It’s taken me about a week to cool down, but the incident still burns me when I think about it. Even more, I remain simply amazed how some in our society could care less about others, as if it’s their God-given right to do as they please.
Last Friday, my son Alex, his buddy Zach, and I had just watched the premiere of Deadpool, and we were hungry for some late night dinner. We drove around our side of town and settled on a trusted favorite, LaRosa’s Pizza in Eastgate. For those familiar with the area, it's the one by Jungle Jim’s. We love this particular restaurant for many reasons: the food is always good, service is exceptional (mainly because the waiters/waitresses indulge Alex’s want to socialize), and the parking…well, it's among the best in town for accessible vans! I say this because outside this restaurant, the handicap unloading stripes are among the widest I have ever seen! Such civil engineering kindness puts this Duchenne Dad at ease with every parking job, and leaves me confident my son’s needs are met without fear of injury…until the incident.
As I am sure you are aware, handicap parking stripes, especially the wide variety, have purpose. They are designed to allow safe wheelchair exit from, and entry to, side-loading accessible vans. With ramps, the wider the stripes, the better. The extra space allows room for a wheelchair to use the entire ramp (instead of dangerously short-cutting off the side because of a lack of space). The space allows wheelchairs to pivot without concern of hitting adjacent cars, and gives protected peace of mind if you need to reposition the wheelchair occupant before proceeding to your destination. Even better, the stripes are typically located close to a storefront so you don’t have to ford dangerous parking lot traffic just to get inside (note: drivers see people walking, but seldom see people sitting). In short, wide stripes are like a no-fly zone for wheelchairs, so to speak, and I love them.
So, back to our story. Alex, Zach, and I parked in a handicapped-only space next to some wide stripes in front of LaRosa’s. While the boys excitedly debated calzones or spaghetti, I walked around the van to manage the ramp for Alex’s safe exit. I unlocked his wheelchair from its constraints, and guided Alex backwards down the ramp. As I stood at the base of the ramp, safely guiding Alex’s descent onto the stripes, I saw something move out of the corner of my eye, and turned my head to confirm. That is when I observed a large SUV driving onto the stripes where we were unloading! I was astounded.
The driver, a woman of soon-to-be-revealed questionable integrity, wanted to park in the space clearly marked with handicapped stripes. She nudged the nose of her SUV into the parking space where I stood with my hands still on Alex’s wheelchair and WHILE ALEX WAS ROLLING DOWN THE RAMP!
I immediately stopped Alex with one hand and halted the woman with the other. I supplemented my traffic cop pose with an urgent, and angry, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” I then threw up my hands as if to say WTF! I expressed to the woman I have a boy in a wheelchair, on a ramp, and we are unloading! I pointed to the stripes and motioned for her to park elsewhere. The woman stopped her SUV, but didn’t reverse. She just waited and then, after some time, resumed inching her way onto the stripes as if to hasten our exit. I didn’t budge. Alex, fearing for his safety, zoomed back into the van. Zach watched with eyes wide open through the van window as the woman finally stopped a mere few feet from hitting me and our now vacant ramp.
Still in utter disbelief, I walked to her driver’s side window.
“What do you think you’re doing!”
The woman insistently pointed to the space as if it was her absolute right to park where she wanted, and demanded that I move. I again explained these are handicapped stripes, and that she cannot park here because I am unloading my son. She then powered down her window and said “go ahead, I’ll wait.”
I explained that’s not how it works, and told her to park elsewhere because this space is not designed for her parking convenience. She told me to just get him out of the van, go inside, and eat our pizza. She explained her need to park there because she had a pizza to pick up. I repeated myself, as did she. A standoff was obvious, so she started lobbing F-bombs, as if the two choice words would improve relations.
I was dumbfounded, and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I returned to our van and explained to the reluctant boys we have every right to use this space. I then took my time to help Alex, hoping our purposeful delay would urge her to park elsewhere as traffic was forced to swerve around her back end. But, our delay only enraged her to not just lob more F-bombs, but scream them! Needless to say, I had difficulty pulling Alex out of the van as he wanted nothing to do with this apparently psychopathic woman.
Alex: Dad, perhaps we should go somewhere else for dinner!
Dad: We aren’t going anywhere!
Zach: This is awesome!!!
F-bombs continued to rain, as did insults of me and my “sorry-ass son” (another example of her poor choice of words). During the lengthy exit from our van, the woman lost patience, backed up, and sped away in a huff. I prided myself for holding my ground, happy the boys witnessed how you always stand up for what’s right, no matter how difficult.
Once inside LaRosa’s, however, my pride quickly faded. Something didn’t feel right. Although the woman had left and we apparently went our separate ways, I couldn’t shake the feeling of a car key or two scraping across the van, or worse, as she walked by to pick up her pizza. I told the boys to wait by the restaurant window where I can see them, and then walked back towards our van. My sense of foreboding didn’t fail me.
The woman had circled the parking lot (passing several open spaces) only to return to the battlefield. She pulled alongside our van and parked ON THE STRIPES where we had just exchanged pleasantries. I approached in amazement as she turned off her car, casually pulled out her phone, and began scrolling social media (or so I assume) while waiting a few extra minutes for her pizza.
I knocked on her window.
She ignored me.
I knocked again.
She offered a no-look finger salute.
I knocked a third time.
She then rolled down her window and fired dismissive F-bombs without care, certain of her victory and proud of her demonstrated parking abilities. In between the multiple F-bombs and finger salutes, she argued that we had already entered the restaurant and no longer needed the parking stripes, so leave her alone.
Not so fast, lady. As I recall, you referred to my son as “sorry-ass.” I politely told her she needed to move because this space was not designed for her convenience.
Insults followed by F-bombs.
I stood my ground.
She continued impressing me with her vast vocabulary.
During this back-and-forth, it became evident to her that I was intent on ruining her enjoyment of scrolling social media, and intent on standing up for Alex and others who legally need the space. Alex and Zach continued to watch from inside the plate glass windows as did many others who chose to walk by with interest but did not intervene.
The insult and F-bomb rainstorm intensified.
I didn’t care if I got wet.
“F-bomb. F-bomb. F-bomb. Go eat you F-ing pizza, you mother F-er! I can park wherever I F-in want! It’s a free country!”
I explained again the errors of her thinking, and offered I could call the police if she wanted to settle this legally.
Louder insults and F-bombs followed. Then, with a sneer and a devilish smile she said, “Okay, fine. You know what, I’ll move. But, you just wait! YOU just wait! You’ll regret it.” She laughed with insanity as she threw the SUV in reverse, and drove away, throwing F-bombs in rapid-fire as she did and a skyward salute out the driver’s side window.
As I watched her leave, I realized the battle may be over, but the war was about to begin, and it wouldn’t be pretty. If I went inside for a calzone, she would undoubtedly damage our van. On the other hand, I was in no mood to stand outside in the cold to protect the van or continue the argument without a SUV between us. Who knows how long I would be out there. Weighing the choices, I walked into the store, retrieved the boys, and explained that some people cannot be reasoned. I told them that it is better for us to leave now before the incident ended badly. We reloaded and left for another restaurant, leaving the woman and her anger behind.
In hindsight, perhaps I should have stayed and fought valiantly. Perhaps I should have taken pictures of her license plate, her car, or her lovely, screaming smile and steely, enraged eyes. Perhaps even a YouTube video of the incident would have been useful. Perhaps I should have actually called the police, instead of issuing a mere threat. But, in the moment, such logic and patience escaped me.
On the flip side, I could have complied with her early demands and simply ushered the boys inside for dinner, ceding the wide stripes for her convenience. Who would it really harm? I’m sure her need for pizza was pressing and paramount. Perhaps she was running late, or had a family to feed. Pizza is best served hot, right? And, no doubt, people should never go hungry. But the issue is bigger than convenience, pizza, or hunger. The issue is real for wheelchair users and close to my heart.
Snicker if you will at the ridiculousness of the incident, resulting debate, and arguably needless escalation. Smile if you must at the visual of a generally peaceful Duchenne Dad refusing to move off the handicapped stripes while a crazy lady tried to push him away with insults, F-bombs, and a big SUV. But, as I see it, the rights of disabled persons should NEVER be trampled or dismissed. If anything, they should be protected and defended.
No matter another’s convenience, intellect, or craving for hot pizza.