One of the things Quick Draw did before he left for Mexico was to sign my application to obtain a handicapped parking sticker. Particularly at the Munson Confusion Clinic finding a parking place is difficult: every spot is taken, except for a few of the handicap places near the door. So, since I visit there daily, I thought perhaps it would be a real benefit for whomever was driving me to be able to park close to the back entrance.
“Now listen,” said Quick Draw most seriously as he handed me the form, “Don’t sell this to the highest bidder.”
“Not even,” I ask, “if the proceeds help with my medical bills?”
Because today was cold, gloomy and rainy, Marty and I decided to take my priceless sheet of paper up to Suttons Bay to the Secretary of State so I could make application for the plastic tag.
Envision Suttons Bay: it’s a charming little village with a population of approximately 1800 residents. The town nestles cozily on the shore of the Lake Michigan bay named after lumber man Henry Sutton, who arrived in northern Michigan in 1854. Suttons Bay has one main street filled with sleepy, quaint shops and restaurants. One of the first establishments you pass at the city limits is a small office on your left, labeled “SOS” and adorned with the state seal and a window placard from Terri Lynn Land, Michigan Secretary of State, promising her sincere efforts to assist all of the citizens of Michigan with efficiency and effectiveness.
Don’t take that promise seriously. It was pouring rain and the wheelchair ramp was at the very end of the sidewalk. We parked next to it, lugged the wheelchair out of the car, and Marty pushed me through the cold downpour to the “SOS” office. The only problem was that on the door, right next to Terri’s promises, was a tiny notice that said, “Closed from 12:30 to 1:30. Of course the time was 1:15.
Rather than fold up the wheelchair and get back in the car, we went a few steps down the street to the 45th Parallel deli and coffee shop, fully intending to dry out, warm up, and enjoy a coffee. We did that, and at a few minutes past 1:30 we headed back to the SOS. It was indeed now open and Stan, the single employee, was holding a neighborly conversation with a local lady who was renewing her drivers license and explaining how much fun her birthday party was—cake and beer and buffalo wings and everything.
When I wheeled myself up to the counter, Stan was still friendly and helpful, though he had a little difficulty correctly typing my license number into the computer, even if it was printed on the application right in front of him. Finally he took my actual license and laboriously sounded out each number. “Three, three. Eight, eight. Five, five.” Then “Oh, that’s a FIVE!” And he glared at me as punishment for my poor printing.
Eventually Stan handed me the red and white tag to hang from my rear view mirror, and we left the office, one more chore done. But no: stuck under the windshield wiper was a plastic bag (remember the rain?) and inside was a ticket for a $100 fine for—you guessed it—parking in a handicap slot.
Marty took the ticket and went back in to visit with Stan, since he seemed so congenial and helpful. She came back out shaking her head, and got in the car to share the following information:
Stan himself had called the police when he found my car in the handicap slot (the time on the ticket was 1:40, just minutes before we walked in the door;
Stan could not do anything to help us: the citation clearly said to pay the fine by mail, and check the little box if we wanted to appeal. The judge would set a court date.
“Fine,” I snarled. “It’s not bloody likely that I am in any condition for a court appearance.”
“Well,” Marty replied, “Let’s go talk to somebody while we are here and it’s fresh in our minds.”
That’s how we found ourselves in the snifty new county courthouse in the hills between Suttons Bay and the even smaller village of Lake Leelanau. It’s a beautiful building, large and very, very quiet on a sleepy Monday afternoon. On the second floor, way down a long and wide hallway, we found the 86th Judicial District Court, populated by one clerk clad in jeans and a sweater.
“How can I help you?” she asked.
“Well,” I said, “A funny thing happened on my way to the Secretary of State’s Office to get a handicapped sticker; I got a parking ticket for parking in a handicap parking space.”
She sighed deeply, and rolled her eyes heavenward.
“I can’t help you,” she said. “Let me get someone who can.” She disappeared into the courtroom itself, and out came an elegant woman dressed in corporate black with handsome gold jewelry.
We were indeed face to face with the Magistrate of the Court. “Start from the beginning,” she said, And so I did, explaining about the time, the rain, the placement of the handicap access, and so on.
“Well,” she said, “Of course you came face to face with the self-appointed Handicap Parking Police.” She continued, “Your citation is so fresh I don’t even have the original ticket, so I can’t do much. What I WILL do when it comes in is make sure you do not get fined. However, if I do that, I must give you a lesson on the legal use of your handicap tag.”
And so she did, ending with a question: “You didn’t park in the handicap zone in front of this building, did you?”
“Oh,no, of course not,” Marty said.
“We are fast learners,” I assured her.
Fast learners, handicap parking advocates–yes. And I will be especially careful around the Suttons Bay Parking Nazi, I promised myself as Marty wheeled me out the door into the rain.