I went to the market the other day. It’s got a great reputation for fresh fish, meat, and produce. I wanted fish. But this blog’s not about fish. I selected Red Snapper, asked the tall guy with the sharp knife to fillet it for me, and headed for the check out register. Since the fish was my only purchase, I rolled my wheelchair into the “10 Items or Less” express lane...right behind a woman who was buying lots of groceries. She had so many items, the obviously intimidated checker was hard pressed to fit all the bags into one shopping cart. But this blog isn’t about obnoxious people who bully their way into the express lane at the grocery store.
I paid for my fillets, rolled out of the market, and discovered that the obnoxious woman was parked in one of only four handicapped spaces, loading her “10 items or less” into a minivan. She had no discernible limp, gave no evidence of using a prosthesis, and did not appear to be the least bit winded. But this blog isn’t about lazy and obnoxious people who use handicap parking when they don’t need it.
I recently received two e-mail letters about handicap accessible public bathroom facilities. Both letters were primarily concerned with having to wait on line, and one was rather adamant about not wanting non-disabled persons to use the wide public toilet units which have been modified under ADA guidelines for easier use by disabled Americans. This is American culture at its worst, part of our obsession with being first. We want what we want...and we want it now. If we have to cut someone else off or bend the rules to get it now, so be it.
I find this mentality particularly unbecoming in the disabled community where equal rights sometimes get confused with a misguided sense of entitlement. Unlike the parking spaces outside, it’s not illegal for non-disabled folk to park in the wide bathroom stalls. Nor should it be. And being disabled doesn’t entitle one to go to the front of every line...whether it’s the line to use the restroom or the line at the grocery store. We want “equal access,” the right to come and go where everyone else comes and goes; fine, but what makes us think that not having to wait in line is somehow part and parcel of that “equality?” That’s what this blog is about.
My grandfather used to say: “The world doesn’t owe you a living.” What is it that gets into our heads when we start to think that we are owed, that we are entitled to this or that because, well, just because? Why did that woman at the market think that it was OK to park in a handicapped space and march into the express checkout lane as if she owned it? I don’t know. But I suspect it has a lot to do with laziness and impatience. We have become a lazy, impatient society, and even a cursory glance around the globe reveals that (1) we don't make much anymore, and (2) it costs far more to produce much less that breaks down far more often in America. (My TV repair guy recently confided to me that one electronics company has scaled it’s “planned obsolescence” down from an expected 7-year product life to one of only a 2-years.)
And if the average American is getting better at convincing him/herself that he/she need not be bothered following the steps from A to Z, then pity the poor cripples. Our lives are so hard, we seem to have twice as many steps to accomplish before we can ever reach Z. If we don’t deserve to cut in line, then who does? Nobody does! Unless there’s medical triage going on, we need to develop some pride and some dignity and some patience. We in America don’t have a clue what lines are all about. Try getting toilet paper in some Eastern European countries.
The funny thing is, lines can delightful. One afternoon, a few years back, I drove into New York City and parked my wheelchair in the ticket line at the Shubert Theatre, hoping to buy two tickets to see Bebe Neuwirth and Marilu Henner in the play Chicago. The sun was shining, the other folks in line were friendly, and the door man told me a great story about President Clinton’s visit to the historic theater. I’m very glad I was able to bide my time with some measure of patience and dignity, as I ended up with a Valentines Day gift of February tickets to a Tony Award winning Broadway show that was sold out well into May. Good luck or karma?
I moved to the Florida Keys to slow down and enjoy my “golden years.“ The older I get, the more my little Irish grandfather’s admonition about not being owed by the world makes sense, but I do spent more time thinking about what we owe one another. (My grandfather also taught me the “golden rule.”)