People who live in big cities often complain about traffic, the bottlenecks of rush hour and the accidents that clog roadways for miles. My transportation pet peeve, though, runs to the stationary. I'm infuriated by able-bodied drivers who park their cars in spots reserved for the handicapped.
If my experience is any indication, there are lots of cheaters out there. And shame, shame, shame on you. For being lazy, yes, but also for being inconsiderate, selfish and ignorant.
A few days ago I drove my father to meet a friend at a restaurant. At 88, his mobility is limited and he must use a walker to steady himself. Getting him out of my van and on steady footing can be a challenge, so that blue handicap parking placard proves essential for any public forays.
On this particular weekday evening all four of the designated disabled spaces were taken. Though I circled around the lot several times, I couldn't find anything reasonably close to the eatery. I was forced to drop my father off, sit him down, find an open parking spot and then race back to assist him.
But it wasn't this improvisation that riled me. After all, life invariably teaches flexibility and resiliency. What irritated me so thoroughly was the fact that two of those vehicles did not sport a handicap parking placard, and later I spotted the driver of one of them capably climbing into his souped-up Ford F-150.
Do not, for a moment, think this incident is uncommon. It has happened to us a lot more than I would've ever imagined. A friend, who used a disabled parking placard for a few months while recovering from foot surgery, encountered this problem about half the time she went out.
"At first I was making excuses for the drivers," she said, "but after a while I realized some people were just a-holes."
I've never heard my friend speak with such ... well, with such frankness.
I did a little digging and discovered that this is a nationwide nuisance, so much so that some cities as well as states host special websites and hotlines for reporting placard abuse. Apparently there's also an underground market for these permits on eBay and Craigslist.
Last Christmas, Illinois kicked off a stepped-up enforcement of handicapped parking violations with extra patrols at shopping centers. Earlier this year, the California Department of Motor Vehicles sent investigators undercover to ticket scofflaws. In Houston, compliance officers, with the help of volunteers, have issued handicapped parking tickets to the tune of 16,814 citations in two years. One TV station there even confronted a couple who parked illegally before taking a six-mile walk. They were using a relative's permit.
In Miami, an active-duty Army major, who takes photos with his cellphone of police vehicles illegally or improperly parked, has filed more than 125 grievances with corresponding departments since August. I hope he expands his vigilance to include swindlers who don't wear uniforms.
On HandicappedFraud.org, regular citizens reporting cheaters cover a wide geographic range, from Pennsylvania to California, from Tennessee to Minnesota. The common theme: outrage. In one post, bmooo2u writes: "There should be a placard (tag) for idiots to wear! Those who park in a handicap spot without a tag should be towed and fined and I think lose their license!"
This is about more than parking scofflaws, of course. The issue is emblematic of a culture where rogue behaviors have become acceptable and where common decency takes a back seat to self-centeredness. Too often we think not of others' needs but only what is convenient for us.
I wouldn't be surprised if one day some angry old woman wields her cane as a weapon instead of a stabilizing contraption. And I wouldn't be surprised either if onlookers cheer her on. Cheaters certainly deserve it.
(Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.)