I am blocked.
The fellow in front of me is standing right in my way, leaving no room to pass on either side of him. He has centred himself such that the space he uses makes all other space unusable for people, like me, who use wheelchairs. Even for others who need to get by, others who walk, they have to twist themselves to make it passed him. He is with friends and they are all talking, animatedly, about the upcoming weekend. Laughter fills the area. I ask him, twice, at increasing volume, to please move over a bit. He doesn't hear me. Finally someone in his group does, she reaches over, pulls at his shirt, he is startled into awareness and turns to see me. He laughs, bringing me into the party, and says, "Sorry, I was overstimulated by all these little bottles of rum," he shows me several tiny bottles in his hands. As he moves aside I am laughing with him.
I am blocked.
The fellow in front of me is standing right in my way, leaving no room to pass on either side of him. He has centred himself right in the dead centre of the cut curb. The cut is narrow, not like some of the generous ones where I could easily get round one person standing. He is listening to music and texting on his phone, I call out loudly several times. There are people around, they turn, notice and turn away. I am in the street. It's a busy one and the light is changing. Finally, and it's always my last resort, I reach up and touch his shoulder. He swings round at my touch, anger in his eyes, he sees me, understands instantly, the requests and steps back letting me pass. He says nothing. I scoot by.
I am blocked.
The fellow in front of me is standing right in my way, leaving no room to pass on either side of him.
He is standing, reading a text or an email, in the middle of an aisle. I ask for room to pass. He doesn't respond. I ask again. He doesn't hear me. I look to see if there is room for me to turn around and go to another aisle. There isn't. I am about to reach out to tap his shoulder to get his attention when someone coming the other way, taps his shoulder. He looks quickly from her to me. This time the anger that enter his eyes doesn't leave. He says something so cruel that I choose not to write it here. The other shopper is shocked, I am not. There is a moment where I know that the decision is being made regarding what happens next. I have no control over what happens next. He decides to say something hideous to her and something threatening to me. The space is now free.
The stress is in the not knowing. A social situation that begins the same way every time has vastly different outcomes. It is impossible to predict how the negotiation of the use of public space will go. It's impossible to tell what the outcome will be. In these three examples, all recent experiences, the other person was male - it's even trickier when the other party, the one blocking, is female. Reaching out to touch another guy is very different than reaching out to touch a woman. Shoulder or not, the touch can be received very differently.
The stress is in the not knowing. While I have never been physically struck, it's been close. A woman reacted badly to the touch on the shoulder, her husband rose in defence of her. I got away only because I had the wisdom to disengage and to flee with my apology in the air behind me. My disability requires me to have interactions with more people than I would otherwise. I speak, on an average sunny Saturday, to probably 50 or 60 people as I make my way along a crowded sidewalk. Most times nothing happens.
But it's the not knowing.
The not knowing leaves me tired to the point of exhausted upon return home.