Handicapped in LA
Origin of the word handicap (from the Oxford English Dictionary): “mid 17th century: from the phrase ‘hand in cap’; originally a pastime in which one person claimed an article belonging to another and offered something in exchange, any difference in value being decided by an umpire. All three deposited forfeit money in a cap; the two opponents showed their agreement or disagreement with the valuation by bringing out their hands either full or empty. If both were the same, the umpire took the forfeit money; if not, it went to the person who accepted the valuation.”
It is a beautiful, sunny, warm March Saturday morning in Los Angeles. The birds awaken me by singing Mozart outside my window. It feels like spring. My buddy is showing up soon to go hiking in Runyon Canyon Park. He is an avid tri-athlete and a marathon runner. He promised to even our playing field by carrying a backpack loaded with bottles of water. Even with him giving me this extra chance, I am not sure if I can keep up.
Handicap, noun(Oxford dictionary): “The extra weight to be carried in a race by a racehorse on the basis of its previous performance to make its chances of winning the same as those of the other horses.”
We make our 10-minute drive to the bottom of the Hollywood Hills. Parking is difficult, even this early. We choose to park down the hill where there is no restriction and parking is plentiful. We start there, and our heart rates go up. On Vista, the street leading to the park gates, parking signs are permit only, unless you have a handicap placard. Handicap – not to even our chances in this hiking competition, but a real, physical handicap.
Two things come to mind on seeing all these BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes and Porsches lining the street, all with placards: Either the residents must have lots of handicapped visitors, or the drivers of these cars are up the canyon hiking.
Handicap, noun: (Oxford dictionary): “A condition that markedly restricts a person’s ability to function physically, mentally, or socially.”
The blue skies and the promise of a wonderful day cause placard issues to be lost on me for a while. I’m climbing up the canyon and am in the moment. I am here with a world-class athlete, carrying on his back 30 pounds of water. I can’t let him see me less than joyful about our task.
However, being a proponent of living our lives compassionately and transparently, I am feeling indignant. After getting through the steepest part of the hill and sweating buckets, I can’t help but open my big mouth.
“Brian, all these people who are climbing this hill, do you think that any are mentally disabled?” My friend looks at me with surprise and says, “Do you think they look to be mentally slow?”
I respond that if some of these people are the drivers of the cars with the handicap placards, they must have some sort of a disability. They all look pretty fit to me. They are in great shape. Many look as if they could be on the cover of a fitness magazine. Yet, they are here and they proudly display those handicap placards on their cars below.
I tell Brian that they must have some sort of a split personality or inability to function in society. My friend chooses to be Zen about my comments and points to beautiful lost horizons of the Hollywood Hills. We climb the rest of the way up the canyon to Mulholland Drive. We have reached the crest.
Handicap, noun (Oxford dictionary): “A disadvantage imposed on a superior competitor in sports such as golf, horse racing, and competitive sailing in order to make the chances more equal.”
We run downhill, and I beat my friend with his heavy backpack. I get to the bottom of the park first. Brian says: “I let you win because I want you to be in a good mood at breakfast.” I don’t care; I choose to enjoy my glory.
We head down Vista back to Franklin Avenue and his car. More cars are parked on Vista, and every one of them has a handicap placard.
Coming down the hill, we see others. A woman who could be on the cover of the Sports Illustrated “Swimsuit Edition” is getting into her Jaguar. I ask: “Excuse me, miss, what is your handicap?” In perfect LA fashion, she ignores me, gets into her car, removes her handicap placard and drives off.
Not too much farther on I see one sexy pickup truck and an even sexier guy getting out of it after properly hanging his handicap placard. “Excuse me, sir, what is your disability?” He says he has cancer. I say a silent prayer for him, adding “God bless you.” I tell my friend that at least the pickup guy is lucky to look like a tight end for the Green Bay Packers.
We keep driving down the hill. Brian implores me to keep my mouth shut. I want him to be in a good mood and pay for breakfast, so I shut up. We see many more people who parked with handicap placards. I am convinced that they are just simply mentally slow. And then I face the reality: These people are thieves!
Steal, verb (Oxford dictionary): “Take … without permission or legal right. …”
Later, at breakfast, it hits me. We are living in a world where we place so much value on success, status and beauty. Yet, we forget that the true wealth is honesty and ethics. I climbed up a canyon today with my friend. He carried a handicap to even our abilities.
Years ago, when it was discovered that I had a herniated disc, the doctor offered me a handicap placard. I refused. I didn’t need it. I could get around just fine. It wasn’t that serious. The handicap placard would be out of the question. It would equal stealing.
There are people who need them. Those folks who use a wheelchair and the people who walk on crutches must have them. People who have weak hearts or lungs need them for access.
These people want the proximity of their parking only so they don’t have to hike the Runyon Canyons of their world, to get to their pharmacists, dry cleaners, grocery stores or to their jobs.
Most of them don’t care whether they have to pay or not to have this access. They simply need that little bit of extra space, just as I needed Brian to carry a 30-pound backpack on our hike. He evened out the fact of my lack of fitness and allowed me to beat him to the finish line.
He chose to give. To give me a simple moment of satisfaction and subsequently a validation that, yes, I can and I will move forward. He offered me respect.
Karma, noun (Oxford dictionary): “The sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.”
It is time for us to stand up for the rights of the disabled, the people who need and should have the handicap placards. If you see a man fallen down on the street, you reach out and help him.
Consider the “Barbie Doll” or the “NFL guy” fraudulently using a handicap placard. We must speak up. We must confront them and notify the authorities.
Steep fines are progress but not enough. The people who disrespect those who need these placards ought to be arrested.
I say, “No more handicap placard abuse. Let’s notify the police and parking enforcement about these transgressions.” We cannot just stand by and be silent.
Karma will get them eventually, but in the meantime, we must speak up, instead of carrying the burden of guilt and non-action. We might need the assistance of an “umpire,” but we must do our part in fighting this injustice.
Astrid Ambroziak is a part-time trainer, writer, philosopher and guru. She lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.