn table out of my way. Her attention returned to her wares.
I sat there fuming and brainstorming several scenarios, including getting out of my car to push the table out of my way when a couple, who were parked two spaces down from the violated space, left. Although my immediate situation had been remedied, the battle had not been won.
As I approached the restaurant, I whipped out my phone and took several pictures. When the hostess greeted me, I told her that I needed to see a manager about the vendor table in the handicapped parking space. She looked confused. Fortunately for the both of us, my friend had already arrived at the restaurant and intervened. I breathed deeply, actually proud of myself for not yelling. The hostess attempted again to engage me into the conversation of how big our party was. I turned my back to her while my friend answered.
We ended up on the patio, in the shade, where, if I’d just turned my head 90 degrees to the left, I could see the capitalist fucking over every handicapped person who may have wanted that parking space. So, I chose not to do that.
One thing I realize about myself is that I have to work on being more empathetic. At the very least, I didn’t want to sabotage our happy hour. So, I stewed in my own angry juices while asking my friend how she’d been since I’d last seen her. I calmed down by focusing on her. And truly she was a good friend, since she’d texted me before I’d arrived, a warning about the handicapped space. I just hadn’t read it in time.
After a few sips of the creamiest coconut margarita ever, I articulated the bias society has against those of us who are “permanently handicapped” and ambulatory. No one can see the metal pins in my left ankle. Or how I sit with my left foot propped up most of the time when I’m at home. Or how I wear copper sleeves on my left knee and ankle while I sleep. Or make a batch of turmeric pills periodically so I can take two every morning. Or go to yoga four times a week to work on my uneven, tight hips, creaky knee and metal-enhanced ankle. Or how I’ll never again walk up or down a flight of stairs without holding onto the railing even if I also need to carry things. I’d much rather make two trips than suffer another serious fall as I have in the past.
Instead of dwelling on the things I have to do not to appear permanently handicapped, I pursue happiness with as little limping as possible. So, I slowly walked away, minding my own business one day while some random guy in the parking lot kept yelling at me, “You ain’t handicapped! You ain’t handicapped!”
And I guess I should be happy that he couldn’t detect that I was. That I am.
What I try to project is strength because that matches my personality. Yet I respect my physical limitations even though I attempt to shift those boundaries just like any other thing that’s not governed by an immutable law of physics.
My friend and I enjoyed our dinner, talking each other off the ledge, venting about our jobs. Another friend joined us an hour later, bringing her own wonderful energy. At the end of dinner, I asked for the check and the manager.
With a civil tone, I told the manager that his restaurant was one of my favorites and I had been going there since 2004. Then I pointed out my car, the one with the handicap placard. Next, I pointed 90 degrees to my left. I explained to him that the woman who’d set up in the handicapped parking space to sell things was committing a crime. Also, I wanted to give him a heads up since I’d taken pictures and would report the incident. He said he hadn’t realized the situation, but would talk to the restaurant owner.
Now, I’m not going to stake out the restaurant, but I’ve researched and reported the incident, via email, to 311 complete with pictures. I hope that’s all it takes. My intention isn’t to shut down the restaurant or sue, but to ensure that other handicapped patrons of that restaurant have access to those designated spaces. It’s not enough to have handicapped parking if there’s no access.
Besides, it’s my civic duty to speak up, just like voting and paying for my financial obligations. Many handicapped people have fought to be treated as first class citizens just like black people and women. They all fought so people like me can be autonomous. I’m not going to suffer in silence nor shirk my responsibility. I’ll police those rights.