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Friday, October 24, 2014

A Nasty Confrontation

I avoid confrontation. In my experience nothing productive comes out of a heated confrontation. This belief was reinforced Wednesday night. Wednesday is my long day. I meet students in the morning, teach an honors class in the early afternoon and then have a long graduate class in the late afternoon. My graduate class ends at 6:30pm. A long tiring day but on most occasions is exhilarating because I am blessed to have outstanding students. So, last night I was going back to my car more tired than usual given my trek back home from San Diego. I crossed Marshall Street, sort of college student restaurant row, and see a car parked on the side walk making passage pretty much impossible.  Thankfully the driver is present. A young woman is standing by the car. The driver door open and it is  obvious the woman is gathering her things post delivery (the Sliders logo and sign are dead give aways). I wait annoyed and silent. She looks at me and is instantly annoyed by presence. In a tired but firm voice I ask her to please move her car off the side walk so I can get by. My request is met with an annoyed or mildly mad "no". A bit taken aback I state I cannot get the car. She replies "yes you can. Have dog walk in front of you".  I will admit I might have been able to get by the car but the margin of error was razor thin. I had a heavy brief case on my lap and did not want to take even the slightest risk given it was pretty dark. I  reiterated I could really not get by. At this point, I was somewhat exasperated. In the same tone I asked "please move your car." I was doing my best to cut this woman slack. She likely was being paid minimum wage as delivery person for Sliders restaurant  located across the street. My request was met with open hostility. She went from annoyed to angry. She atto =d her ground not moving her car. I was not moving either when she said "Why do you have to be such an asshole?" I never dreamed the situation could escalate so fast. I will readily admit I was obviously extremely annoyed but I am good at retaining my poise. I stated yet again "Please move the car You can move it back when I pass by". She responds in a loud voice "Why do you have to be such a fucking asshole?" I am stunned. I tell this woman "what do you think will happen if I go to your restaurant and tell the manager what you just said to me. Move the car." Thankfully a pedestrian was walking by and had heard our exchange. This man was fully supportive of me. I looked at him and asked him if I was missing something. "No" he replied "hold your ground. She is being a jerk and inappropriate. If you want I will go to the restaurant with you to complain". Now out numbered the woman, after a long pause of silence, huffs gets in the car and begrudgingly moves her car about four inches off the sidewalk. As my newly acquired friend watches I pass the parked car. When I am well clear of the car I hear the woman slam her door and yell at me "Do you really need to be such a fucking asshole" and storms off back to the restaurant.

I am pretty torn up about what took place. I did not incite the incident. I was annoyed and tired. I could have been more polite. And here is where I force myself to stop and say no. This line of reasoning is wildly wrong. I did nothing wrong.  The woman parked her car illegally. She reacted badly. The confrontation was needless. I did not have the heart to complain and believe me I thought about this long and hard before I got in my car. Surely if I met the manager the woman would have been fired. Frankly, she deserved to lose her job. But it is mid terms week. She is working a minimum wage job that pays poorly. Being a female delivery person cannot be easy and I assume she is harassed often. I have lots of excuses for not going to Sliders to complain. I have replayed this confrontation many times in my head. I have concluded that this woman's anger is symbolic of a much larger issue--specifically an unspoken anger and fear of disability. The unarticulated anger was directed at me because I am the physical representation of all things disabled (think blue wheelchair logo sign as my self portrait). Like it or not wheelchair access is not valued and seen as an economic drain by many. Not all but the majority. Fear is involved because one and all know the disabled are a minority group that can be joined via one misstep or car crash. Both anger and fear are destructive and the under current can rear its ugly head at the oddest places and at the oddest times. I was in the wrong spot at the wrong time. I learned a lesson. Too bad the woman in question did not.

13 comments:

Patti said...

Bill, I'm so sorry this had to happen to you. We are not responsible to make up the shortcomings of others, whether intellectually or emotionally. This woman was being a total jerk and she made the first move by parking illegally and you had every right to be angry.

Dianne Baumann said...

Once again I'm pissed off after reading your blog. You showed more restraint than I believe I would have. Good on you Bill. Keep up the good fight. Sharing your blog every day!

Stephen said...

OK, my take. Sometimes you have to put aside your academic's tendency to hyper-contextualize these types of encounters -- i.e., she's a minimum wage worker, a woman, her life must be difficult, etc. -- and just deal with the concrete facts as they present themselves in the moment: she was parked illegally blocking your path, she was acting abusively if not aggressively.

Save the sociological discourse until AFTER the fight-or-flight adrenalin has dissipated, until AFTER you file a complaint with her manager and maybe even AFTER you call the police. (You should have the local precinct number stored on your phone and ready to retrieve.)

Hey, Rosa Parks didn't indulge in psychoanalysis of the day-to-day struggles of the whites who trampled on her civil rights. Keep your eye on the prize.

Middle Child said...

This is very upsetting and my husband Don and I sadly had a few experiences like this - for him it was always more aggressive when I wasn't there... one mongrel in a big Prada illegally parked across the only access we had to a place we were aiming for - to go around meant a long hot trip.He asked him to move just a bit but the bloke got out and went off. Don waited a bit and ran his electric wheelchair right down the side of the car using the corner of the control box...and off we went. I guess it would have been cheaper for the bloke if we went across the road to the police station and he got a ticket - but there was a certain pleasure to be taken in knowing when he got back he would be none too pleased. I admit I acted as lookout - and yes we went the long way round but it didn't seem so bad knowing what we knew.

EMMLP said...

Bill, I think you used a lot more restraint in that situation than most people would have - certainly more than me - merely in considering the circumstances of the woman who was causing the issue and what might happen to her if you complained. One of the few things I've learned over the years is that having had people treat you badly yourself is no inoculation against dumping on others. Like you, I am a non-confrontational person, but there is a certain point at which no bad day or unlucky background justifies such negative treatment of other. Given the circumstance you did "the right thing."

william Peace said...

Stephen. Oh man, you got me. Really a bull's eye. I will make known what took place and see manager next week. Without SU business Sliders would go down the drain in a heart beat. I tend to give college students a lot of slack. They are adults in training. Your comment reminded me of the abuse heaped upon me as a bus buddy circa 1980. When I was spit on for using the wheelchair lift by MTA passengers I felt like Rosa Parks. And yes then I called the police who were no help. Keep this sort of comment coming. Makes me think.

Elizabeth Henning said...

Yeah, I'm with Stephen. I was thinking the entire time, Where does someone parked on the sidewalk get off calling anyone an asshole, wheelchair or no wheelchair? I would have asked her to move too!

Moose said...

Yeah, Stephen really nailed it.

It's like people who use child abuse as an excuse to commit crimes. Not everyone who is abused grows up to be a criminal. Not everyone with a low-paying crap job is a complete jerk.

These people, fortunately, are the exception, not the rule. A bad situation doesn't give someone license to behave badly.

Hopefully the manager will be more rational and understand the situation.

Liz said...

I feel this way a lot when I make complaints about access. Too often I'm filing a complaint against a working class person in a service job who is clearly not having an easy time of it any more than I am. Sometimes I make the complaint and sometimes not. (Usually with bus drivers) But yeah, usually hoping to keep it even minded and fair. Also, I've had the same sort of encounter so many times. People don't want to move their car from blocking the sidewalk or curb cuts They get pretty angry that we might feel entitled to ask for room to share the world.

Liz said...

Also, I deeply agree with you about the undercurrent of fear of our being in the world and manifesting or embodying people's fears. It accounts for a lot of the hostility and anger that run through people's attitudes about access and public spaces.

ecodrew said...

Agreed that she is an overstressed minimum wage worker, which is why you asked nicely and gave her a chance to be a decent person. Did you immediately yell at her, which might have warranted her profane response? No. Actually, you gave her multiple chances to move her illegally parked car. Her multiple profane response earned a complaint to her manager and/or the police.

Gary Presley said...

My take: she was a low-totem-pole person (chain of authority here, plus customer service) who had a bad day who decided to vent a bit of aggression on someone who was no physical threat.

Pull out your phone and call 911? Yeah, you could've done that (20/20 hindsight).

Call her boss and get her in trouble. Yeah, you could do that too.

At this stage of my life, I'm all about investing emotional energy wisely. Of course, I'm still have something of a hair-trigger temper about certain issues.

I don't know what I would have done.

But I do think some people are jerks, and there's no power I have to change that.

sophia wrightz said...

As I always say, it's never personal. I'm sure she could find someone else to vent her abuse towards. Talk to her manager and hoist her upon her own petard.