Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Encyclopedia Kravitz

For the last two months I've been engaged in a little extracurricular surveillance. No, not window peeping or the Deja Vu. It all started when I was walking down the street and had to make my way around a very boisterous man. There is one thing about very boisterous people, you notice them. It appeared that he just got out of his car though I couldn't be certain. And then I took a look at his car. It had a handicapped parking do-hickey hanging from the rear-view mirror. Hmmm...this guy wasn't handicapped physically (his boisterousness was both in the auditory and physical senses) but I guess he could have been picking somebody up (one who presumably can handle this boisterousness).

In any case, this encounter made me look at the rest of the cars on the street - like if there were other people waiting to pick up handicapped people or something - I don't know. All I know is for whatever reason, I noticed that every single car behind that car had a handicapped placard. I also noticed that they were some pretty fine cars as well - Acura, Lexus etc. Not that I knew a lot about what cars handicapped people drive - but as a whole I wouldn't expect a random sample of these cars would end up in the higher end as these appeared to be.

And then I started walking around the block. In the two block radius around my building, the average amount of handicapped placard bearing cars was about 50%. And they had the similar demographic - newer, hipper, more expensive cars and SUV's. Again, my suspicion is that handicapped cars would skew in the direction of older and cheaper rather than in that direction.

So I chewed on this information for a while. What could account for this? Was there a hospital around? No. Was there a retirement community around? Not that I could tell. Was there a rehabilition center around? No. Not that I could tell. Was a company in the vicinity employing a large number of handicapped people, if so, hurrah and I'm glad that they are being paid very well to afford these cars. Also, like the dog that didn't bark at 3AM in the Sherlock Holmes' stories, how is it that in all my walks around work I never noticed any handicapped people in the numbers that the amount of these cars would indicate? I mean, since I assume that a handicapped person is a little, well, handicapped, then I would think it takes them longer to get into and out of their cars. Nope, haven't seen one yet. But later in the story, I will tell you that in fact, these drivers do take extra time getting out of their cars...

I filed this under the many things I wonder about but really didn't do much about it besides just keeping on noticing the weird preponderance whenever I was walking. And then a month ago, I noticed that the parking meters were always expired but they never had tickets. And then things started to click (yes, I'm slow). If having a handicapped placard means that you don't have to pay the parking meters and you get to park there all day - then maybe, just maybe, these aren't really handicapped people parking there. I went to the police station (just a block away) and asked the policeman on duty about the expired meters and all the cars I've noticed in the neighborhood. He said that is something done for handicapped people - they are exempt from parking meters. And he also had a little smirk on his face as we telling me this - like I'm not the only one to have noticed this. Or that I'm loony, I don't know.

So lately I've also been trying to notice people getting in and out of their cars. (This is the Gladys Kravitz/Encyclopedia Brown part of the story.) Up until today I haven't noticed anything more than the ludicrous cars that have been claiming to have handicapped drivers, a two seater red BMW, a gigantically huge Ford Yukon where one had to jump up about 4ft to get into the drivers seat, and the various Lexus', Mercedes', and other SUV's. Occassionally I would see, an older Lincoln or a sedan and think - okay, that I could believe. But today, I caught one!!!! At 8:45am I was walking down Howell St/Olive Way past 8th towards my coffee shop on Olive Way. There was an SUV with its door open and the driver standing/kneeling messing around inside. He was also looking around at everybody passing by (including me). The driver was a normal enough looking person - I didn't see any disabilities. The SUV was big - it also had a front towing hitch thingamajig. I couldn't stick around and see what he ended up doing because I had a 9am meeting, but I thought on the way back from getting my coffee that I would see if a handicapped placard ended up in that SUV where one wasn't before. And lo, there was. The man obviously waited until the sidewalk cleared before he put up the placard and left.

So I felt vindicated in my suspicions, but I really don't know what I can do. The police obviously don't care about - it is happening around their precinct house and it is so blatantly obvious that even I could notice it. I read newspaper stories of
college athletes doing a scam like this and I'm sure something like that has happened in this case. The likely scenario is that a morally-challenged cro-magnon finds out about how to do this scam and then informs his fellow morally challenged cro-magnons at work and then this grows and then we get 25-40 cars in a four block radius all getting daily free parking. Should I become a sidewalk vigilante with my new digital camera one day and try to get documentation? Would that interest the police? Or is there really an innocent explanation for all I've noticed and I'm imputing nefarious motives (which I am well aware I am prone to do) where there are none?

You are asking, why should I care? It doesn't affect me in any way since I ride my bike or take the bus to get to work. I don't drive so I shouldn't care less about who parks where. I guess it just really offends me that there are morally repugnant people out there that would do something like this. Grrr....

Addendum: I took a walk after writing the above and happened to see a parking enforcement officer. She got done writing a ticket and I talked to her. I told her about seeing a very able person with a handicapped placard in his truck and also that there a *lot* of these cars around. She interrupted me and said "And I bet he ran across the street too!". She added that she is very well aware of the situation around the area and that the State of Washington is considering what to do about the problem - namely why should handicapped people be guaranteed free parking on the street all day? That would cut down on the fraud right there. But I was gratified that she seemed as disgruntled as I was on the situation. Oh frabjous day!

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