Expressway: Parking lots and compassion
When I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 10 years ago, my neurologist told me to apply for a parking permit for disabled drivers. At first I was reluctant to use it. Others needed the parking spaces more than I did. However, over time I had more difficulty walking, and began to use the permit on shopping trips.
These days I have more trouble finding accessible spaces for disabled people.
A big reason is shopping carts. Recently, I checked three shopping centers near my home in Wading River. I was shocked to find that 75 percent of the spaces for drivers with disabilities were obstructed by carts. During my survey, I saw eight people leave carts in the blue-striped neutral area between the spaces instead of returning them to the store or to a cart corral a few feet away.
I also found two unauthorized vehicles in spaces reserved for disabled drivers. When I asked the driver of the first car to leave the space so I could park there, I was told to wait "just a few minutes."
The driver of the second car was more polite. However, she appeared annoyed as she reluctantly pulled out of the spot. I got the feeling by the look on her face that I had inconvenienced her somehow. Moments later, I received a second nasty look from the woman the driver was waiting to pick up. She had just walked out of the supermarket.
In the winter, I've often seen snow piled in or near the blue-striped parking spaces after a storm. There is no reason this should happen. Each space is marked by a blue and white sign at least 4 feet tall, visible even in the snow.
Unfortunately, these spaces sometimes become danger zones for people with mobility problems. Believe me, it's not a pleasant to watch someone in a wheelchair try to get in or out of a car when the parking space is covered by snow. Of course, the same goes for someone using a cane, crutches or a walker.
And then there was the person who demanded to know why I was parking in a space for disabled people. He was parked about five spaces away, and walked toward me as I got out of my car.
"Hey, what are you doing in that spot?" he said with a bullying tone. He was well-built and several inches taller than me.
"I'm parking here because I'm disabled," I responded politely.
"Who are you kidding? You don't look disabled," he said.
I should have showed him my permit, but instead I told him I had Parkinson's disease. Trying to ease the situation, I told him I would gladly trade my disease for his regular parking spot. He just looked at me and walked into the store.
As fate would have it, he wound up behind me at the checkout counter. When the cashier told me how much I owed, I went to pay her but couldn't. My entire left side suddenly froze. I couldn't get the money out of my pocket, and got off the line.
"I'm sorry," I said to the cashier and to my skeptical friend. "I'm having a Parkinson's moment."
Perhaps at that moment, the man did believe my situation. I have to acknowledge that he was, after all, looking out for drivers who need the specially designated spaces. Where disabilities are involved, compassion helps on all sides.