Monday, September 6, 2010

A Hastings Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand - a Thumby

When I took a position at a law firm here in Joplin (no people, I’m not a lawyer…yet), I considered just quitting my job at Hastings outright. After all, the job at the law firm was going to pay me enough money that I would be able to pay my bills and actually have something left over, and I was going to have the opportunity to actually enjoy my weekends without having to worry about work. Why would I want to continue at Hastings? Eventually, I began to think about the things I would miss – me dry humping Addison Langford from behind while saying “meow” in a monotone robot voice while Jason Hight, dry humping him from the front, says the same thing in unison and Cathi Willet spits a beverage out her nose when she sees the spectacle; getting to talk with Emily Jones about cosmic phenomena and sociological paradoxes while we try to imagine what Cesar Milan’s face would look like on the dogs he’s always holding; debating whether the Jem’Hadar and Species 8472 could win in a war against the Hirogen and the Borg (this is Star Trek talk for all you non-squares out there). And that’s just my interaction with employees. I haven’t even mentioned the customers, like the ones who talk about dropping cats out of airplanes to test the myth that they always land on their feet, or the ones who bring in overexposed photographs and swear the strange colors are actually angels, or the ones who claim they had to be sprayed with a compound comprised mainly of ground up radish in order to evade the North Koreans. I failed to see, unless the attorneys were all Muppets, how the law firm could offer this level of mayhem. So I decided to stay, and after what took place at Hastings this past Saturday, I’m glad I did.

A fat man in an electric wheelchair, who I will refer to as Wheelchair Dude throughout this blog, tootled up to the guest service desk, and asked if we could make an announcement. Apparently, he parked his van one of those wide van access handicapped parking spaces, and someone else with a handicapped placard decided to double park in the same spot. When the person did this they actually blocked the side of his van and made it impossible for him to get access to his wheelchair lift. The man was stranded and pissed off (and he had every right to be), so we did what he asked of us, and we were more than happy to do this: “Would the owner of the white Pontiac that’s parked in the handicapped spot please come move your car? You’re blocking someone in.” So we wait fifteen to twenty minutes. Nothing. No one comes up. Wheelchair dude is still there, and he is still pissed off. We make another announcement. Fifteen to twenty minutes later there is still no one. Wheelchair Dude looks like he is about to come apart at the seams. I can see the steam building in his head like a tea kettle about to go off. We made one final announcement: “The owner of the white Pontiac parked in the handicapped spot needs to come and move their car or have it be towed at their own expense. So we wait another fifteen to twenty minutes, and we also call the two next to us so they can make announcements too. About twenty minutes goes by and no one shows up. So we call the cops and ask them to either send a tow or come out to resolve the situation somehow. The cops tell us they would be there soon. So Wheelchair Dude goes outside in the heat, pissed off and ready to explode, and waits for the cops.

In between the time we made the call to the police and the time they actually got there, this little old lady, who I will refer to as Ethel Mae, leaves Petsmart and starts to get in the white Pontiac. When Wheelchair Dude sees Ethel Mae start to get into her car, he hones in and bolts out there in his chair and starts giving her all the hell he can muster. He starts yelling at her, asking her if she is crazy, telling her he’s been here for hours.

Ethel Mae got out her placard and showed it to him and said, “Well, I have a placard, so I can park here.”

“Yeah, I’ve got a placard too…it’s called my fucking wheelchair,” Wheelchair Dude responded.

He pointed out that the spot was actually one space for people in wheelchairs who have a lift. Ethel Mae claimed she didn’t know it was one spot. “Are you kidding me? It says “van access” in big white letters on the ground. Can you not read that?”

Now, I’m going to pull away for a second and tell you what is happening inside Hastings while this is transpiring outside. Nearly all the employees are up front watching this take place, and a good chunk of the customers are too. And this brewing situation has caused a clear cut division between employees and customers. Some of us were for the old woman, claiming that while she may have been mistaken, the guy had no right to be a dick to her. The rest of us, me included, were for the guy. We argued that he probably had to deal with this crap all the time, and I also explained having personal knowledge of the motivations of the elderly, that I felt in my heart of hearts the woman was not only aware that the handicapped spot was one space, but that she parked there maliciously, that she probably came to the Hastings complex that day to get cat food for her cats, saw that all the handicapped spots were taken, and got pissed off and decided to park in that one anyway because she was entitled to it. I cheered for the man as he yelled at her, “Yeah, you tell that woman! She shouldn’t be there! You go, brother!”

While we had out debates inside, the atmosphere outside only got more volatile. Wheelchair Dude told Ethel Mae that the cops had been called, and they were on their way. Ethel Mae said she wasn’t going to stick around. Sensing her impending departure, Wheelchair Dude decided to take a stand and planted his crippled ass in front of Ethel Mae’s car, blocking her in. The only way she could get out was to run him over (or back out…which she could’ve done too but probably didn’t realize). And so it came to be, that last Saturday afternoon around 1:30 p.m. a cripple stand-off was initiated in the Hastings parking lot. My store manager tried to go out and plead with both people. Ethel Mae still maintained her ignorance. Wheelchair Dude said ignorance to the law didn’t excuse you from breaking it. The two sides were stalemated. Who would win? Who would reign supreme? Soon the police arrived to answer these questions for everyone.

I felt bad for this cop. When he arrived Wheelchair Dude immediately started waving his hands around and saying very specific things, pointing at Ethel Mae, pointing at the ground. We were all inside at this point and couldn’t hear what he was saying. The cop listened and nodded to the Wheelchair Dude’s account. Then the cop talked to Ethel Mae. She sat in her car, looking disheveled, maintaining her air of ignorance (what a clever little con artist). The officer nodded and wrote down her account. After listening to both sides, the cop went to his squad car and just sat. For a long time he stayed in squad car. I don’t know what the man was doing, if he was laughing, or crying, or trying to sort out the complexities in his head, or if he was having the same debate that was raging inside Hastings. Who knows? It was long enough, however, that all of us had to go back and actually start doing work again. I went back to my section and did some work and went back up to check on things. After all, I was invested in this story. I wanted to see it reach its conclusion. They were all still there, so I went back to my section. About five minutes later I went back up. Nothing was happening still. I did this for about twenty minutes when finally I went back up just in time to see the Ethel Mae and the cop drive off in the cars. I asked one guy who’d been up there the whole time, “Dude, what just happened?”

“The cop gave her a ticket.”

I was ecstatic. My guy had won! Wheelchair Dude 1 – Ethel Mae 0! Thanks for playing, grandma…maybe you’ll think twice about being sneaky and malicious! I started doing a little victory dance, and the guy I worked with was also happy (he’d been on my side). We looked outside as a victorious wheelchair dude began a process he’d wanted to do two hours ago, to use his lift and go home. How sweet this trip home would be…how sweet indeed! Then something unbelievable happened.

Wheelchair Dude stood up. Wheelchair Dude opened the sliding door and unfolded a little ramp. Wheel Chair Dude maneuvered his chair into the van. Wheelchair Dude shut the sliding door. And Wheelchair Dude walked around the side of his car to the driver’s side door, got in his van, and drove off, completely unassisted, not hobbled by disability at all. Wheelchair Dude could FUCKING WALK the whole time. There is no reason this man had to let the scene unfold the way it did. He could’ve just backed his van out, put his chair up, and went home. There’s no reason he had to wait for two hours and go through what he went through with the cops. The man was a fucking fraud, a fat man in a wheelchair who just wanted to be a dick and prove a point. I felt betrayed, like the Music Man had come to my city and talked me into believing in a crippled man who wasn’t actually handicapped. I cheered for this man. I lobbied for this man. I, and the rest of his supporters, had been duped. Ashamed, I went to the back office to tell my boss what I’d just found out.

“Cathi, you’re never going to believe this.”


“Wheelchair Dude…”

“What about him?”

“He can walk.”


“I just witnessed it with my own eyes…he can fucking walk.”

Cathi was just as shocked as me. We couldn’t believe it. We cursed his name. Then Cathi had a novel idea. “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to call that cop back and tell him about this.”

So she did. She called the police officer that had mediated the standoff in our parking lot, and told him that Wheelchair Dude wasn’t really handicapped at all, and there’s no reason the situation should have escalated to the point it did. She asked if Ethel Mae’s ticket could be canceled in some way because we all felt really bad that she had to get a ticket (despite the fact that she was technically wrong).

“You don’t have to worry about that,” said the cop. “It was a fake ticket anyway.”

(I’ll pause to let you laugh)

Apparently, when the cop arrived Wheelchair Dude started yelling immediately that he wanted to make a citizen’s arrest (What is this fucking Mayberry? Is Otis making moonshine in a still?) and press charges against Ethel Mae. After hearing both sides of the story, the cop told Wheelchair Dude that he refused to give this woman a ticket despite the fact that she was wrong mainly because of his attitude, but also because the situation had already gone well beyond the realm of ridiculous. Both parties were present, no one was hurt, everyone just needed to get in their cars and go home. Wheelchair Dude was having none of that. He wanted justice, so the cop said, “If you really want to make a citizen’s arrest, sign right there,” and he held out the ticket and let Wheelchair Dude sign the ticket in the place where the cop usually signs it. Then he told Wheelchair Dude he’d fill in the rest, and he apparently just filled it in with “not real violation…no need to bring to station…please go home,” and handed it to Ethel Mae. She looked at it, chuckled sarcastically, and then they got in their cars and left, leaving Wheelchair Dude alone and you know the rest.

This isn’t my usually Thumby because there really isn’t a rant connected to this one, but this guy is clearly getting a Thumby from me. You can’t just instigate a nearly two hour long standoff in a parking lot with an old woman over a dispute about a handicapped space, divide an entire store against one another, get the cops involved, turn out not to be handicapped at all, and expect to not get a Thumby from me. So Wheelchair Dude, shame on you. You had my support, you had my loyalty, now you just have two very disappointed thumbs up from me to you.

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