Park at Your Own Risk

charleboisI feel I must revisit an age-old topic: abuse of the handicap parking space. Lately, I’m finding these things are like a girlfriend. Every time I need one, they’re all taken. Is it me, or does everyone now possess one of those blue and white placards hanging from their rearview mirror? It’s getting to the point where we may consider uncool if they can’t figure out a way to get one.

Either they’re handing these things out like candy, or there’s a black market for placards that I don’t know about. I’ve heard that meth labs are closing because placard sales have a higher profit margin.

As a wheelchair user what bothers me is that I’m the guy who invented the handicap parking spot. I came out of a bar drunk one night and fell over sideways in the parking lot. A cop came up, thought I was dead, and outlined me in chalk. Now everybody parks there.

People want to park in these handicap spots because they’re lazy. Laziness is just a part of human nature, so is a tendency to lie to get ahead. I know all about liars, after all, I used to be one. (A man’s got to find a date somehow.) It’s none of my business if you fudge your taxes, download music you didn’t pay for, or cheat on your diet. That doesn’t affect me. But when you enter the realm of accessible parking, you’re coming into my house. I’m a quadriplegic who uses a manual chair, so every inch closer to the store matters as much to me as a smooth, flat surface to roll on. Pushing my chair is as hard as watching a Keanu Reeves movie, and when I’m wheeling across that huge parking lot towards the football game in the sweltering sun, I’m curious about who’s taken up all those close spots.

In my years of observing the placard scam, one main culprit stands out: the 60 to 70 year old plump Caucasian lady with the super nice Lexis who eases into that sacred blue spot. She usually has no visible disability, except for her poor fashion choices. While she insists on parking close to the entrance, it’s all right for her to walk three miles through the mall because shopping is supposedly a noble cause.

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My first hunch is to assume this lady’s husband is some kind of doctor. I can imagine her whining, “Today I had to walk halfway across the parking lot to get into Nordstrom and my bunions were killing me.” Then she threatens to quit making him sandwiches unless he fills out the form to get her a handicap placard. Or if her husband isn’t a doctor, well then someone in her well-to-do circle is, and he’s willing to fill out the form in exchange for invites to her top-shelf dinner parties.

Recently, a new beast emerged on this devious placard-holder scene: the insidious teenager. These shady creatures will pull into a blue spot, hang grandma’s placard on the rearview mirror, and then dash off to the food court while I circle the parking lot for an hour. I’ll bet they leave grandma susceptible to a stroke when she parks in a handicap space, gets a several hundred dollar fine, and then realizes the grandkids swiped her placard and didn’t return it. Basically, she and I get screwed while spry youngsters tweet their way to Forever 21.

I once went to a grocery store and noticed a guy parked in a handicap spot. He got out of his car and proceeded to walk towards the market. He looked perfectly fine until he glanced back and noticed me getting out of my van. My wheelchair must have made him think: “I got nothing,” so he faked a limp. I had no choice but to follow him so he would have no choice but to keep up the charade. I made him limp down every aisle. I think I made him weary because at one point he stopped and pressed a frozen bag of peas against his forehead.

I not only followed him throughout the store, but everywhere he went that day. He had to limp to the cleaners, the 7-Eleven and Gold’s Gym. It was tough but I finally broke him when he came out of the massage parlor.

“Okay, you win,” he groveled. “I’m not really disabled.”

“You bet I win, faker boy,” I sneered. “Now, turn in your placard.” That was my happy ending.

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I must add a disclaimer here: I do realize that some people have disabilities that aren’t visible. My anger is not directed at those folks, but there are a plethora of snakes out there. Too bad I can’t look into each person’s heart and/or know their medical situation. Still, the object here is to weed out the fakes, phonies and frauds, oh my! You know, the lazy leeches who abuse the system. Yes, we all got problems, but that’s what shrinks are for—not handicap parking spots. If I were an abledbody person, I wouldn’t go near that spot for fear God might be like, “So you wanna act disabled? Well, I can fix that.” Next thing you know, lightning strikes and you’re sitting in an electric wheelchair, mowing people down while mumbling, “I got a placard.”

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My ingenious solution is to have two color-coded placards: Blue for physically challenged and pink for physically challenged lite. If you use a wheelchair, walker, cane, guide dog or have a visible defect, like dragging your foot, you get the blue. If it’s not so clear—a heart condition, lung problems, nerve damage—you get the pink. An ingrown toenail, beer belly, breast implants or bad hair day does not qualify. Be nice and play by the rules. And remember, you have your whole life to become disabled and earn that placard. Be patient, your day is coming.

by Jeff Charlebois

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