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Pitiful treatment of disabled at Esplanade fireworks

Yesterday my daughter and I decided to brave the crowds and head to the Esplanade from Newton. Before we left I checked the July 4th web site put up by the city, and specifically looked for information about handicapped parking and seating. On the site they indicated that there would be parking spaces for the handicapped with placards on Storrow Drive as well as a parking lot at Mass Eye and Ear with shuttle buses. That seemed to be decent information, so off we went at 4 pm, thinking we had plenty of time to get to town, park, get the bus, and find a nice space in the handicap accessible area. On all accounts I was DEAD WRONG.

Leaving Storrow drive at Back Bay, I headed around Government Center and past Mass General to get to the part of Storrow Drive that had handicapped parking. I stopped and asked a pile of Transit Police at Leverett Circle just how to get on to the blocked off part of Storrow Drive. "How should I know?" one policeman responded. So helpful! Then I asked some Staties blocking the road by the bridge, and they told me to go down the side road past Mass Eye and Ear, up to Lechmere/Science Park site, then bang a U-ie and go down Storrow from there. Which I did. And got stopped by the Bomb Squad and a couple of mounted Staties who were livid that I was there. So they made me turn around and go back around Leverett Circle.

Second time though I asked yet another cadre of Staties just where the handicapped parking was. They told me basically the same thing, and when I told them that that wasn't the case, they told me to go some convoluted way around Leverett Circle for the third time, then take a side road, turn left and hang a U-turn at the T-shop, then take a left.

OK. Except the cop at the gate wasn't happy to see me again and told me that the other cop's info was wrong. But first he yelled "Get outta here." before he saw that I was really confused. NOBODY knew where the handicapped parking was and they had no clue as to how to get there. Isn't that part of their job?

I headed down Storrow towards the Hatch Shell again, and looked over and saw a parking lot with a lot of RIDE buses. It was on the other side of the road. I literally made a U-turn on Storrow and drove the wrong way to get into the parking lot, but we made it. It took 1 hour and 45 minutes to get the car parked.

The Ride drivers couldn't have been nicer, but they were all harassed by the Staties and were horribly apologetic. We got on the bus, and the took us at about 10 MPH down Storrow to the Hatch Shell. At that point the horror really started.

All of the handicapped people were shuttled into a TINY area on the very left side. The area was completely packed and there was no place at all to sit. More than half of the handicapped people were put behind a large tent and had no sight at all of the stage. They were behind metal barricades like caged animals. They had run out of wristbands, so getting into the regular crowd might have proved difficult save for the national guard who let us in, but told us we could not go back into the handicapped area again. Where the bathrooms were. OK.

We found nice seats not far from the handicap corral and sat down to enjoy the show. It was great and we had a fabulous time. Not one single niggling complaint at all, that is until the end of the evening.

After the fireworks were over, we were told to gather back in the handicap corral and wait for the shuttle buses. Wait being the operative word. The State Police refused to let the handicap vehicles provided by The RIDE onto the road for a full hour. Yes, the people that needed the medical care where the absolute last to depart. One man ran out of oxygen. Another person's wheel chair battery died. There was no seating and people were exhausted and freaking out. There was no place to get a drink of water or a soda because we were not allowed to leave the corral. Really. The State Police went ballistic if anyone tried to get out of the corral. One woman was almost in tears because she was so thirsty and I gave her a can of soda we had left over. I thought she was going to kiss my feet she was so grateful.

We yelled, we complained, we cried, and still the State Police treated us like caged animals. They were nasty and rude, and they honestly did not understand what harm they were doing to people.

After an hour, the first ride cars for ambulatory people came, and we shared a cab with the guy without any oxygen left. Our wonderful and kind driver from Uganda took him right to his hotel door so he wouldn't have to wait in the horrendous traffic. You see, they wouldn't let the RIDE cars go onto Storrow to get to the parking lot to pick up our cars, so we ended up having to take a very long and tiring tour of downtown Boston. With all the roads closed or blocked off, we drove around in bumper to bumper traffic for another 3/4 of an hour. And when we got our cars out of the parking lot, we still couldn't go down Storrow or cross over to Memorial Drive, so we had to tour the Back Bay again. I've never been up and down so many back roads and tiny streets in my life just trying to get the freaking 6 miles home.

We ended up getting home well after 1 am, when the fireworks ended at 11.

There is no excuse for the way the entire situation was handled, from start to finish. The handicapped parking was NOT MARKED except for a tiny handicapped sign (like the ones at handicap parking spaces) that was leaning against a sawhorse on the ground. It was impossible to see.

The place that they shoveled the handicapped into was so inadequate and so mortifying as to be shameful. What do foreigners think of the way we treat our wheelchair citizens in this city, shoving them behind metal barricades behind tents like 3th class citizens? What kind of message does this send to children? How are we to enforce treating citizens equally if the less fortunate medically are siphoned off to be hidden in a corner.

I have to give kudos to the women working at the handicapped corral. They were appalled and horrified by the treatment we were given and apologized over and over again. Same with the National Guardsmen stationed there. However, I have absolutely nothing nice to say about the State Police who were surly, dismissive, and downright nasty. They should all be given some training in how to deal with situations like this, and the city should never, ever again embarrass and denigrate the disabled by treating them like this again.

In Summary, great fireworks, State Police suck and should all be punished by using a wheelchair for a week to learn what it means to be disabled.

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Comments

That is truly shameful. For an event such as this one, it's totally inexcusable.

How did it compare to access in the past?

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Based on your comments, it sounds like many improvements could be made, but honestly, heading there at 4pm in a car is not the wisest, when others, including disabled, probably headed in at 10 a.m. The process is described here:
http://www.july4th.org/images/WebSite-HandicapAcce...

Honestly, reading your post, especially your repeated decision to drive up and down Storrow Drive, which, even at that time, was packed with people, makes question the author's judgement and the reported extremes of the situation. July 4th is an enormous special event with a huge crowd. There's bound to be waiting and inconvenience for all - accommodations made for individuals with disabilities do not guarantee a ringside seat for everyone who shows up no matter what time. They ran out of wristbands because it's a small space and they limit the number of people. And EVERYONE in the oval was behind metal barricades. That's part of the crowd control. Some people have obstructed views. Able bodied and disabled. It depends what time you arrive. And yes, vans will not be allowed on Storrow Drive when a bizzillion people are walking there, whether their carrying handicapped people to their cars or not. If folks had medical issues, there were lots of EMTs around who could have been called.

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There were lawsuits filed after the DNC when delegates could not get to the various parties and events because the organizers did not provide adequate transport for persons with disabilities. They honestly expected people to go from hotel to the Garden and back and not go elsewhere. The nerve!

The attitude in the public sector in MA is generally "you have to ask permission to have a disability" and "just sue me". The proper attitude for public accomodation should be "how can we plan ahead to make this work for everybody and communicate the policy at all levels". The usual problems with planning and standards, etc. apply.

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Why Mary, you sure did make a lot of assumptions. First, 4 pm should have landed me at the Esplanade at 4:30,at the very latest. That's the time it usually get from my home to the Esplanade for shows. Shows where they DO have handicapped parking on Storrow Drive, just as the web site said they did. The web site that was WRONG. That isn't my fault.

As for driving on Storrow Drive, the ONLY way to get into the handicapped parking was to drive on Storrow Drive. That's where the entrance and exit are. Period. However, the fact that not one police officer could tell us how to get there, and despite that fact that there are three Mass Eye and Ear parking lots and the one they chose was extremely limited and almost impossible to find, we had no choice to drive on Storrow Drive. Unfortunately, I don't own a flying car and since the police told us that we could drive there, I'm not sure why you think I was doing something amiss.

Perhaps you didn't understand my complaint about the barriers. They went from the street right into the L-shaped corral. You had no choice but to be herded just like cattle into the corral, but the corral was WAY to small to handle the crowd. Even if it was raining at 1 pm, it was too small. It was 2 wheel chair wide on either side of a tiny path. Period. There was no place for an ambulatory patient to sit. There was no place for anyone in a motorized scooter or power chairs. There was NO ROOM for anyone, and virtually half of the handicapped people were BEHIND A TENT. Not a slightly obscured view. They could see NOTHING but a tent.

For people with medical difficulties to get to the Esplanade and then wait hours with NO access to a bathroom because they could not turn their chairs around, no access to any place to buy a drink or get a hot dog, to be stuck there and told that if they left to get a drink they could not come back in.... you think that this is the RIGHT type of caring that the city showed for their less medically able?

Let me guess, you're a healthy person with a steel bladder and no need for any special care, so you think that's just what everyone else should have. But YOU had access to drinks and a bathroom, didn't you? You were able to leave when you wanted, weren't you? You weren't held hostage for an hour after the show was over because the state police were totally disorganized and unthinking, were you?

Whether or not you like it, handicapped people DO get preferencial treatment. And when that treatment is not only denied them, but they are treated like cattle about to be taken to the slaughterhouse, it's not a laughing matter.

I'm sorry you're so insensitive. Try working on that, OK?

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I think Mary needs to get that. We are all "temporarily abled".

Perhaps she should check out what they do with young architecture majors - put them in wheelchairs and assign them to access a list of buildings using those wheelchairs.

Or, maybe, try to get a kid on crutches with a cast around to his daily activities during mid-winter when he can't make the bus steps.

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You do indeed have to drive on Storrow Drive to get to the handicapped parking area. But judging from margalit's narrative, she did not follow the detailed directions that were on the website. If you drive past Govt. Ctr. and then MGH, like she says she did, then you end up at Charles Circle. But the directions said to go via Leverett Circle.

I think it would be nice if the staties knew where the handicapped parking was, but realistically I would never assume that they do. Print out the FAQ page from the website, highlight the directions on it, and then show that sheet of paper to any police officer that gets in your way. And if you think you can leave Newton at 4pm on July 4th and be on the Esplanade at 4:30, you are nuts.

Regarding the treatment of the disabled people inside the oval: it sounds like the accommodations were very poor, and I think you have a right to be upset. I would encourage you to file a complaint with the appropriate authorities (probably DCR, as it is their jurisdiction not the City of Boston's).

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Looks like a story for the menino hotline + the local news.

Seriously, call your favorite station

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Dear Margalit,

As an individual who has attended these fireworks in the past, I shamefully admit that it never crossed my mind--the treatment of disabled peoples--at such an event. May I say that this description is one that hopefully shames the State Police into action for next year's celebration. I'm sure these officers were--like you--confused by the inadequacies of the event planning; though their dismissive and otherwise offensive conduct is uncalled for. Has there been any action on your (or others') part to officially complain on the treatment you received during your experience? I believe one is warranted, to say the least.

In all, a very bitterly honest (yet horribly pertinent) tale. Thank you.

-Sam

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I definitely agree that the parking situation was bad, and the behavior by the police was inexcusable. But there i the reality of an event as massive as the July 4 concert.

The handicapped area had a fence around it. You need that or 'regular' folks with blankets will crowd in. It also kinda does need to be in the side, as people on a blanket can't see over a person in a chair. (but it shouldn't have been behind a tent..) But you also showed up right before show time and were surprised to find the reserved area filled???

Again, the hostile attitude of the police keeping you in the 'pen' was inexcusable. Not sure why you had to stay in the area anyway - I don't think anyone would wait for a bus if they could walk to where they needed to be. But - as soon as the fireworks end 500,000 people flood storrow drive. it was so crowded even people couldn't move on storrow. How was a van supposed to get through? There's no way even an ambulance could have gotten through if it had to. (But they did know that and should have down some different arrangement for HCP parking).

Send your original letter to the Herald - see if they run with it!!

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I guess I should explain that the part of Storrow Drive that we were herded into, and that the handicapped parking was at was NOT at all crowded with people. The State police, the bomb dog squad, and the mounted police were all there to ensure that NOBODY was allowed on that part of Storrow Drive save the handicapped rigs. Not one car. We were well above where the crowds were, which is why we couldn't understand why we were kept captive that long. The street was totally empty except for a long line of State Police motercycles all parked head to the curb and taking up little space.

Again, not a single human body allowed in the street there other than the police, the volunteers working the handicapped space, and the National Guard.

So crowding doesn't equal a rational excuse. If it did I would have been so upset. But this was completely irrational. And if you understand how the RIDE works, which most people don't, we kept the entire crew up way past their normal hours and they were just as furious as we were. Again, everyone but the State Police were frothing at the mouth. They were just total bastards.

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Much is surprising in that narrative, except for the long time it took to get home.

I'm reminded the situation with commercial-airline passengers: special-needs people may be the first ones on, but they're the last ones off.

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You showed up at 4pm to get on the Esplanade? So, you think it's okay for your poor planning...but inexcusable for their's? Typical. It sounds like you're lucky they let you in at all considering they didn't have bracelets left. Some people wait OVERNIGHT to get onto the Esplanade for the concert and you wanted to show up less than 2 hours before they announced they'd close access to the handicapped area and expect everyone to cater to your demands for easy parking and access to the grounds.

You also think they should be able to clear you out any faster than the thousands of others piling out of the area? You need shuttle buses and everyone else just needs to walk out of the area, but they should do what? Hold everyone else at bay while they make sure to cater to your every need first?

Sure, the cops are overstressed and ignorant jerks. They barely know what they're doing for the non-handicapped people than they do for the handicapped. That's life around here. But they probably couldn't even figure out why you were trying to arrive about an hour before the doors closed when everyone else got there earlier and filled in everywhere. The directions to the Charles Circle off-ramp lot seem pretty clear on the handicap access pdf as well, and don't mention ANY parking on Storrow itself.

The instructions also say that there are wheelchair-accessible restrooms. Since everything else seems to have been true about that form, I doubt they lied about that. I'd be curious to know where they were and why you didn't think you had access to them.

All in all, considering the absolutely limited amount of room on the Oval, it would seem they were more than generous at the amount of space predetermined for handicapped access:
IMAGE(http://www.july4th.org/images/B4_EventMapsPublicAccess.gif)

You could always chalk this up to a learning experience like the rest of us. Around 8PM(!), I drove 5 minutes into Cambridge from Brighton, walked down to Memorial Drive near MIT (there's plenty of handicap access to the park along the river there). I turned on my boombox for everyone around to listen to the concert on 1030 AM and when the fireworks were over, nobody kept me from getting quickly back to my car and driving in minimal traffic back to the BU Bridge and I was back in Brighton in about 15 minutes on the road. If I'd gone down to the Esplanade, I'd have had to deal with unruly crowds and burnt out cops. I'd have had to arrive at 8AM(!) to get in line for a bracelet, spend over 12 hours crushed among the humanity with NO room for maneuvering between all of the other blankets and tents, and then had to fight my way back out after 11 to the closest T stop (along with thousands of others) because I didn't get to park anywhere NEAR Storrow. I'd have been lucky to even get into Back Bay in 15 minutes.

So, the lesson you learned: the Esplanade is only for the most die-hard and hardy, regardless of whether you're handicapped or not. There are dozens of other locations to see the fireworks with a lot better access and a lot less hassle. Good luck next year.

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I second what Kaz wrote.

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It seems the handicap arrangements were not ideal, true, but there really is no excuse for trying to arrive at 4:30pm and expecting anything in the realm of good seating. Nobody, handicap or not, is entitled to a good view, an uncrowded area, etc. Poor treatmeant by the police and event coordinators is not excusable. But even able bodied folks have to wait eons to get out of there on the biggest event of the year. If I'm not in the mood to wait hours to get on the T, get pushed and shoved by crowds, fight for a good seat, deal with rude folks, bring beverages with me, and possibly not see a bathroom all night, I stay home, or go to another event.
So yes, all police should have been instructed where handicapped parking was, and perhaps the event coordinators should not have put the handicap area behind an obstructing tent, but otherwise it looks like the same craptastic treatment we all have to put up with if we want to go to a major free city event such as this. Especially if you are arriving late (which 4:30pm is for the 4th)!

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Kaz makes the same point I made in the beginning - it's unrealistic to think a person is going to get in and out of the esplanade on the 4th of July with minimal inconvenience.

Margalitc thinks I'm insensitive - she's wrong - it's more that I'm realistic. Yes, I am thankfully fully mobile and physically fit, but I don't watch the 4th concert by the Hatch Shell because of the crush of the crowd and the knowledge that there's lots of inconveniences.

The first line of my post recognized that, based on the initial description, "many improvements could be made" but margalitc had some unrealistic expectations and relied on the wrong website for information. It sounds like the folks working the handicapped area let in more people than they were supposed to (remember, they ran out of bracelets - probably because it would be very difficult to turn away folks in wheel chairs or walkers who made such efforts to get there), creating an overcrowded area such that there was reduced mobility, so no one could come and go. Again, I think a lot could probably be improved, so hopefully margalitc will make her issues known to organizers, but she used a broad brush of condemnation on a great event when part of the problem was her using bad information and arriving late.

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3rd here.

Mother always said be early, and expecting to be at the esplanade at 430 when you left at 4 is really, really pushing it when asking for outrage and sympathy. No doubt, extra time afforded before also would have most likely let you settle in, find the various concessions and bathrooms, and made for a better experience. If there was a tent obstructing the view, that is a valid complaint.

The bussed in cops working detail are a joke, and something regular citizens also have to deal with. And as Kaz said, while you might not get to enjoy the concert (it's a rat race for everyone else too), there's plenty of places to enjoy and view the fireworks and festivities that would be wheelchair accessible, but with less crowds and easier access.

What did they peg access at this year? Normally they get a good 500,000 people showing up, all cramped into a few sq miles of river front grass. Expecting to get into the center zone and out in 30 minutes is bad thinking for such a large event.

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I do have some sympathy for the people who were stuck in the handicapped area waiting for their rides, but the reality is that they couldn't allow anyone to drive down Storrow Drive - it was packed with people. It was also almost impossible for the people who were trying to drive on the other roads to get through the crowds immediately after the concert. If the vans/taxis had picked people up, they would have had to just sit there waiting for the crowds to disperse.

I was there, and it took approx. 30 mins. to walk back to Back Bay Station, and I had been sitting on the edge of the Esplanade, right by Storrow Drive, so we got out quickly.

It would have been nice if the handicapped area was larger, but the reality is that the crowd is very big, and they probably thought they were being nice to let you in at all if the area was so packed that wheelchairs couldn't turn around.

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Theory: what was on the web page and form, written by people who understood the requirements of an accessible space

Reality: poor planning and possible "chipping away" of that space for VIPs and other uses by the organizers and State Police, packing in of chairs so that they could not turn around, and abstruse extra security rules that prohibited people from leaving and returning - even to use the restroom.(I'll buy her account, as she was there). Add in a layer of abusive attitude by people who are part of an organization which is historically designed to be a pseudomilitary above all else (including modern needs) and you get a first-hand account of an actual fiasco.

She got there "late", but it sounds like it didn't matter because they waited to be taken over anyway. The problem is that somebody decided that treating people like animals was appropriate and acceptable, and that somebody should be held to account for their innappropriate decisions.

Although I will agree that the best way to see this show is to not see it - in fact, the community boating likely has accessible restrooms and they hold a cookout each year. Your kids can join for $1 and then for the cost of the cook out you can roll out on the dock, hear (but not see) the music, eat food, drink soft drinks and get great views of the fireworks.

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Behavior of the police was inexcusable. As was there lack of basic awareness of the event.

However, you must accept personal responsibility for showing up about eight hours *after* the event is already packed. The lack of space, wrist-bands, and good seats are entirely YOUR fault. Maybe you should advocate to enlargen the handicap 'pen' and move it to a different location. The fence needs to remain since it is the only way they can keep any space from being immediately snapped up by greedy able-bodied folks.

Again, you are NOT responsible for the blatant lack of professionalism you experienced from the police and I urge you to complain to the organizers, the State Police, and others so that things change next year. You have an opportunity to create real, meaningful change. But you also need to see where you erred in this and should not expect the world to be moved for you personally.

You should know by now, not to expect special treatment as a disabled person in America. But you know what, we got it pretty good compared to the rest of the world-even the country. Complain, but do so meaningfully.

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I cannot speak to the issues once inside the event since obviously I wasn't there. I have a feeling there were some problems definitely that need to be corrected but also there might be some exaggeration on the author's part. Again, wasn't there so won't judge either way.

At any rate, it is very unrealistic to think you can leave at 4 pm to get to the Esplanade by 4:30 on July 4th. I sympathize greatly with your situation and the frustration you must have felt in dealing with police not told the proper route to the handicapped parking. But again, you really cannot expect a half hour door-to-seat on the day of the Esplanade's biggest annual event. People line up in the early morning to get seats and traffic is a nightmare around that area very early on in the day.

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Just had a thought; was the policy of no re-entry just fro you, or everyone. You said they ran out of entry wrist bands, so I'm wonder if those who go snuck in over capacity were told they had to stay inside because they would have no way of letting people out and back in.

My guess is those with wristband were allowed to move freely, and that was just another problem with showing up so late to the festivities.

In reality, poor event planning (or a sympathetic organizer) allowed you to get in, as they broke their own rules and allowed more then allotted into the specified area. You're very lucky you weren't turned away when cutting it so close.

That said, you do have some valid complaints about the police behavior (as do quite a few I'm sure). Put in a report. Too bad you didn't happen by the Urban Paramedic, TS seems to enjoy these events and loves helping people.

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I'm shocked that you're shocked at the attitude of the BPD. Those of us who live here know better than to ask the police for help or information about anything. They didn't single you out. The answer you got is the one that everyone gets.

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What a fucking waste of life and money they are. When I become governor, I'll make like Reagan and fire all of them. I will then redistribute the expenses associated with the state police force back to the towns.

Any state trooper that wishes to continue having a police career will have to become a member of the force in their respective town, so that they are more accountable to the community. I don't want any person who would yell at an innocent handicapped lady serving my community.

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But first he yelled "Get outta here." before he saw that I was really confused.

They were securing a special event gathering of half a million people. Even in the complainant's account, it sounds like he first yelled an instruction when he saw her doing something he didn't think she should. Then the complainant seems to imply that the tone changed and he talked with her once he saw she was confused.

The complainant doesn't give enough information to know what the tone of the yell was, nor whether that was appropriate under the circumstances.

As others have pointed out, it sounds like officials could have been balancing managing the event while trying to bend the rules to accommodate someone who was overly optimistic for how easy it would be to get into the event.

As for any flaws in the planning, that's not the fault of individual troopers.

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but Ive been in many situations where I had to direct traffic and/or pay attention to a busy area when someone pulls up, blocks traffic and asks where they can park. Ive given them the old "sorry you have to move I dont have time to talk" kind of answer that was probably taken the wrong way from a lot of people.

Now if I were standing around doing nothing or watching a parking lot ot make sure no one parked there, then I might have the time to ask them to pull in so they can get better directions.

And I don't know what you guys are talking about? Mean troopers? I don't believe it.

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