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Dateline Detroit: Parking Lot Encounters of the Third Kind

By Judi Markowitz

These baskets didn't park themselves!
These baskets didn't park themselves!

There is a wise saying by Mahatma Gandhi that the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members. It appears that many people have forgotten this important concept— especially while in a parking lot.

My daughter, Lindsay, was issued a disability placard for our car when she was just three years old. For decades we have observed some of the most absurd parking behaviors. Driving around a parking lot to find an appropriate space is our usual routine. There are never enough parking places for disabled individuals, and they are generally taken—often illegally.

Last week, I witnessed a comedy duo as I was trying to find an unoccupied handicapped parking spot at a local market. Two young and seemingly capable women rode joyfully out of the market on their electric carts. They were attempting to race one another to their car. Maybe they mistook the market for an amusement park and felt entitled to have a thrill ride, minus the long lines. Or possibly they felt entitled. I assumed these women didn’t realize that motorized shopping carts are provided for those who have temporary or permanent physical disabilities and may have difficulty walking through a large retail store.

When these two joyriders finally arrived at their destination, the women stood up, secured their packages from the basket, and eased into their car. I could not discern any physical disability from their movements. I had to give them the benefit of the doubt; there was a possibility they both had underlying conditions which made it difficult to stroll through the store. Since their car was backed into the space, I waited to see if they had the proper document hanging from their mirror or on their dashboard. As for that little wheelchair on the license plate—there was none. Strike one.

I waited for them to depart, and it seemed like an eternity until they pulled out of the lot. In the interim, I had placed Lindsay in her wheelchair and was about to give up on my super sleuth investigation since it was a cold winter day. And just at that very moment I obtained a clear view of the front of their car—no placard. Strike two.

To top off these offenses, their electric carts were left in precarious positions. They were very close to the lines, making it nearly impossible for the next driver to enter the space. An employee would have to drive the carts back into the store before a truly deserving individual could use them. Strike three.

Parking lot etiquette is also ignored in the placement of shopping baskets. It appears that some individuals do not want additional exercise. These individuals can’t see clearly to walk to the corrals and return their baskets appropriately. This produces a domino effect. Baskets are then pushed to handicapped spots which makes it virtually impossible for a disabled individual to park. Too many times I have gotten out of my car and taken baskets to the corral — I should have been compensated for my work effort over the years. Let’s just call this behavior what it is: lazy and inconsiderate. Some people have a total lack of disregard for individuals who struggle with physical or mental disabilities.

This begs the question—where are the security employees, hired by the stores, who drive around the parking lots? What are they doing—listening to music or talking on their phones? I have yet to observe a warning of any type left on an illegally parked vehicle. I know they can’t issue tickets, but what about an official note to make an impression or possibly help to deter these bad habits from occurring again?

In my younger days, when the world was a safer place, I was emboldened to approach drivers who didn’t have a visible placard. I would knock on their window and ask if they realized they were in a handicapped parking place. This raised the ire of those suspected cheaters and people rarely responded in a positive manner.

I heard some of the most ludicrous excuses for using these spaces—people felt entitled. Their rationales included “I am only running into the store for a few seconds, I’ll be quick,” “It’s raining, and I don’t have an umbrella, “or “No one is using the space so I thought it would be okay.” But occasionally a sensible driver, who had no legitimate response to my inquiry, would simply move their car to a proper parking place.

Sadly, it’s like the Wild West out there now, and some people are reckless enough to pull out a gun and shoot without provocation. A simple inquiry about the legitimacy of their parking practices might set one of them off. After reading about a disgruntled Florida resident questioning the driver of an illegally parked vehicle, then shooting and killing him, sent chills through me. This news story ended my aggressive days of being an advocate in the parking lot. My rage continues, but I have since put on the brakes in questioning offenders.

There’s another issue that has come to my attention throughout the years : ticketing practices. I do know from personal experience that I have forgotten to place the placard where it’s visible to the discerning eye. There are times when I have knocked it off the mirror inadvertently and forgotten to replace it after helping my daughter out of the car. I have been ticketed several times for this transgression. In these instances, a legitimate display of the placard at the police department will save the day—the fine is waived, the ticket dismissed, and no court appearance scheduled.

But not all police stations are created equal. After inquiring about the fine for illegally parking vehicles in handicapped spots, I discovered that most cities do the right thing — collect a fine for those who park illegally or dismiss the ticket when a legitimate placard is produced. The saying “one bad apple can spoil the bunch” applies to a nearby city that collects a fine of $20, then cancels the offense so there’s no return trip for a court appearance. They are enhancing the city’s coffers at the expense of people who forget or misplace their placards.

As of late, some cities are installing more sophisticated parking meters. Last year in Royal Oak, Mich., the city commissioned a company to install parking posts that take a picture of a license plate. When someone parks at an overdue meter or when a driver underestimates their time returning, a ticket is generated and sent to the unsuspecting individual. This is a valuable system, but it would be more useful if it could also check records for the legitimacy of a disability placard, even when it’s not visible. Installing a similar system to view license plates while in a parking lot would yield revenue for the city as well, and at the same time deter those brazen individuals who feel they’re above the law.

Pardon my French, but my frustration about these parking lot pricks has not diminished through the years. I’m astounded that people just don’t seem to get the message — stop parking where you don’t belong, take your basket away from the space so it doesn’t impede another driver, and don’t pretend to have a disability! Instead, people should be thankful for their health and that they don’t need to apply for a special parking permit. I’m not asking for the world, just some simple thoughtfulness.


Judi Markowitz is a retired high school English teacher of 34 years. She primarily taught 12th grade and had the pleasure of her three sons gracing her classes. In addition, she taught debate, forensics, and Detroit film. Judi has four adult children and seven wonderful grandchildren. She is married to Jeffrey Markowitz, whom she met in high school.

Judi grew up in Oak Park, Mich. which had a stellar school district, with excellent teachers. The city provided activities for all–and there were even sidewalks. Judi moved to Huntington Woods as an adult, which is a half mile from her childhood home. She wanted the same experience for her children as she had growing up, and Huntington Woods provided that. The View from Four Foot Two is Judi’s first book.

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