Wino on a Bench

By Mark E. Smith

I know better than to answer a question with a question because it’s a sure sign of guilt to those trained on how to spot a liar. But, I couldn’t stop myself from replying to the cop, “Do I look like I’ve been drinking?” – namely because I really wanted to know if I looked like I’d been drinking?

This predicament started with the Brightree party at Medtrade, the semi-annual trade show for home medical equipment. Friends of mine were going to the big Brightree software company bash, and I’d gotten to know Dave Cormack, Brightree’s CEO, a bit, so I was on the party list. And, I rolled into the party with a splash – the only person using a wheelchair – and I immediately landed on the dance floor with Dave and countless lovely women, dancing the night away to a live band.

By 10:00pm or so, I’d had my fun for the night, and headed back to my hotel via the then-empty streets of downtown Atlanta. Now, Atlanta’s downtown is pretty safe, but sketchy characters pop-up from time to time, so I was on guard – full speed ahead – racing back to my hotel, alone in my power wheelchair. And, I was well on my way, no cars or creeps, when I made it to the main intersection crossing that separates downtown from Centennial Park, me from my hotel.

As I reached the intersection, cruising on the sidewalk with the direction of traffic, I caught the green light, and crossed the street, high-tailing it up, into the park, which allows through-traffic. But, there was no traffic; just me, racing up the dark sidewalk. And, then the flashing lights hit me, followed by an amplified voice on a loud speaker: “Stop where you are!”

You have to be freakin’ kidding me, I thought. I’m being pulled over, on the sidewalk, in my power chair, by a cop? Really?

So, I stopped, and the cop stopped beside me at the curb, and got out of his car – lights still flashing.

“Do you know why I’m stopping you?” he asked, walking up to me.

“No,” I replied, turning my wheelchair toward him.

“You illegally crossed that intersection,” he said, eyeing me up and down.

“No,” I said. “I crossed in the crosswalk, on a green light, with the direction of traffic.”

“But, the pedestrian sign was red,” he said.

“I didn’t see a pedestrian sign, but I clearly followed the light,” I replied.

“Where are you coming from?” he asked, pulling out his note pad.

“The Tabernacle,” I replied. “I’m in town for a sort of wheelchair trade show, and one of the companies had a party tonight.”

He wrote something on his pad, then asked, “Have you been drinking?”

“Do I look like I’ve been drinking?” I asked.

Surely, I now realize that it was the worst possible answer that I could have given the cop. But, it was my sincere thought in the moment, where I really wanted to know if I looked like I’d been drinking? Was my tie crooked? Had I weaved while driving my power wheelchair up the sidewalk? And, with my cerebral palsy, how could the cop, a stranger, know if I’d been drinking, anyway? My speech is always slurred, and I always look… well… drunk. I mean, sure, my wheelchair gives me away as disabled, but take away the wheelchair and set me on a park bench, and my posture, movements, and speech instantly appear every bit of a wino. Drunk? Cerebral palsy? Who’s to know? How could the cop know?

Then, in an instant, my instinctive curiosity turned to rational thought, and the devil on my shoulder said, You basically just told the cop you’re drunk – idiot!

But, I wasn’t drunk, and lucky for me, the cop actually laughed at my reply. Close one – dodged. I crossed on a green light, I rode on the sidewalk, and I wasn’t drunk. Winning!

“Where are you heading?” he asked.

“The Embassy Suites,” I replied. “My hotel.”

“Well, from now on, make sure that you follow the pedestrian signs,” he said.

“Absolutely,” I replied.

The cop walked back to his car, I headed toward my hotel, and he slowly followed me with his lights on for a block – presumably still looking for signs if I had cerebral palsy or was a wino.


Author: Mark E. Smith

The literary side of the WheelchairJunkie

3 thoughts on “Wino on a Bench”

  1. Ohh, Mark…”Do I look like I’ve been drinking?”…What a comeback.
    You are lucky you didn’t wind up in the hoosegow (or whatever it’s called).
    You are such a comedian. giggle

  2. MedTrade Week, brings out the best and the worst in downtown Atlanta. The police are usually on top of everything and generally very professional. The visiting homeless are met with almost immediate attention from the police and their pictures are taken after a stern warning. Second offenses and its jail or a slow walk to the limits of Atlanta. Those in the streets after 10 pm are usually homeless solicting tips for services like hailing a cab for you for following you to your hotel with an embrella so you don’t get wet or moon burnt. The homeless like to hang at the bus depot which is 8 blocks from the World Center and 5 blocks from the Peachtree Hotel, on top of a hill in downtown Atlanta. I have been also fortunate to attend several of the vendor/exhibitor hospitality parties at the Peachtree, and CNN-Hyatt, across the street from the World Center. Suprisingly its always a short jog hopping from one party to another… and quite fun. Last time I stayed at the Embassy Suite Hotel, which is on a hill itself and the place was under rehab, prior to the summer OLYMPICs and later the Para-Lympics. My cap off to Mark Smith for making the Hotel journey.. by himself. My lessons and his experiences have taught me that its better and cheaper to stay at one of the airport motels for a fraction of the price of hotels in downtown Atlanta. The tram ride is 3 bucks and takes 15 minutes while you get to see both day time and night time highlights of Atlanta.
    Perhaps, what I’m trying to say and glad to read is that Mark didn’t have his picture taken that evening. But what happened the other nights he was in Atlanta. Its home to some very good Southern Dining and the Underground.

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