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An activist on wheels

If you hear Marshall Cook tell it, things are bad for disabled people in Pinellas Park. Are his complaints legitimate?

[Times photos: James Borchuck]
Marshall Cook drags 10 bags of cat litter to the checkout count at Wal-Mart, a favorite store because of its wide aises and friendly staff who try to accommodate disabled shoppers.


By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2000

photo
Cook, a community activist, heads down U.S. 19 on his motorized cart.
PINELLAS PARK -- Marshall Cook is a well-known sight to many residents and, to city officials, an irritating fact of life.

Almost daily he makes his rounds in a motorized wheelchair or cart, stopping along the way to take snapshots and video of the illegally parked vehicles that block his path and the glass shards that threaten his passage.

Police and code enforcement officers also know him well. Cook complains about what he sees as their failure to enforce ordinances and laws protecting the handicapped. He e-mails them the photographs -- hundreds of them -- and he is a fixture at City Council meetings, commenting on items that provoke him.

Cook's protests have become so frequent and so intense that he says some police officers have yelled at him, city officials have told him to stop e-mailing them, and some residents have thrown bottles at him and threatened his life. But he refuses to go away or shut up.

The question lingered: Does Cook have legitimate complaints or is he just a crabby guy who likes to carp about things? The Neighborhood Times found out. A reporter spent five hours in a motorized cart, driving around Pinellas Park to see what life is like if you can't walk. The conclusion: Cook's gripes are for real.

A wheelchair, even an electric one, is as awkward to steer as a grocery cart with a bum wheel. Every bump or bend in the sidewalk is a potential obstacle. An inch-high section of sidewalk is impassable.

Where there are no sidewalks, there is only the street with moving cars. Cook has been hit four times.

Then there are the bodily restrictions.

You can't stretch. Your muscles and joints begin hurting.

With no suspension, every bump goes straight to your spine.

The cart runs only with your hand on the throttle. After long periods in the same position, your hand gets cramped.

It's hot and there's no air conditioning, no shade from the sun. If it rains, there's no roof over your head.

But, as Cook says, it beats staying home and looking out the window.

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