Not To Be Served, But To Serve: My Queens Graduation

Graduation. An advancement from one level to the next, most often in academic settings. In this case, I wondered about whether I would gain anything from attending my third such ceremony, from Queens University with a Master of Arts in Communication, given that the brunt of study had concluded in December and I’d already had the degree in hand. But as others pointed out, and I definitely found to be the case, this celebration allowed my family members and friends to join me in embracing my accomplishments, and have a little fun around a generally positive event. So I decided what the hey, I would go ahead and attend.

The biggest challenge of going to this graduation was simply getting there. The university is located in Charlotte, North Carolina, and so my wife and I hit the road for the Queen City on Friday right after work, both tired but also kind of excited. Arriving at my cousin’s place where I had stayed for seven months as last year wrapped up, we made quick work of a fast-food meal and bedded down for the 6:15 wake up on Saturday (who gets up that early, on a Saturday!) We had to do that though, because this institution had scheduled the festivities for 9 AM, and we needed to collect her parents from their hotel and grab a bite to eat. All of this went smoothly, and we arrived on campus around 8 AM, where I met the woman who would assist me on my glorious walk across that stage. She’s the assistant director of Diversity and Inclusion at that school, and I found her to be quite nice, and clearly popular. Fortunately for all of our sanity, she was sitting at the check-in table waiting for me as soon as we entered, calling my name out immediately.

The next twenty minutes were spent trying to stay awake amid the ever-swelling crowds and pondering what I had achieved. I finally felt a sense of satisfaction at being there, and over the fact that things were a lot less chaotic than the habitually worried I feared. And then the fun began.

First, we took group photos at 8:30. To do this, we had to descend some unnervingly rickety stairs into the university’s gym that had her contemplating more than once if we should just find an elevator. I had to convince her that I would be ok going down, though all those strange turns did have me wondering a little bit. It was all good though, and I suppose I could be seen amongst the masses of Master’s students who were also involved. (Queens has no doctoral programs, small as it is).

Next came the processional, where the Charlotte Band, a group of largely volunteer players, played at least four marching songs, of course including Pomp and Circumstance as we filed in. The ceremony was held outside, and so I was delighted that the weather was partly cloudy with low 80’s. We neither cooked nor soaked, always a gamble in early May. The band was loud though for those of us who were right near it, namely the graduates.

A fellow MA Comm student led the invocation, which made me proud. Then we listened to the university president, senior class president, and the Chair of Queens Board of Trustees regale us with silly stories and serious bits of encouragement. This portion wrapped up with Doctor Kevin Washington, the first African-American president of the YMCA, speaking to us and drawing on a Martin Luther King Jr. speech made to his South Philadelphia high school seven months before that great reverend was assassinated. He connected it to the Queens Motto, from which my subject line was gleaned: Not To Be Served, but to Serve. The three main points were these: believe in your values and worth, seek that about which you are passionate, and find ways to translate that into helping others. It was a short but rousing address. Left me thinking about how I can more effectively continue to serve and hopefully mentor to those with disabilities, as well as people from other backgrounds with whom I can relate.

And then the part for which we had all been waiting: the conferring of degrees. Some honorary doctorates were handed out, the most stirring of these being to a popular “dreamer” on campus who had worked with seemingly everyone there in some capacity. And finally, the endless list of names were called. We Master’s folk went first, with the Knight School of Communication being third or fourth on the list. I was instructed to rise shortly before our list was called, and we made our way up a ramp and around toward the makeshift stage. As she said “John Alexander Miller,” my foot made dangerous contact with the podium. The presenter said “watch out for that,” causing my guide to feel a little embarrassed. I told her it was ok though, and was mostly just glad I had managed not to knock it down. They then hooded me, draping the Master’s hood over my neck where it hung alongside my crimson robe representing communication students. A picture was taken, and then I sat and listened to the rest of the names. Of course the undergrads had the most fun, with a couple of them dancing as they made their way across. One even caused the presenter to laugh as she attempted to read the next name. We also had a 65-year-old walk, and he received the loudest ovation from the fairly sizable crowd.

And that was pretty much it. They sang the school hymn, which I could hardly hear over the again pulsating tones from the band, and we recessed. Relocating me was a little challenging for my family, as the crowds near our designated meeting place were largely stagnant. I did get time to converse with a member of my cohort in person, which was interesting as we had shared an online space for two years. After some attempts to find the building we had indicated, my wife finally gave up and called to speak with my guide so they could create another rendezvous point. And with that, we departed to head for the food and fun planned at my cousin’s place.

So all in all, it was an uplifting experience, and one that I hope propels me into my next life phase: finding new work! Some interesting developments are on the horizon for that, but I will go into those in a future post. Till then, as graduate season rolls in, I congratulate all of you who have or will also walk the many high school and university stages. Let’s all continue to remember the Queens motto, as taking such an orientation will benefit society as a whole.

A Tweet and an Interview

So I’ve been interviewed by the BBC. How did that come about, you ask? Well, it results from a tweet I posted on Twitter after learning that Barbara Bush had died, recounting an encounter I had with her and their family when I visited DC. The tweet read:

“John Miller – @blindtravel: I once met Barbara Bush in person. Wrote a letter to George HW after being encouraged by my Orientation and Mobility teacher, and got me and 2 other blind folks a free trip to DC for a behind-the-scenes White House Tour. Drank in the Oval Office, met her, and their dog Milly.”

This little snippet actually drew the attention of many in the media, and definitely demonstrated to me, if I needed such demonstration, that social media can be quite powerful. I’ve been ruminating on that trip all day. It happened about this time in 1991, early May to be precise. Its seed was planted one cool March day, as my favorite O&M instructor and I raced to our lesson site, where presumably she either taught me to cross streets or navigate the mall.

Thinking probably of the prior year’s travel to Los Angeles, I said “I’d like to go to Washington DC.” Being a woman of big dreams herself, this individual told me to sit down at the Brailler and compose a letter to the President, that she would then figure out how to have delivered to him. I sure wish I still had the contents of that letter, because I have no doubt that its success is what really caused me to both enjoy writing and respect its power. Someone, I don’t know whom but I’d guess just in the White House who takes care of such things, booked us for a night in the Ramada a couple of blocks away, and so we, my cousin, a friend from school, and I, along with said instructor and two other adult chaperones braved the insane DC traffic and ventured up there.

The tweet pretty much sums up what happened that first day, a Friday OUT OF SCHOOL! In addition to meeting Barbara Bush though, we stood outside in the fierce wind created by President Bush the first’s helicopter as it prepared to leave for Camp David, struggling to maintain our hold of tiny American flags. This part was kind of fun. Then, hot and tired, we retreated to the hotel’s lobby for yet more soda’s before making our drive to Alexandria and the executive club suite where we would remain for the rest of our trip. Three kids? Soda? A car ride? Big mistake. Let’s just say we were all begging the merciless adults to find somewhere, anywhere, to stop as we squirmed and danced and drove them crazy. That night though, one of the chaperones who worked at Columbo Yogurt, gave us some of that delicious stuff and used what sounded like a professional camera to snap photos of us enjoying it.

Then that Saturday, we got to board the subway for the first time ever. I was alarmed by how they sounded roaring into the station and the rapidity with which we had to board in order to avoid those doors. This was, until that point, the most urban experience I had ever had. We disembarked, and hit up many of the tourist sites. The site that struck me most profoundly was the Vietnam Memorial. Feeling all those names made it real how many service members (and yes I definitely know Civilians as well) lost their lives in that conflict. There were people openly weeping along the wall even still.

Anyway, after I posted that tweet, I went off to do other things. Just in time, I returned to find a message from a BBC journalist asking me to follow and send a direct message to her. She was wondering if I would be willing to speak for a couple of minutes about that trip, as they were taking memories from regular folks who had had interactions with Bush. The piece would be live and I had only moments to kind of prepare, which probably made it easier as I was less nervous. I spoke with Mike Embley of BBC World Service, and listening to it as my initial contact sent me the files I guess I did ok. Inasmuch as one can listen to himself on the air. I think it only lasted a couple of minutes, but I really focused on trying not to speak too fast. (I probably said “orientation and mobility teacher” too quickly, but hey that’s a mouthful!)

I think I improved significantly compared to my performance on live air in 2006. I was speaking with someone about travel and why I love it, but unfortunately using a nearly inaudible landline. In this case, I had my headphones connected directly to the iPhone, and so experienced no hearing difficulties. I did, however, struggle to get her the picture she wanted of myself. First, I’m never really sure which pictures contain only me. Second, iOS makes entering email addresses, well fun, sometimes; because if you make one mistake and backspace it the entire thing is then messed up. I initially got the journalist’s address wrong, then when she tried to have me send it to another of her co-workers, I just could not get it entered in time. It is good that I gave up on that when I did, as the interview was to happen in only a couple of minutes.

These are only minor issues though, and they give me things to think about on my next attempt. Overall, it was a great and much-needed uplifting experience in a field I have pondered trying to enter for a long time. Who knows what’s next?

MiniMoon 2: Wilmington/Wrightsville Beach (Part 2)

To read about what we did last Thursday, check out Part 1. I thought I should start this post by talking about the unusual elements of this particular hotel stay. First, that couch on which I slept made it difficult for one to do much other than sleep. This is because the back was so low that I found it difficult to sit up straight. It was somewhat uncomfortable actually, save for modifications we made in the pillow arrangements. But, I guess this was not a particularly big deal as we didn’t spent a whole lot of time there.

The other unusual thing occurred as we awoke on Saturday morning. As I dressed for the day, my wife decided to turn on the TV and check out some of the programming. On doing this, she was greeted with the on-screen message: “Hello, Miller. The weather is…” and an ad featuring someone enjoying time at a Marriott property. We thought this was amusing, if not a little unnerving. It’s another step hotels are taking to personalize, I suppose.

We then prepared to leave the room fairly early by our regular travel standards: around 10 AM. We had no concrete plan, except to have breakfast which we did in one of our favorite spots. Cracker Barrel was not too packed or loud, and so I wolfed down a couple of sausages, some cheese scrambled eggs, grits, and biscuits. It was delicious and filling as always.

Then, it was time for the fun. We cruised to a parking deck on Market Street, after a considerable time trying to find somewhere to put the car. Of course parking is almost always going to be an issue in urban areas, and given that I’m more of a pedestrian/public transit person I don’t have a big issue with cities not being so built for it. But for those times that cars are used, I am glad that decks do exist.

When we hopped out with the intent to just stroll around downtown Wilmington, we immediately encountered a horse and carriage ride leaving in a few minutes. I had been on something of a horse and carriage when at Camp Dogwood, a facility on the shores of Lake Morman that houses blind people for weekly sessions throughout the summer, many years ago; but I had little memory of what that was like. This tour was fun, and bumpy as I sat somewhat precariously on the end of a tightly packed row. It was slow going though, so there was no real concern that I might be bounced. I kind of got the feeling that we should go back to traveling in this manner more often, though I wonder how hard it is on the animals to clomp clomp along that pavement day after day. The guide noted that all of their horses, and I guess they have a considerable fleet of them, were rescued from different areas. Also, the guy had to navigate down the streets while standing and watching traffic in front of and behind us while narrating, which sounds like a difficult feat indeed.

It was hard to hear much over the already noted clomping of those hooves and general roar of traffic, but I think much of the tour showed off some of the old Southern houses. One tidbit I did hear that interested me was about the pastor who founded Carolina Beach, believing correctly that Wilmington residents might want to flock down there especially during the summer. Of course in those early days, it was not as easy to venture long distances.

Once this relatively short ride was over, we hopped onto the boat for a longer ride along the Cape Fear River. The winds were blowing something fierce though, and so especially the outbound trip was a little nippy. This was fine, though. The tour, which my wife suggests was probably still new, was not as well-developed as that we took in Charleston. Basically, the only thing the driver told us was about the large container ship that had pulled into port a few days ago from Turkey. I think it was due to stay there a couple weeks before heading back out. He noted that they dredged the Cape Fear River, a previously fresh water body, so that boats could get farther in. This had the unintended effect of making the waters brackish and the river tidal, allowing for continuously increased salivation, killing some of the native trees and doing other environmental damage. Interesting. On the return trip, we simply listened to music blaring from the speakers, and I basked in the trickle of sun and much-diminished winds. This was a nice experience, though.

After this, we mostly just strolled. a quick walk through downtown, an accidental foot long cheese coney from Sonic (I’d only ordered a regular) and a swing by the hotel to grab some things, then we were off to Wrightsville Beach. She said some adventurous folks were actually swimming in the water, and others sat bundled up like Alaskans. We had secured only an hour of public parking, so we moseyed along heading out along the ocean. I could feel the lactic acid accumulating in my leg, and so kept joking that I would need a “back ticket” meaning I would pay some dough to hop aboard her back. There was less housing and/or hotels to see than on Myrtle, so we just enjoyed the sound of pounding surf until she looked back and realized she could hardly see the Johny Mercer Pier, our starting point.

“Uh-oh, we’re gonna have to book it back to the car,” she said as more than 35 minutes had expired. We made good time heading back in though, arriving with a out 12 minutes left.

Wilmington traffic can be a. bit insane, and so the stop and go of it lulled me to sleep until we stopped for a quick visit to Kure Beach. Here, I was struck by the slight difference in the waves’ sound. This area was even less developed than our former location, and we didn’t remain very long. But I liked that I could truly smell the sea salt on the breeze.

And that was the substance of our vacation. We made another trip to Kickback Jack’s, where I this time consumed a delicious buffalo wrap. And then, it was time to relax my tired body, enjoy some togetherness, and rest up for the jaunt home.

So, I don’t know what journey we will take next, but it’s likely to be to the fourth conference of the Norrie Disease Association in August. More on that soon though. Till then, I await another story.

MiniMoon 2: Wilmington/Wrightsville Beach (Part 1)

Because we haven’t necessarily been able to visit a truly exotic honeymoon destination as desired, (there’s only so much money to go around sadly), we have taken to breaking our trips into what we call “MiniMoons”. These began with a relatively cold trip to Myrtle Beach South Carolina in early February that served as a relaxing chance to bond among ourselves. And eat, of course we ate. Our proposed final destination in this series of trips is to take the cruise we were not able to take the year prior on our anniversary: January 27, 2019. But, we shall see on that. Even so, there is a lot of fun to be had in between.

So we wanted to schedule our second venture out during this period, as she has a prolonged time off. I opened the Marriott app, choosing as I have many times to use this large hotel chain because their booking process is accessible and I can often find decent prices. Conducting a search in the Wilmington area led me to the Courtyard by Marriott Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach. I booked Thursday and Friday nights, getting the former for less because it was still within the workweek, a good choice for budget travelers such as myself.

We arrived after a relatively smooth ride down on Thursday shortly before 2 PM. Actually, sleepy-head that I was particularly on that day, I am not really knowledgeable of how smooth or rough that ride had been. Stress and another long 3-day workweek had left their mark on me, causing me to get sucked under whenever not in motion. But that sleep was not only sorely needed, but its necessity would be augmented by our first activity.

Because we would not be able to check into the room until 4 anyway and it would close down by then, we jumped straight out of the car after a 2-hour ride and walked onto the Battleship North Carolina. It’s actually the USS North Carolina, but is more popularly called “the battleship”. De-commissioned in 1947, this vessel was sailed into Wilmington’s Cape Fear River where it has become a permanent tourist attraction, after having carried troops serving in World War 2.

These kinds of activities continue to fascinate me, as they allow me to experience objects I have only read about and am thus unable to accurately visualize. They do present an audio tour, but I gather this was largely useless as one would find it difficult to navigate the phone’s app while also focusing on walking in there. But the signs onboard are plentiful and give lots of first-hand information. She had warned me that the walking and climbing would be strenuous, and the low ceilings and tight passages added to a sense of claustrophobia. But I was still amazed by the size of that ship, and its solidity: there were parts on the main deck where it sounded like I was walking on a normal floor rather than a ship’s deck. We descended at least two slightly unnerving ladders whereupon I had to attempt not to go too quickly and overrun her while also noting that someone might be approaching from above, and that I should be aware that head could meet padded metal as I arrived at the lower level. We also came back up to the main level and went up a couple more levels as well. It was.. fun, says everything but my back and legs.

We saw the mess areas with tables secured in place, the fairly large kitchens and butcher rooms that fed the troops, the crazy sleeping accommodations for folks who had to wash, with beds in what must have been a steamy laundry area, and for the majority of troops who bunked five high on what felt like shelves with limited padding. We read that some chose to sleep on the deck instead but this came with its own risks, primarily being splashed with salt water as the ship turns. And of course officers and higher-level staff lived largest, with cabins that had private baths and sitting areas. While the ship did have a lot of space, I still couldn’t imagine living onboard with a couple thousand people and trying to navigate on rolling seas. Probably the tightest thing we did though, and one that had me questioning my sanity, was to wriggle into the gun turret. It was cool though, because everything became completely quiet and one could envision sitting on that perch and having such a commanding view of the war theater. What that meant in the end of course is a far sadder thing to contemplate.

One funny incident did occur. While standing stationary in one of the open areas, she suddenly began talking. Thinking she was speaking to me, I said something. Then, a six-year-old girl said “oh, is he blind? I’ll explain what’s going on in here.” We thought this was such a nice gesture, and I continue to marvel at how much more open-minded these kids are than those of my generation.

This tour largely made up Thursday’s substance. Afterward, we ate at Kickback Jack’s where I gorged on one of their delicious burgers. Then I passed out on that hotel room’s uncomfortable couch for nearly an hour and still slept like a rock that night. You do that and tell me if it doesn’t do you in!

Continued in part 2, as this is fairly long.

Going Virtual: On A Different Kind of Job Fair

having attended grad school, supposedly, has many perks. One of these, of course, is that one is able to establish connections and learn of events that will help to launch his or her desired career. For the past couple of weeks, I had been preparing for such an occurrence: the Bender Virtual Job Fair for persons with disabilities, that I learned about via my Queens University Career Counselor. They put this fair on through a platform called CareerEco, which seems to do this on a regular basis for organizations and entities like universities that wish to present opportunities to a wide variety of students all online.

One thing I did like about this Career Eco platform is that they clearly attempt to make sure that everyone will be able to use their website and its chatrooms easily, through tutorials on screen-reader usage and recommended technologies. It is heavily suggested that Windows with Firefox and NVDA be utilized when participating in the chats, as one is most able to hear the incoming sounds as recruiters and others send them public or private messages. But being the maverick that I am, I kind of figured I could probably still make it work with my Mac, which I’ve now owned for a little over a year and am making fairly decent progress on I should add.

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I know, I will likely install Windows 10 on here someday soon, because yes there are some things that the Mac definitely does not do as well. In this case though, I would say that it did ok.

First, I put in a nearly full day at the day job, which I of course will retain while considering other options. The challenge with this decision though is that by the time I launched the site, at around 3:15, many of the recruiters had indeed already taken off. Some had indicated that they would be around later in the day, but as I figured they began shutting down around 12 PM. The fair went from 9 AM till 6 PM after all, and there were probably only so many attendees. Plus, well you’d naturally need to take a break from the screen for a while.

That being so, I still managed a couple of brief conversations. I spoke with someone at the Federal Aviation Administration, because we all know I”m a travel junkie and would love to find a position within this federal agency. I also chatted with a Walgreens rep who noted that most of the positions for which they were specifically hiring were somewhere in Illinois, but that I could try and get on at any store. Walgreens does have a good track record of hiring people with disabilities, so we shall see.

I wanted to see about talking to Apple, but their person had closed up shop by the time I arrived. I’m not certain how much of a retail person I could be, and the Apple stores are fairly loud, but it did look like an interesting path to explore. It’s ok though, just because the fair is over the potential connections do not have to be.

Finally, I spoke with and looked up information on the organization itself: Bender Consulting. They have an interesting story: founded by a woman with disabilities who seems passionate about helping more of us achieve competitive, no pity employment. I am definitely going to continue looking into that and gaining a fuller understanding of what exactly they do.

I would say that on the whole, the online job fair was a unique and good experience. A couple of big advantages it has over in-person fairs is that one, that one being me, is able to hear everything that is said with ease, even as the crowd ebbs and surges, depositing questions and seeking answers. The other, as touted by the ad itself, is that everyone is able to present on a more level playing field, without regard to dress, obvious disability status, and/or lacking of linguistic and other bodily cues that recruiters might consider. Of course, if one were invited into an in-person interview, he or she would then need to present well in these areas, but I suppose it at least allows the conversation to be started.

So with that opening shot, my career preparations are now fully underway. I am getting a number of irons in the fire at the same time, and hopefully something will take shortly. Every little experience helps in firming me up for that to occur.

Have you gone to a job fair recently? If so, what kind of connections came out of it? I did become curious about who put on the first such event, and the answer to this question is hard to find. Do you know?

Read It And Share

Already a month since I’ve darkened these pages? Oops? I had intended for once a week, but I guess adjusting to this new life has caused that to temporarily fall off of the table. I shall make no further promises of the sort, but well we’ll just see what happens.

In today’s post, I thought I would discuss a big way that my wife and I are merging and/or sharing hobbies: that of consuming the written word. As I’ve noted before, I have to remember that allowing parts of myself to be shared with my partner and her with me is probably one of the most important things we can do for each other. Not as easy as it should be for one who has largely grown up in his own bubble most of the time.

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In addition to, and derived from, many of the NPR stories I referred to in the linked post, I have generated a vast love for reading. I like to think, perhaps wrongly but whatever, that I now have a decent understanding of the kinds of books those closest to me might enjoy. In an attempt to introduce my wife to the joys of reading for pleasure (she helps kids learn to read for academic reasons with the idea that it might extend to pleasurable consumption and does a great job at that) I opted for a title that is considered Young Adult (YA). Not too complicated or long and easily relatable to those of us who grew up in low-income households. This book is entitled Piecing Me Together, by Renee Watson.

The gist of Watson’s story is that mentoring can be a powerful, but also challenging, way to help bring people up. We follow Jade, a 16-year-old living in supposedly rough North Portland, Oregon. Jade already has aspirations to attend college, but her main immediate goal is to visit a Spanish-speaking country in the school’s study abroad program. Every chapter is given a Spanish title in fact with its English translation.

The story gets more complex as Jade encounters racism in the stores, is fat-shamed, and generally made to question her very essence. One of the school’s staff, Mrs. Parker, recommends Jade to a program called Woman To Woman, where persons are paired with mentors who also attended the elite school to which Jade has been admitted. Maxine, her mentor, has all kinds of difficulties herself that revolve mostly around relationships and job choices. This of course effects her interactions with Jade as well.

I like the pacing of the book: even as a somewhat difficult topic one still enjoys the humor that is throughout the story. I also appreciate the many references to Jade’s bus rides and the people she meets onboard, one of whom turns out to be a really good friend until their relationship also hits some snags. I often end up reading the bus ride scenes as I take my own commute with people who are all familiar to each other and now to me as well.

Every time my wife reads it for a bit, she manages to shoot way past me and I must then catch up. She still has surprisingly good comprehension of the content, probably due to having to learn scan-reading for academic purposes. I, on the other hand, must pick my way along slowly. But the important thing is that we are taking this in together, and it gives us something else to discuss beside life’s usual stressors. She has suggested that we do a classic, a biography and a historical nonfiction piece of some kind, and I am down with this idea.

This is not our first attempt at such an endeavor. We started Kindred, by Octavia Butler, way back in 2015 (boggles my mind that it’s been three years already!) but then life intervened. Butler is also well known for her ground-breaking science fiction meets black history stories though, and if you haven’t read that one I would recommend it. It seems to have heavily influenced another, more recent, one that I read called Long Division, which I may have written about previously in this journal.

So we have reading, some NPR, and of course the near constant ragging over Carolina/Duke that will be especially intense at this time of year. If you have a partner now, what kinds of things are you doing to share enjoyment and de-stress together?

The Cary Characters

How often have you moved to an entirely different town. I bet I could count the amount of times I have, as infrequent as it has been. Southern Poines, PineBluff, (though that’s hardly a different town) Durham, and now Cary. I guess one might argue that Cary is not all that different from Durham, as they too are neighbors. However the vibe in this town is different, quieter, wealthier, and composed of a certain aesthetic that one rarely finds.

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For this reason primarily, I wondered how I would be perceived by those I encountered along my journeys. While I had already taken some jaunts, to the DMV to change the address on my ID card and to Bank of America to get records for my employer, my first real trip was to work this past Monday. Of course, this was accompanied by the usual lack of sleep that follows such a major transition, but if there was a saving grace for that first day, it is that I didn’t need to be there until 8.

I deduced that I could take the bus from the Cary Train station to the Regional Transit Center in Durham, where the walk to my job consists only of crossing one street. Once I acquire my ID, I hope to finally get paratransit, the Cary Door To Door service specifically, to drive me to that station, but for the time being I have taken Lyft. On Monday, this proceeded mostly quietly, without me meeting anyone but managing to board the bus with minimal assistance from a station worker. But on Tuesday, when traveling at my more normal time of 6:30 in order to be at work by 7, I spoke with another individual who says she works for the EPA. She told me what I’d thought, that having Door To Door drive me to the train station and catching the bus, as she does, should be cheaper than having them drive me all the way to the plant. This local Cary service will do the latter if I need them to, only for work or medical reasons which I think I have already noted, but it is priced at a different tier.

Another, true, reason why I do hope I can still at least partially ride the bus is that it keeps me from being completely isolated. I don’t mind paratransit and all that, of course, but on the bus I tend to encounter a wide variety of folks who can help me make connections known and unknown. Already, the individual I noted earlier has introduced me to others she knows along the route. These could make me aware of more community resources around here, and more importantly I guess, other potential areas of employment.

Speaking of that, my return to the shop has actually been great. I was welcomed with open arms by those I knew and some I don’t actually remember, but all of their salutations were appreciated nonetheless. I have also been placed back in light sticks, my previous section, which makes me exceedingly happy. They modernized the systems during that short period I was gone as well, with an online program that allows viewing of pay stubs, time off, and other HR/pay-related issues. I have yet to be shown how this works, but it will be a major advantage to be able to keep track of such things myself. They also send out email with internal office positions to which one can apply, and I have already seen two that I would like. The only issue is you have to have worked for, either sixty or ninety, I forget the exact number of days, before you can apply for one of these. This is okay though, as I feel buoyed by the fact that I will know when such options come down the pipe, along with the fact that the HR staff were so supportive of me and my ambitions to have some kind of career.

Of course getting such a career to take off would only help my marriage, which is thus far off to a nice start. I had been told by many that once one marries, he feels and becomes more adult. I would like to think that this is the case for me, though I also freely admit that I have a lot of work to do on myself before I’m really where I wish to be. But I am, we are, having fun with each other, and even though she has resided here for nearly three years in many respects we are both still getting used to this place and all it has. One thing I really enjoyed is a jaunt to a local Mexican restaurant with her sister this past Friday, where we were mostly able to converse, and I chowed down on a beef taco, chicken burrito and beef enchilada. That and so many other things leave me with lots to look forward to as we continue to try and sort this whole thing out.

A SkyView Wedding

Some argue that the three most seminal events in one’s life are when one is born, marries, and dies. Well perhaps we could add “has children” to that, but that differs from person to person.

Anyhow, I have done the second of these, and am now married. Prior to my own, I think I’ve only been to four weddings, my Aunt’s, sisters, my cousin’s, and my now sister-in-law’s. And they’ve all been quite different from one another, as people nowadays see opportunity to put their own stamp on the proceedings.

Most ceremonies are preceded by a rehearsal on the night before, as ours was on Friday the 26th. Before going over to the venue, Skyview On Hay, we had a wonderful dinner at Grandsons Restaurant, wherein I consumed meatloaf, two fried chicken legs, green beans, Mac and cheese, and iced sweet tea. The only minor sadness was that the piece of Black Forest cake, chocolate with Cherry in the middle, was tiny. But honestly after all that food, it’s not like I could put away much more.

The rehearsal goes fine, and we were able to meet the DJ and photographer before practicing our walk down the aisle. The plan was for me to accompany my pastor from the church in Southern Pines that my mom attends, and where I went for many years.

But on this night, the pastor is not there, so my cousin’s wife takes me on the stroll. I mostly wonder about pacing, and joke that I’ll just run down and take my spot. We are accompanied by standard wedding music, but the bride marches to Why I Love You, by Major, a beautiful song that actually has a similar rhythm to the traditional “Here Comes The Bride” that is usually played. We don’t actually practive the vows, though I kind of end up wishing we could have, as told later.

After this, we make our way back to the hotel we have chosen, due to its being located near several restaurants and a Walmart, and meet my cousin and his wife in their room. Here, they throw us an impromptu bachelor/bachelorette party in which silly items are exchanged and laughs are had. I also get a delicious cupcake that is decorated with toothpick type things that say “I do”. I eat most of it, but become acutely aware of the mess I am making on my dress clothes, which are not the tux I will wear for the ceremony, but are nice nonetheless. The constant photos taken this week mean that I must look “the part” throughout.

Sleep for me is not a problem, as the day and truthfully the whole year prior finally catch up to me and suck me under. Once I wake good she has left to have hair done, so I relax by watching the 6 AM news and reading some. Then we head to breakfast at the Cracker Barrel with some of our closest friends. I know that a good coffee is probably needed, it won’t do to fall asleep mid-ceremony after all, and so I get this with Grandma’s Pancake breakfast, including two of those, eggs scrambled with cheese, three sausage patties all of which I do not eat, and hash brown casserole. The restaurant’s noise level is such that I am able to at least moderately participate in conversation, which is saying something for these establishments. I then went up to chat some with my cousin, the only one of us who decides against waking so early, and finally head down to the room to continue contemplation and meditation.

Tux on, because it is easier than carrying it over to SkyView, we complete the ride over during the 12 PM hour, mostly in silence. And yes, we know we have violated the tradition of not seeing one another before, but figure that TECHNICALLY SPEAKING, I am not seeing her prior. Ah well, it makes things a lot easier logistically, and if that causes us issues we probably had bigger fish to fry.

It is as I sit at the “sweetheart” table and listen to things being prepared that the nerves really begin kicking in. Until, in walks my father with donuts and stories, the latter which we also take into the “Vault” (this particular wedding venue was formerly a bank” and chat with the other guys in the party. And because we seemed to be relatively closed off from everyone else and I could use the stress relief, I pull out my iPhone and fire up the UNC Tar Heels game with NC State. We all cheer and moan as time winds down, with the game ultimately going to overtime and my Heels losing. (Ah, the Carolina-Duke rivalry is one of the things to which my wife and I are most looking forward, as she is sadly on the other side).

At approximately 2:50, someone signals us to exit the vault and I stand there with my father, wondering if he will indeed walk me down. As it turns out, my pastor has not shown up for some reason. We thus do as in rehearsal, and I just walk with my cousin’s wife. My wife’s father was to be the pastor for only the second half of the ceremony, but he goes ahead and starts. Most goes as expected. Our friend again sings those songs, even better both as it is the real thing, and the sound system is more fully set up. A prayer is said, then her dad reads 2 Corinthians Chapter 13, I think, the one about love, faith, and charity. We say words to each other, mine about her ability to both inspire me to aim higher in serious conversations and our side-splitting silliness borne of similar imaginations, and hers of the continued journey that started with our friends long ago, and especially on a fortuitous trip to Daytona Beach. For this reason, we may choose this place as our honeymoon destination later in April, assuminbMiami is overpriced. But who knows.

The vows. Well, I said most of them easily and well enough. But then there was a phrase I wasn’t expecting, and my hearing makes it difficult for me to pick up out of the blue statements like that. That was a little embarrassing, but ah well. Then I was concentrating on the act of having the ring placed on my finger, the wrong one as it turns out, and didn’t realize zi needed to repeat after him and say he words that solidify it as a symbol of marriage. He simply said “Say With This ring I be wed,…” and all was well. I guess I felt a little better though as even he had a small glitch, assigning us both an entirely new last name: “Everybody, please welcome Mr. and Mrs. Campbell!” This drew amusement from all.

Y’all, do we really have to have the picture-taking part? It’s torture! We spent nearly an hour naturally-but-unnaturally walking, kissing, holding hands, leaning in, combining and recombining participants, and yes even laughing. Nah it wasn’t that bad, I actually enjoyed the entire day. I was, however, glad to finally step out into the fresh air for a bit.

Our first dance was Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud, which has a great deal of significance to both of us. That really long wedding dress which I must have stepped on like 30 times meant we could only rock back and forth, and she admitted to feeling strange as every eye in the place was on us. I felt great though as I consumed food catered by Fuller’s Restaurant: baked chicken legs, delicious rice and gravy, Mac and cheese, green beans, corn, and a roll. This topped off by two welcome glasses of lemonade, as all that picture-taking parched me.

And that was most of the substance of it. The best man, (my cousin) and maid of honor, (her sister) did give nice speeches, as well as both of our parents. By that point, exhaustion was definitely setting in, and so I was glad when, after having the marriage license signed and witnessed, we finally took off.

And so here I am, still getting used to having this piece of metal on my finger and this wonderful individual always in my life. While our longer trip will happenlater, as I noted, we hope to take a little jaunt to Myrtle Beach this Thursday night which will help with the Winter-induced cabin fever. So, here’s to many more years and the joining of two great families.

License To Wed

Of course at this stage, the most salient thing happening in my life is my continued preparation for marriage and living in a new area. One thing I keep discovering along the way is how complex the process of creating this union is, at least in the eyes of our state and federal government (the latter barely functioning these days which may cause problems for many later, but that’s beside the point).

Anyhow, the next stage of preparation for us was to acquire a marriage license which will be completed after the ceremony, then filed to make us all legal. This process is a little more complicated for us, because the wedding will be held in Fayetteville and we are located in Cary, meaning constant back and forth driving.

So, she took off early yesterday and we headed down to the Cumberland County Courthouse, located of course in Fayetteville. First, we had to step through the metal detectors. Initially, she was uncertain whether to help me walk through, but the guy watching us told her to go ahead so I reattached and entered with no issues. I did wonder if they jammed all cell communications, because my phone began vibrating as soon as we exited the building.

Next, we located the correct room, housing the Register of Deeds. People milled about, and we stood in line for only a few minutes before presenting our ID’s to the woman behind the counter. My partner said she had been able to update her drivers license online, so the photo presented there had been taken about fifteen years earlier. This led to extended scrutiny, with the woman’s eye jumping back and forth between her and the picture on the card. Eventually though, she decided it was legitimate.

Next, we had to confirm that we were entering into the marriage willingly on both sides, which caused an issue with me because of my hearing. Once the lady was aware that I might not always pick everything up though, it seemed to get easier to do so. I found her to be quite friendly, actually.

Then came the hardest part. We had to go into another room to enter all of our personal and parental information onto a computer, including their addresses. This is a challenge, as it is not something about which one usually thinks from day to day. You have to remember to list your mother’s maiden name as well. We also had some issues spelling Mecklenburg County, as well as the street on which my father currently resides (I hope I got that right in the end).

Then it was back out to present to our friendly counter lady for verification and signature. Once we got everything spelled correctly, I then had difficulty signing. They didn’t mind me making a mark, as long as it was reproducible . Where the problem really arose was in my inability to remain in the correct line, as I slid down into the area that says “do not sign here”. She finally worked out that I should just sign against a ruler, which would keep me mostly straight. I keep saying I will get another signature stamp, as it would make this process a lot more painless, but I also blame said stamps for the loss of my ability to make a good signature. I had learned it once long ago, and most times at least I could keep it within the line without any sort of guide. But then I had a stamp for four years. Signatures are definitely a “use it or lose it” thing for me, but perhaps I can re-learn it.

After a final verification, we were done! She then explained how we need to wrap everything up post-wedding, which is going to involve at least one more trip down there. Just another piece in the endless and slightly unnerving paperwork with which I must contend in order to get this thing started.

Apart from the actual marriage, other things are going well also. I have accepted the offer to return to my old job at LC Industries pending a drug testt, which I already knew would happen. No worries there, of course. I hope I can get the same position I had before, but well we shall see. And, I am ever-so-slowly adapting to Cary. I wish they could expand bus service to this town, as after 10 AM it is difficult to get into Durham, but I have already sort of covered that ground. I know I will be able to at least get to work somehow until I get all of the paratransit stuff sorted out, which will also be fun as they have residency requirements, and are not answering their phone. All will be well though.

I hope you are finding this part of my story interesting. We are looking forward to applying a big seal this coming Saturday and celebrating along with family and friends. I will probably document the big moments therein on next Monday.

Let It Snow… Or Maybe Not

So, my time as a Charlotte resident, middle transition as I’ve called it, will come to an unexpected end. This is because we have recently been pounded by a fierce (yes, for us Southerners) snow storm that has ground everything to a halt. I was only able to work this past Tuesday, and even though they had opened the place on Wednesday I could see via the forecast that going in would only make for a circus return home around 10 AM. They also called off today and tomorrow already, due to excess ice at the location.

I stepped out front here though, and there is surprisingly little ice and strong sunshine. This is welcome news, as cabin fever is taking over. Pondering if I can get out of here and go somewhere? We shall see.

Oh, how this Winter is different from the last. I remember spending most of the previous January basking outside on the strip of restaurants near my Durham apartment, as temps were usually in the upper 60’s to low 70’s. While that of course is unusual, this year has also been unusual for the opposite reason. Last night, we dropped into the teens yet again. It would not surprise me if this month has had more days with teen or single-digit temperature readings than any other. We’ve spent a lot of it at least as cold as, or in some cases warmer than, some parts of Alaska. BRRR!

So I am kind of bummed about missing those last three days of work, as it puts me in a tighter monetary situation than I had anticipated. But isn’t that the way life works most of the time? We make plans, and God laughs? I am at least seeking to make productive use of this time, as I have re-applied to LC Industries in Durham and am waiting to hear back. Next, I have to try and sort out transportation in Cary, hopefully utilizing a paratransit service local to that area. It says they will take me into Durham or Chapel Hill if I need work or medical appointments, so there.

I am also thinking more broadly, and trying to figure out how or if I’ll get to use this Master’s Degree I spent a couple of years obtaining. I do now have the document certifying its completion, and it is still thrilling to put my hands on it.

And not much else. Of course I’m already reading strong out of the gate, what else is there to do when one is basically marooned for three days. Already completing books 3 and 4, the latter being Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward. She also wrote Salvage The Bones, and both of these titles are set in a fictional Mississippi town where we see people living in hard-to-imagine poverty up to and after Hurricane Katrina. She is a really talented writer, having received multiple awards for each of these books. So I will go ahead and dive back in, after perhaps finding something to eat.

If you too were blanketed by snow, I hope that your power is on and warmth persists. I know I am fortunate to at least be in a place where I am not freezing, as some are. Amazingly, I have just over a week till marriage, so my next post will likely be from the other side. Wish us well.