But we've all had or heard plenty of bad stories about encounters with people in customer service jobs.
I used to laugh at them, never for a moment imagining myself in the middle of one.
Let me try to explain what happened. (It's taken me this long to write about it, because it's taken me this long to laugh about it. And I've actually taken much of it from the logs of a conversation I had over text explaining what had happened while still upset.)
A few months ago, I was in downtown D.C. for the National Day of Mourning organized by Zoe Gross in memory of George Hodgins and other disabled people murdered by family or caregivers. Among the dozens of disabled activists and allies who came was Cara Liebowitz of Butterfly Dreams, a friend from out of state who has cerebral palsy and walks with two crutches.
I was going with her back to the hotel where she was staying several Metro stops away, and we went to the station nearest to the vigil. I have trouble with escalators for sensory and spatial reasons, and generally avoid them wherever necessary. We spent maybe half an hour running between K and I Streets along 17th (for those of you who know D.C. at all) and couldn't find the elevator.
Cara and I went to the window, where I asked the woman sitting in the booth where the elevator was located.
"Your friend needs the elevator?" she asked, and momentarily taken aback, I replied, "No, I do." A look of confusion crossed the woman's face as she glanced at Cara and her crutches and then back at me. "YOU need the elevator?"
Cara tried to interject and prevent an unnecessary misunderstanding by saying, "Okay, we both need the elevator," even though she can actually use escalators with her crutches.
"Are you drunk?" the woman asked me, and for several seconds, I'm sure, I stared in shock.
"No, I'm not drunk," I replied, but she very nearly interrupted me.
"I think you're drunk; you're incoherent. I can't understand you."
"I have never been drinking in my entire life," I said, "never mind drunk." In fact, I have taught English as a Second Language for over three years; I'm pretty sure that I'm articulate and enunciate when I speak.
"You're drunk," said the woman. "You're drunk." She was insistent, her voice forceful, firmly shutting down any denials or attempts to redirect.
"I'm not drunk; I'm developmentally disabled."
There. I said it. I don't do that. I don't normally pull the disability card for fear of stop making excuses and you don't look disabled and oh, I'm so sorry. But I said it because maybe it would be the only way to get her to stop. And she kept insisting that I was drunk and continued to be condescending and rude to me, and very much talking down to me, making me feel like a criminal or as though I had something to be ashamed of for doing something wrong.
And then in the commotion I somehow lost my SmartTrip card, which is the stored value card you use to pay for the subway and the bus in the D.C. metro area. They cost $5 and I had maybe $8 stored on the card. And it went missing.
You swipe your SmartTrip card twice, once when you enter and once when you exit, because fares are calculated based on how far you went as opposed to charging a flat fee for riding the subway or bus. So when we finally arrived where Cara was supposed to go, I had to explain to the guy working at that station that my card was now missing.
"Okay," he said, "you're going to have to pay the $5 for a new card." I think I repeated part or all of his question, because he took a defensive tone and said, "I'm sorry; that's just the policy. I don't make the rules."
And then I had a public meltdown. I was crying in public. And I did become incoherent then.
And Cara tried to help. And she said, "The woman at the other station was very mean to us."
And the man said, seeming a bit defensive, but obviously struggling to maintain a calm tone of voice, "Well, am I being mean?"
And I said, "No, but I'm upset and I'm clearly not communicating well" while sobbing, probably not very intelligible at all.
And he was nice about it and decided to let us go through without paying.
After waiting half an hour for Cara's father to take her back to the hotel, I went back. And I wanted to look for my card and ask if anyone turned one in to a lost and found. But there was no way in heaven or earth that I was talking to that woman alone.
So I called four other people from the vigil and asked them to please come from the restaurant where they'd gone to eat to the station to be there with me as support while I asked the woman about my card. Two friends came while the others stayed at the restaurant.
And apparently the two who had stayed were mildly annoyed at the two who came to get me because the restaurant was closing at ten and it was already far past 9:45pm.
And by the time they found me (I accidentally gave them the street intersection at the other exit from the station), the restaurant was closed and the two at the restaurant had been kicked out, and were more upset.
And then when the two friends found me, they went with me back to the booth where the same woman was there. And she gave me this scathing look, staring down her nose at me, as she said, "So you managed to get back," as if to suggest that because I was so apparently drunk, it was some kind of miracle that I had made it back to the station.
And one of my friends asked her about my SmartTrip card, but she said no one had seen one. (And I'd looked throughout the station, but hadn't found one. Eventually, several days later, I ended up having to buy a new one.)
After we left the station, one of the friends became very upset because he'd left his stuff in the restaurant. So he ran far ahead of the other friend and I who walk much slower.
And then when we finally caught up, he had a panic attack and flipped out and yelled at me, which always triggers me into a panic and acute stress reaction. And he swore at me, which also upsets me.
And then a stranger approached all five of us and thought we had spilled out of a bar and were having a bar fight. He kept asking if we were drunk and which bar we'd come from.
So two of the friends were trying to explain to the stranger that we're actually all friends and not drunk but Autistic so please go away, but he wouldn't go away. And finally the angry friend stormed off, and the two who'd stayed at the restaurant felt bad for the way they'd spoken to him over the phone earlier.
And then I realized it was 10:30pm and I was stuck without a way to get back to Georgetown without the risk of being mauled, mugged, or raped by random drunks or rapists. And I was still starving because I've never really eaten that day either. And by the time I returned to Georgetown, the dining hall was closed.