"Not on MY Watch!": On Lines and Line Cutters and Vigilante Justice

Leaving the jazz festival with my folks the other day, I realized, to my dismay, that I’d left my parking stub in my car on the 4th floor of the parking garage.  It was one of those garages where you need to pay for your parking at a little kiosk before getting in your car, and the paid ticket is what gets you out of the garage.

My parents had driven separately, and they had their ticket with them.  So they waited in line with the baby to pay their ticket while I went back upstairs to get mine.  I got in the elevator with two men about my age, both a little thugged out, and one of them in a wheelchair.  I didn’t think much of them at the time, and they got off the elevator a couple of floors before I did.  But when I was heading back down after getting the ticket, they got back on the elevator too.  I guess they’d also forgotten their ticket in the car.

While we were heading down, the non-handicapped one was talking about how they wouldn’t have to wait in line at the kiosk, on account of the other one’s wheelchair.  The basic attitude was, ‘who’s gonna say anything to you—sitting there in that wheelchair—if you cut to the front?’

Yeah, who would do that?

We get to the bottom and the door opens, and there’s my dad, in the front of what was now a VERY long line, his hand stretched out to take my ticket from me.  He puts it in the kiosk, I hand him some money, out pops my paid ticket, I turn around and push the button to go back up in the elevator, and we’re off.  Except…



The next thing I hear is this:  “You know there’s a whole line of people behind you, right?”

Here we go…

The non-handicapped friend answers, “what’s that?”

Dad:  “There’s a whole line of people who’ve been waiting in this line.”

When this is met with no response (I said these guys were thugs, but my dad is 6’4” tall…not exactly chump change), he continued, “I mean if you wanna ask them if they’re all okay with you cutting in like this…"

I have to stop right here to just say that that last line, about, you know, ‘if’n you wanna ask all these people’…that is quintessential my dad.  I can’t think of anybody else I’ve ever known who would say something like that.   I picture the handicapped fellow rolling on down the line:  “Are you okay if I cut?”; “Are you okay if I cut?”  And even better…he gets all the way to the guy before the last guy in line, and he’s not okay with it.  What a bummer that would be.

ANYway, at this point, I think everybody nearby is at least a little uncomfortable.  My Dad says (and I have to just take his word on this because I’d already disappeared into the elevator to wait) that the guy right behind him was visibly upset by the line cutter.  And my Dad, good citizen that he is, had (in his words) “created a pick,” blocking wheelchair man and thereby allowing the man right behind him to pay his ticket in the correct order of things.  

Maybe he should have stayed there and created picks for ALL the people behind him.  I wonder how long it would have taken our thug friends to just move on to the back of the line.

So back to the tension…in order to break it, an older man about 3 people back in line (could’ve been ex-thug himself in his younger days, when they were called greasers or something like that) says to my Dad (but not really TO my Dad, just kind of to the crowd at large), “What are you gonna do, beat the guy up?”  A few people laugh, and of those, two of them are the thugs themselves.

I’m not sure what the handicapped guy said after that…he kind of mumbled it.  But whatever it was, my Dad heard it.  So though he’d already turned toward the elevator and was prepared to end an otherwise pleasant afternoon with his wife, daughter, and grandson on that only *somewhat* unpleasant note, he turned back once more.  He turned back, looked down at the man in his wheelchair, and said, “What?”

It was that kind of “what” that might have easily been exchanged for “that’s it, you sonofabitch,” or “we’re not even gonna bother taking this outside.  Let’s go right here.”

I tapped my Dad on the shoulder and said, “Let’s go, Dad.”  To my relief, he joined my Mom and I in the elevator.  Hello awkward(!) those moments standing in there, looking out at the line of people and waiting for the elevator door to close.

And it’s not like I thought my Dad was really gonna throw down with this guy.  It was comical, actually…the image of my tall tall Dad, looking down at a man in a freakin’ wheelchair, with that challenging tone in his voice.

To be honest I was really kind of annoyed at the whole thing at first.  I was thinking, you know, why does my Dad feel the need to say anything at all?  And why does he feel it’s his job to speak for EVERYbody in line?  You know, if they have a problem they can always say something for themselves.  It was kind of a sour end to the afternoon.

But as I was driving home I was also thinking it was kind of cool that he spoke up.  I don’t know anybody in the world who is just okay with a line cutter.  I think it makes the blood of most people boil…or at least rise a bit.  My friend Nicole thinks there’s a layer of hell especially reserved for cutters.  And most people are just too polite, or too afraid, to say something.  What I liked about my Dad’s action, in hindsight, is that I know it came from his confidence in the idea that handicapped people really DO want to be treated like everybody else.  And few non-handicapped people would risk cutting to the front of a long ass line with EVERYbody watching and expect to get away with it.

And the other thing I realized in thinking about it was that the old greaser’s joke, while well-intentioned, probably made the handicapped guy feel really bad when he was all alone with the idea.  How hilarious, to threaten to beat up a man in a wheelchair, eh?  I’m sure there’s a part of the handicapped fellow that would have traded circumstances, even for the chance to LOSE a fight, just for a day in his life.  His friend had really used him.  It was the friend who was pushing for cutting when they were in the elevator, and the man in the wheelchair actually seemed pretty uncomfortable.

And I also got over my minor annoyance when I thought about the fact that we’d be teasing my Dad about it by the time I saw him again, and most likely for the rest of our lives.  Imagine the headlines:

“Quick-thinking Pick Saves Area Man from Added Wait”

“Bay Area Giant Rises to Challenge from Wheelchair-Bound Line Cutter”

“Local Hero Sticks it to The [Paraplegic] Man

Entitled Convalescent Taken to Task

I told my parents, who are new to Northern California, that part of me feels Northern Californians are just a bit more mellow than folks in other parts of the country.  A bit more “live and let live.”

I mentioned a time when my friends and I arrived late to one of San Francisco’s free Stern Grove summer concerts a few years back.  There was NO room on the hillside slope where we endeavored to seat ourselves, among people who’d probably been camped out there for hours.   Not only did nobody around us grumble about our interloper-like arrival, they moved to make room for us and then shared their organic, farmer’s market snacks!!

But sometimes I think the mellow free-for-all can be taken to the extreme.  Is it that we are easy-going and relaxed, or is it that we are so stifled by political correctness that we can’t even stand up to ANYthing, even the obviously wrong?  Refusing to call a handicapped person on his attempt to claim meritless special privileges seems the opposite of politically correct.

Or maybe most people just don’t go around antagonizing thugs.

Whatever it is, I am glad to have a father who would risk unpopularity in order to stand up for what is right.  Part of me wishes I hadn’t ducked into the elevator and had instead joined The Pops in setting picks and facilitating order.  I tease him plenty, but I truly do admire his objectivity, his sense of justice, his care-taking nature, and so very many other things about him.

(Happy Belated Birthday, Dadio)


  1. oh, just reading this, and knowing what was coming next..my blood was starting to boil! ;) "special level of hell" so true. right up there with people who turn left in front of you real quick on a green light! the thugs were taking advantage of people's pity and passiveness. i mean, if it was getting on the bus, i could see allowing the cut, but a line to pay for parking? no. i shoulda been there. i would've rallied support from the crowd! ;)

  2. Nicole, you're my kinda gal!

    Kisa, so glad I still can make you laugh. Thanks for the kind words.

  3. Nicole is right, there is a special hell for all kinds of people with that entitlement thing going on. And for the record, I think your dad is one of nature's finest creations. Yup.

  4. Oh, and thanks for the education...Since I am so non-sporty, I spent about half an hour trying to find where the expression "create a pick" came from. D'OH! It was right in the little diagram!

  5. Your dad is just proof that there are not just wolves and sheep but also guard dogs.