I lifted that phrase – a cliché, really – from a just-published article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Long Lines Lead to Rise of Wheelchair ‘Miracles.’” You probably know the general story – lazy, rude, conniving travelers with no disability whatsoever will ask for wheelchair assistance at the airport to get them quickly through security and on to the plane first, often finding a choice seat before the other poor schlumps climb aboard. When the plane arrives at its destination, all of a sudden these helpless souls are just fine and need no assistance so they don’t have to wait and get off the plane last. They are “miracle” passengers.
I wrote about this reprehensible behavior a while back but keep learning new variations of deceit. International travelers, according to the Journal, “see it as a sign of status when an attendant is waiting to greet” them, if only a sad-looking wheelchair jockey. At LAX, for instance, 20 wheelchair requests quickly become 50 as the plane from Germany or Hong Kong nears descent. Apparently some people become disabled on the flight itself. It must be the food.
And I also learned the costs involved. The airlines pay for this service and it can run up to $40 per wheelchair run. Plus, if the attendant has to wait for a prescheduled request, add that to the charge. At LAX, there are 300 requests a day for wheelchairs and 15% are cheaters. Over the course of a year, the cheaters alone add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars of needless expense. And who do you think pays for this? You and me, in jacked-up ticket prices.
But “the thin veneer of civility” governing the public attitude toward the disabled extends far beyond the airport terminal. It’s often quick and unthinking, not unlike the universal impulse to rage at another driver on the road. We all do it: someone sneaks in front of us or cuts us off at an intersection and you are instantly livid. “Why, that @#&^#, who does he think he is…?” Something about being in a moving steel fortress, your Toyota, gives you the permission to be short-tempered and irrational. If you live in Los Angeles, you usually catch yourself before rolling down your window and cursing – the rude driver could be carrying a gun.
You know that nice guy that insisted on opening the door for you at the restaurant? Well, he’s a different beast if you happen to encounter him on the road. If he thinks you dissed him with your driving, it doesn’t matter if you are disabled or not. I once had this very experience with a hot-heated pickup truck driver. He started honking and giving me the finger because I slipped by him to turn a corner in front of him. He slowed his truck so he could harass me eye to eye. I politely rolled down my window, said I was sorry, and pointed to my placard, like that was some excuse for my faulty driving. “I don’t give a f***,” I believe were his exact words. “Pull over so I can kick your butt!” I think he would have grabbed my wheelchair and thrown it into traffic, just for fun.
My very first experience with the thin veneer of civility happened on my very first outing after becoming paralyzed. I was waiting for an elevator in a jammed shopping mall, hugging the doorway so I wouldn’t get left behind. As soon as the doors opened, a cackle of mad shoppers just pushed by me, pushed me back, filled the elevator, and left. There is no civility toward the disabled when there is a sale at Macy’s, I guess.
A lot of people in chairs are hyper-attuned to any incivility in public, ready to call someone out who lets a door slam in their face or stands in front of them at a parade. Some of us are even uncivil to people who go out of their way to be civil. “No, lady, I don’t need help with my groceries…no, lady, I know how to get in my car…no, lady, I can get across the street myself…” There is a thin line between patronizing and genuine helpfulness and many chair-users don’t recognize the latter.
What I try to tell myself every time in those situations – lighten up. Don’t go looking for a fight, especially if that fight is in your own head. Even when you see a thoughtless act taking place – like a non-disabled clod stealing your parking spot or occupying your bathroom stall -- let it go. You getting all riled up isn’t going to change that person’s behavior one iota.I hate to break it to you, but the world is chuck full of mindless jerks and they really don’t care how you feel, wheelchair or not. Just take a deep breath and go on with your life. You are not a vigilante.
When I read about those “miracle” travelers, I try to laugh, not explode. I don’t want to add any more stress to my already-stressful life. It’s bad for my health, and probably yours, too.
© 2013 Allen Rucker |
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The Best Seat in the House:
How I Woke Up One Tuesday and Was Paralyzed for Life