Do Unto Others..

For several years, I have been the beneficiary of an organization called the Community Empowerment Fund. These folks, located in Chapel Hill and Durham, are primarily interested in helping people to either avoid or recover from homelessness, but they tend to do anything that will improve the community at large. As noted several times, I had been exposed to them during my rough transition from grad school at UNC to having to head back home while awaiting my next job position. The advocate (student volunteer) was so giving of her time and very friendly that it left me feeling like I needed to find a way to pay this service forward someday.

Well as it happens, that day has apparently come. I am not sure of the entire background, but at some point another blind individual ended up interacting with this organization because he wished to acquire computer skills so that he could continue searching for employment. The advocates, in attempting to figure out how to address this situation, asked the organization’s director, and she happened to remember my name. Emails and calls were made, and finally I arranged to meet this individual the past weekend to determine if I could render at least basic computer skills.

First, I had to find the energy to power me through such an endeavor. I had on Friday sat in front of my machine to write up a project for graduate school whose results I am still uncertain of. It was challenging, and took nearly 3 hours to complete. It may have been useful though, as I generated a Strategic Communication Plan that could help me in increasing membership in the Norrie Disease Association based on a theory from the text. We shall see how much of that I can actually implement, though, but the learning is ongoing. In any event, I hope to have maintained a good enough grade in the course.

After all that, I did manage to peal myself out of bed by 11 AM on Saturday for our 1 PM appointment. Fortified with breakfast, I “Lyft”ed across town to the apartment, a cozy dig on the second floor of a building in a retirement community. We made a little small talk, and I got down to business.

As far as instruction goes, I found I actually enjoyed it. Our first “lesson” was on how to get into Gmail, make it more accessible by switching it back to the basic interface, delete messages, and download and locate attachments. Because he has only the demo version of the Jaws screen-reader currently, I even installed NVDA, a free program that does much of the same, at least basic, things that the far more expensive Jaws does. The only issue is the ESpeak voices, so I’m pondering a solution to that dilemma.

I found that I was relatively patient, and could usually come up with alternative explanations when my initial wording didn’t make sense to him. I would let him hear me walk through the steps once, then pass the PC over to him so that he could try them as I observed. It was a bit of a task, but he seemed to get it by the time I prepared for departure. He is quite intelligent, I think possessing a Ph.D., but still very much in the process of adjusting to blindness which he acquired a few years ago.

“Can I return in two weeks?” I asked.

A weighted pause told me that he really wants me to come back sooner than that, so I scheduled next Saturday at 1. I am working on designing a cheaper way of getting to his residence, but should be able to bus to Franklin Street and then get a ride hailing service from there for less than being transported all the way from here. Needless to say, it is an honor to have been seen as doing so well to be asked back so soon, and boosts both my confidence and feelings of competence. I am looking forward to seeing just how creative and instructional I can be here, in an area I enjoy and know quite a bit about. It could be the beginnings of a great new idea for me. Who knows?

The AftermatThEw

It was this time a short week ago that I and my state’s many other residents were hunkered down, wondering just how crazy things might get. The thing is, even though North Carolina is one of the most hurricane-prone areas to live in the world, it had actually been something like 17 years since we had a recognizably bad one rumble through. This, along with the fact that our newscasters had initially thought the storm would miss us entirely, led to something of a lack of preparation.

Well I was as prepared as one could expect, I guess. I had food till Monday and even some meals that could be consumed without power, which I’m fortunate never to have lost. Mainly as the rain poured and did saturate the porch area that runs the length of these apartments as is common during such incidents, I sat inside and finally completed my digital presentation. There wasn’t much else to do, after all.

The real damage line occurred starting east and south of me, from the capital of Raleigh southward. And as is common during hurricanes, things actually got a lot worse after the main body had long since passed on but while the waters made their way downstream, inundating communities from Lumberton to Greenville and points in between. Pretty much any riverside town in the eastern portion of the state has had and is still having a tough time. My heart goes out to all of those folks.

The amazing thing is in my neck of the woods, you could hardly tel anything had happened by the following Sunday. The sun was out strong, and every restaurant was filled to capacity with people fleeing cabin fever imposed from the day before.

That weather reminded me of another storm, one that did have a much greater impact on where I resided: hurricane Hugo which slammed into Charlotte in 1989. That time as this one, the newscasters had told us that the storm would miss us. That time, we’d lost power for nine days and were forced to find various ways to get food and even to pass the time, since schools had also closed for a while. Though our home was not significantly damaged, it still gave me a bit of a taste of what some are experiencing as they try to recover from this. We spent hours of backbreaking work removing tree limbs from the yard and helping neighbors do the same. We also had to retrieve our understandably skittish cat, which had soared across the front yard and onto someone else’s window who took him in. I don’t know why we hadn’t had the good sense to bring the poor guy inside.

The idea of suddenly losing everything though largely lies beyond my ability to imagine it. It certainly has me contemplating what kind(s) of evacuation strategies I could use if I really did have to, and I’m not sure I know those answers entirely.

The ironic thing is I had just completed a book called The Weekenders, by Mary Kay Andrews. In it, a family makes its yearly summer sojourn to a beach town (fictional I think) of Bell Isle off the coast of North Carolina. All kinds of drama ensues with the really dirty husband, rebellious teen-aged girl, a man who seeks to reunite with the “wife” and main character, and a number of other side plots. I enjoyed it because of its shouting out nearly every section of our state, with the main character having been an anchor at WRAL in Raleigh, and attending UNC. The most relevant part though was the town being rattled by a hurricane around Labor Day. Andrews shows how this experience would be different now in the smartphone era, with constant emergency alerts and immediate awareness of mandatory evacuation. Matthew was my first experience in this era, and I was indeed launched out of bed by one of those loud! very vibratory alerts. I think they are great though, and they do keep me informed.

I think that should be the last storm for us all year, and definitely hope so for the sake of those who will be mopping up for a good while. Have you ever lived through a hurricane? What do you remember about it?

A Quick Highlight Post: Beach, iPhone, and Life

You, dear reader, have not been forgotten. But my free time sure has. Never have I been as busy as I am these days, with something going on nearly all the time. Such was my wearing out this past Friday night that I slipped under at 12:30 AM and didn’t really surface until 1 PM on Saturday, numb and groggy. Man, I know this amount of umph is going to be required in order to move forward, but it’s taking its toll.

So, I’ll bring you a fairly short post, with something more substantive at the end of 2017, once I emerge from graduate school. On that front, I’ll admit I’m getting a bit more nervous. Made an 86 on week two’s major project in my current class, COM 613: Constructing Messages and Audiences. Man oh man, the requirements are stepping up and I’m kind of slow in catching up. We have a major project due every other week though, and I’ve just submitted the most current, a presentation. Not sure what to expect, but trying to remain calm and rest in the fact that I’m doing the best I know how. Will that be good enough? Who knows.

What was good was my birthday retreat, (Annual? well I don’t know about all that but for the second year in a row at least). This time to Myrtle Beach. The hotel property, the Patricia Grand, was just ok I suppose, but it was difficult to find places at that time as everyone had the same idea of going for and end-of-summer hurrah. And we were due to get yucky weather in the lee of a tropical storm, but it held off till Monday and the sun shone pleasantly nearly the entire time. The main issues were that breakfast was a bit plain, the housekeeper had a big attitude problem and never came back because we weren’t immediately ready for her, and it is built such that the halls are open-air, meaning all the ambient noise comes in as one is atempting to sleep. But, we managed. A bit of amusement occurred in the form of a woman from Indiana who felt the need to approach as we walked along the ocean and proclaim this as “the greatest thing ever!” We’re guessing that was her first ever beach trip.

I went with my girlfriend, just as we had to Wrightsville the prior year, but this time my cousin and his wife also accompanied us. A couple of dinners, college football (for us) and shopping (for them) made for fun minglings. She also got me a nice duffel bag to replace the UNC bag I’d had for only 2 weeks before it acquired a mysterious hole! This thing is on wheels, and is a different shade of blue but one that will allow for easy retrieval from a train or plane compartment. I love travel-related stuff.

And of course these days, I never travel anywhere without my trusty iPhone. That’s right, we’ve just passed the four (4!) year mark of my having this thing, and the amount of stuff I can now do with it continues to increase and impress the heck out of me. Even when on the way to our hotel, her phone suddenly stopped working and I had to quickly pinch hit with GPS directions. Also thanks to apps like TuneIn, I can listen to just about as many sporting events as one who has a satellite radio these days. (Bummed that my darn Panthers lost again, already exceeding last season’s total). Then there’s the usual: books, movies, NPR, and on and on. Finally, I can record my presentations for class on an app like Bossjock and upload them to SoundCloud, as per requirements. This may well be the only accessible way of doing so. So tech continue to lead us onward and upward.

And now my final note: on the Life Coach whom I also found via that phone and its ability to search local ads for my queries. We had our first official session this Monday, after which I lost my debit card, deactivated it, and seconds later had a neighbor knock on my door having retrieved it. That debacle taught me I should have pressed the “Lock” button on my banking app to hold purchases, thus giving myself time to see if the card could be located. Anyhow back to the session: it went well. She concurs with my “long” goal of trying to get into NPR, and we will start to fashion some kind of plan to at least start me down that road. She also worked with me on physical body language: posture, the amount of space I take up, the kinds of things blind folks don’t often ponder but unfortunately to our peril. People do not consciously decide not to hire on the basis of such things, but I imagine the underlying biases formed there are extremely hard to overcome. So the more I can know going in, the merrier right?

And that’s about all I’ve got for now. Busy busy bee, when’s my next I need another vacation now. What’s happenin’ on your end?

Antithesis to 9/11 Attackers: On Cross-cultural Connection

In the U.S., we are approaching a horrible anniversary: a day on which 3,000 people were lost in an attack on buildings in New York and Washington D.C. I, as do many I’m sure, have vivid memories of what I was up to that beautiful pre-Fall day.

The night prior, I had been told some things by a person whom I called my ex-girlfriend, but, well, read this entry for hints. Anyway, she made some comments about my sociability or lack of that I perceived as having merit, and so I felt a little sad as I drifted off.

On the day in question, I showered in the communal bathroom at my UNC Charlotte dorm, then headed back into my room where I flicked on the Today Show as usual. When I heard talk of a plane striking the World Trade Center, my initial thought was “how tragic for the pilot. Or perhaps he or she will have managed to survive.” You see, I thought that it was a small plane or some sort. But the seriousness of the shows hosts’ voices, along with the fact that the jovial background music that usually accompanies stories had been turned off caused me to freeze, deodorant in one hand, clothing in the other, as the depth of the situation hit me.

The rest of that day passed in a confusing fog of oddly relevant coursework on building community, dealing with stress after major traumatic events, and the like. I felt bad being even the least bit happy as buildings in those cities burned, taking with them businesses and lives. By nightfall, I was just glad to slip into the relative obscurity of sleep, with the erie silence of the skies seeing me off (I could usually hear airliners passing from that location).

One of my most vivid memories happened on the following day. As I sat in the lobby of an academic building, an individual from Saudi Arabia plopped down in the seat beside me and began near-breathlessly imparting his story of how he had come here to get a degree in Engineering. He talked of likes and dislikes, hobbies, and related vric a vrac. I think his intention was to show that not all Muslims or Arabs harbored desires to act in this way, as well as to counter the isolation and discrimination he may already have been experiencing in the wake of the attack.

Fast-forward about 10 years to 2011. I was at the University of North Carolina, in the graduate program then known as Rehabilitation Counseling and Psychology but now having some other name with the acronyms CRMH. I had been working all day to gather research for my Thesis-style paper (which I never finished, but that’s another story) and so after listening to one of the last Space Shuttle launches, I gathered my things and prepared to exit that academic building.

“Do you need help?” I heard an accented voice ask.

Not really,” I replied, “but I always welcome the company.”

So this woman, who turned out to be from Lebanon, walked with me to the bus stop and gave me her number, indicating that she wanted to meet up for coffee someday. We had many good times together: going to a music festival at Chapel Hill’s University Mall and having beer and burgers with her co-workers, shopping in that mall and tasting wine in Southern Season (I joked that she would have to carry me out if I consumed another drop,) and attending two services at the Greek Orthodox church of which she was a part (once my left-side hearing aid died at the service’s end, a huge disaster!)

SIDENOTE: I know that was a really long sentence, but I hear William Falkner did it, so so can I!

The last time we met, a day before she ventured back to Beirut to take a professorial position after having completed a post-doc at UNC in some pathology-related field, was on September 11, 2012, which has always struck me as ironic. I had attempted to persuade her to stay here, but she wanted more than anything to return to her culture. I suppose I can understand that.

On that day, she gave me some grocery money that I half-heartedly tried to refuse but did really need then, took me to Chick FilA for a sandwich and their delicious waffle fries, and left me on my doorstep with a hug and good-bye. We only talked a couple of times thereafter, having vowed to stay in touch but well one knows how that goes. The last time I spoke to her was August of 2013, and I hope only that whatever became of her that she managed to prosper. I thank her for being willing to interact with someone who is so obviously different.

And there in lies the main point of my post: differences of race/ethnicity, be they sociologic or, to a lesser degree, biologic, do exist and this is fine and should be celebrated. My issue is when people use these differences to needlessly hate, dismissing people simply based on skin color or other attributes, like ability/disability, that are readily apparent. Because at the heard of it, we all want the same things: to love and be loved, live as we want in work and play, and survive. I know these words are often repeated, but will continue to do so until these basic understandings are more widely held, praying that such a thing happens someday.


Welcome to September! The ninth listed month of the year, but with some astrological origins that make it more like the sixth or seventh month in that particular calendar, hence the prefix Sept. Oct, Nov, and Dec indicate eight, nine, and ten respectively. I searched Google, and at least in the relevant Wikipedia article it was difficult to ascertain the entire origin of these designations, yet they are interesting to me nonetheless.

The most important element of September, and of all other things of course, is my date of birth. This makes it the year’s BEST MONTH, and I congratulate any others who have had the good fortune to be born therein. I kid, obviously. But I do love this time of year, for as I spoke of in the previous entry, it is a time of newness and potential.

I find it hard to believe that I am turning thirty-seven (37!), goodness, and am therefore entering my 38th year. God willing, this will be a year of huge change, or at least making a significant effort to get my bow pointed n the right direction and start sailing through the waters toward whatever my destination should actually be.

As such, I’m going to attempt something different. I will look into obtaining the services of a Life Coach, someone who I suppose will provide me with insights and strategies that will help clarify what on earth I want to do and how I will do it. To that, I say good luck to this individual! Because I have found that to be a nearly impossible task throughout my adulthood, even though without question this past year has been the best I’ve experienced since the conclusion of undergraduate study.

To determine if I can afford and will fit with this person, I will meet someone named Beth Livingstone in a free consultation, which she says should be beneficial in and of itself. This meeting will happen on Friday. I am uncertain if I can budget such that I can make the initial rates, though she says we can talk about what the final ones will be. So, I will do that. Nothing to lose, right? In any event, this should be interesting. Not psychotherapy, but hopefully I don’t need anything quite that aggressive. But without question, I have been kind of spinning my wheels for far too long. Time to make some real progress!

Speaking of progress, I have just completed class 4 in my graduate school studies. I was a little disappointed to obtain only an 88 on that major project, but it was my fault as I hadn’t properly evaluated the requirements and thus came up a bit short. It was a wake-up call, anyhow. I still did perfectly fine overall, though it’s getting harder to stay motivated when there is virtually no break from one course to the next. Still hanging in there though, learning a lot and making connections.

Connection and reflection will dominate the next couple of weeks leading up to the birthday, as I will take both of these coming Fridays off and work the actual Tuesday, because it’s in the middle of the week anyway. And taking this Friday off will help with the Panthers opener being played Thursday night (they better win!) Looking forward to that.

We’ll see how all of this goes, and still waiting to get the really exciting stuff to write about again. Till then, enjoy the great outdoors for the period of time when they treat one nicest, at least in this locale.

That New … Smell

Book? Car? House? School? You name it, for some reason we have a big thing with the scent that emanates from a product at its initial use. Brings back a bit of nostalgia, right?


My new shoes. Even they smell good initially haha

Like the newscasts, I’m kind of out of material because not much is happening, but I think it a good idea to try and come up with something anyway. So let’s be all about that new life!

Currently, the scent that is wafting over me is that of freshly cut grass. That would be pleasant, except it is accompanied by lawn-mowing equipment that sound just short of jet engines. I keep ducking, in fear of being clocked by the massive tires of a commercial airliner as it wooshes by. Why hasn’t technology made this stuff quieter yet?

The one thing all of this equipment, and the fall in temperatures, does portend is the arrival of yet another season: Autumn. Yeah we still have a month officially until it begins, but already I have disabled my air conditioning probably for the year, cold-natured person that I am. I do enjoy this period of temporary refreshment though, as it always gives me the sense that the possibilities are endless. Something like back to school for adults.

And speaking of school, I’m nowwrapping up class number 4 at Queens University, all about leadership. I’ve groused some about whether I felt I would truly gain anything from this course, but in reality it is probably the most relevant I’ve taken yet as it is giving me the tools both to try and strengthen my contributions to the NDA and to prepare for some other, eventual career change.

And that likely brings me to my final point of this post: aiming to create new opportunities in this year. Thus far, I would have to say I’m disappointed with my outcome, but as the text of my graduate course helpfully points out, I have a tendency to set high, probably unrealistic, goals. But how do I figure out what IS! realistic. That, I would say, is the great struggle of my time.

Other than that, not much. Just watching as another year of my life rolls to an end (my birthday is September 13, don’t forget!) and looking forward to yet one more journey. In the 365 days since the Norie Comference, I’ve stayed in seven different hotels! No overly exotic travel, but some great trips nonetheless. I’m pretty sure that’s a NEW record for this broke man as well, and one that might stand for a while.

So, what’s new with you? Any exciting career changes? I know some of you have taken great vacations. I’d like to hear about it.

REVIEW: What Every Blind Person Needs You To Know

DISCLOSURE: I was provided an advanced copy of this book by the author so that I might give my honest thoughts regarding it. I shall do that.

I have for the past week been reading What Every Blind Person Needs You To Know, by Leeanne Hunt. This handbook is an intricate collection of scenarios that are intended to aid a novice sighted person in acquainting him or herself in best practices when interacting with an individual who is blind or low vision, and especially a family member. Each chapter is laid out in a similar fashion: Beginning with a section header (Attitudes, confidence-building, encouragement, etc), introducing it with a bit of her personal experience, and then supplementing with subsections that help clarify how one might strengthen the specified area. Finally, the section wraps up with a list of suggested questions that one can ask in order to determine the degree to which one is working to help the blind person cope with a particular life goal/area.

As one who was born blind, I find this book to be insightful. I have often wondered how persons who have to adjust to blindness later in life, what I would say is its target audience, manage to do this with varying degrees of success as I have seen). I am sure that it does help to have someone who cares enough to invest in guides such as this, as well as just going to get appropriate exposure and access to organizations that might offer further assistance.

While heavy emphasis is indeed placed on blind people within families, I think it could also be good for people who are interacting from a different social standpoint, such as a close friendship or romantic relationship. Especially if one’s condition changes once such a relationship has already begun, it could be quite important for the sighted individual to alter his or her attitude toward disability and what it is likely to mean, especially given that blindness as a disability is the most feared. If you wish to stick around and help your friend or partner, then you have first to come to grips with your own thoughts and perceptions thereof.

Anyone who grabs a copy of this book will find themselves moved by the degree to which Hunt searches herself, drawing on personal vignettes to demonstrate the concepts that she then lays out. The book even has a certain order, taking you from ancient/modern beliefs of blindness all the way through goal-setting and building hope with and among others. I have pondered whether I could construct such a piece myself, and think that she has managed to do a great job in doing so.

The book is available via Amazon at the above link as of August 16, or can be pre-ordered at the time of this entry’s posting. Please do take a look, and if it serves your needs or those of others you know, feel free to recommend.

#FridayReads On Buzz After the Moon and My Life After McNair

I have nearly completed a memoir of sorts by the astronaut Buzz Aldrin, written in conjunction with Ken Abraham, called Magnificent Desolation: Long Journey Home From The Moon. The title is a bit misleading, as it implies some not-known-about extra drama in the astronaut’s return, when really it refers to the many downs he experienced once his feet were firmly planted on Earth again.

The tale does begin with a brief look at Buzz’s and Neil Armstrong’s touchdown on the lunar surface, assuming I think that the reader is pretty familiar with their near loss of fuel in the lander, and of course that Neil was the first to exit and take “a small step” onto another world. Do not make the mistake of categorizing Buzz as the “second man” though, as he generally eschews this status, probably due to cultural baggage attached to such an assignation. After all, we Americans don’t like to lose!

One finds that the crux of the story deals with behaviors on which many may frown, and particularly alcoholism and two failed marriages. These stemmed from a deep depression that, Buzz speculates, may have been brought about by the actual trip somehow.

Whatever its origin, when an episode (he called it the “blue funk”would hit, he was rendered nearly unable to function.

This part of Buzz’s story effected me very deeply, especially as he struggled to define his life and significance after such a harrowing achievement. Most of us will never walk on the moon, but we can probably identify with the idea of reaching some peak in life and feeling that there’s no way we can best it. He kept trying though, eventually generating interesting ideas about Space travel that he worked into a Science Fiction (“I prefer to call it techno thriller” whatever that means) novel, and doggedly attempting to sell his ideas to the U.S. Congress. Not much of this was taken up, sadly, but he does start to emerge from his downers on the shoulders of a strong woman.

There is even an unexpected climax of sorts in this version of his post-lunar life. A fair warning, don’t talk to him about the possibility that no humans have actually landed on the moon, because he doesn’t want to hear it!

As I read this book, I reflected on another astronaut whose life tangentially influenced mine: that of Ronald Erwin McNair. Born in 1950, Mr. McNair received a Ph.D. in Physics from MIT and became only the second Black astronaut to travel to space. I am a bit surprised not to know the first, but should rectify that after posting. Anyway, McNair was on his second mission aboard Challenger, not the first as I had always thought, when it exploded on January 28, 1986. Everyone knows about that, primarily because of the school teacher who had also gone up. Buzz points out that after that accident, NASA was hesitant about allowing any civilians to get a seat, a point that continued to irk him for the rest of the shuttle’s “life”.

Back to the McNair story though, a program called the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate was created in his honor with the aim of helping underrepresented groups achieve success on the graduate level. I was fortunate to be awarded a spot in this program 15 years ago, and as I’ve probably said before it is that which convinced me to give grad school a second shot.

I remember the nerves of presenting at my first academic conference, and feeling I hardly knew what I was talking about. I had completed a 25 page paper on “Invisibility” among African American males, working under a great mentor. I also remember the fun travel to Georgia, (visiting three Atlanta-area universities) and Knoxville to attend a different conference at the University of Tennessee.

And, after that program, how the grad school offers rolled in. Prestigious institutions such as Duke, Brown, Stanford and UCLA wanted a piece of me, but I wouldn’t bite. It’s not hard to see how I felt that was MY peak. But I now see it as a valuable experience that shaped the backbone in me to let my “nerd” out and be proud of it. Thinking of that and reading Buzz’s story is helping me to finally snap out of my own “blue funk” that still lingered after my recent internship attempt. I’ve got the wheels turning, and think that more excitement is coming soon.

Up And Down: On My Trip to Asheville Part 2 

Quiet music tinkles on a grand piano as we step inside the restaurant. The squeak of the door, ornate, hanging chandeliers, and double-sided fireplace convey a sense of coziness and old-fashioned slowdown.

We approach the counter, (wait? No sit-down service? what’s this!) stand in line and order “a sausage egg and cheese biscuit, two cups of oatmeal, a medium orange and coffee, please.” We could just as easily have been purchasing one of those iconic sandwiches that essentially ushered in the fast-food era. That’s right, welcome to one of the most unusual McDonald’s in the US. Fancy, but yeah the food is still the same.

The acoustics are such though that we easily converse while injecting initial fuel, and deciding that seconds might not be a bad idea considering all of the walking we will be doing later. Satiated, we exit and traverse the few blocks between this location and the vastly fancier Biltmore Estate, a huge property owned at first by the Vanderbilt family on which George, a sibling living in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, constructed a castle that rivals those in Europe.


A pic of me and my beautiful girlfriend standing in front of Biltmore House

Arriving at the ticket pickup desk at 12:30, we first encounter what threatens to be a big snafu.

“Your tickets have actually been purchased for the 17th,” the rep tells us. “Will you be here tomorrow?”

Oh good grief, I think to myself, could I have made a mistake of that magnitude with so much money on the line? The strange thing is the audio device I have reserved is indeed set to be had on Saturday the 16th. They do work us in anyway at 1:30, and when I check my email in the car I verify that the mistake was not mine! Thank goodness.

Even when we get out of the car at a space, we still have to walk about 8 minutes much of it uphill to reach the actual house. It is hot, quiet, and smells like it probably did in those early days.

Audio devices acquired, which were like telephones that you hold to your ear, we enter the spacious residence. Each exhibit has a number, and if one wishes to hear the descriptions and background information about said you just enter the number into the keypad. I had only purchased one, but am happy they have also gone ahead and given her one as well. I can’t speak what they’re saying quickly enough!

And as I discover in the Billiards room, the acoustics are such that one must be careful how they speak. “I THINK I HAVE PUT IN THE WRONG NUMBER!” I say when they start talking about an Italian-themed room instead. (Well I hope I’m not speaking that loudly, but it at least sounds so, prompting her to let me know this and causing me to feel a bit silly and not speak for the next three exhibits. The thing is, I feel as if the room is empty when in actuality it is full. So I can claim environmental unawareness while also accepting that I don’t exactly differentiate between “Indoor” and “Outdoor” voice as well as I should. But, I do manage to recover a bit.

This initial room is impressive, as well as the library (10,000 of Vanderbilt’s books still exist,) a sitting room where people wait for dinner, another where dinner is actually consumed, and I think a different entertainment hall. Yes, they had too much money. Finally, on the first floor we exit to the loggia, ah c’mon the back porch! It is a nice area, with I assume fairly nice views as well.

Then inside and up the “Grand Staircase.” I think the second floor contain the Vanderbilts’ rooms, and yes they had separate ones due to the idea that he shouldn’t see her being dressed by servants. They would often meet in yet another sitting room between the two. On the third floor, the guest level, there was ALSO a sitting room where they could gather to chat, because how much else was there to do in those days? A shortcut allows for quick access to the library, so that guests could find a title of their liking to take to bed and read.

Of course pretty much nothing can be touched, due to its fragile nature. Yet as a blind person, I still feel I got a lot out of it because of the in-depth descriptions given by curators and others affiliated with the estate in some way. I wonder if other museums have audio tours in this way. And, I can still feel the immensity of the space as well.

Even with the giant fans circulating air and many windows open, (until the rains came) the place is sweltering! This and the uneven surfaces cause us to need a quick break, during which we collapse into chairs in the hall. Nearly in unison, we say “oh, my back!”

The only other thing of interest is the basement. Here, we enter the bowling alley, probably one of the first of its kind in a private residence; the pool room, where that pool was fed with water from a mountain reservoir and had to be drained after use because of course this was prior to chlorination; and the innovative laundry room, wherein clothes could be dried by placing them onto racks and sliding them into a cabinet where electric coils raised the temperatures. The Vanderbilts had much of the latest technology, including Edison lightbulbs and a more efficient kitchen for the servants to use. They note that one could learn more about the servant’s life there by getting a behind-the-scenes tour, but I would also recommend the book I am now about to finish called Maid to Match, by Deeanne Gist. As mentioned in a previous entry, much of it takes place at Biltmore, and it is a really intriguing story about a young woman who falls in love with the “useful man,” thus putting her chance of being Mrs. (Edith) Vanderbilt’s Lady’s Maid in jeopardy. It really helped me to understand a lot about how things were when I went in there, too.

Finally, we get stuck out front for a good while as those rains continue to pound. Luckily, they have sheltered benches where she meets and converses with a dogowner who has a stroller for her pets, and who has also a crown from winning some kind of Ms. East Texas. Another individual recognizes us from the trolley tour.

We make a perfunctory visit to some of the shops they have outside, including a chocolate place where I contemplate getting something but am not sure if I would like it. The café is also full, so we make our way through the last drops toward the shuttle to head back over to the parking lot.

And that about covers the interesting part of our little vacation into the hills and Asheville. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and look forward to whatever else life has in store, as well as to new and unexpected memories.

Up and Down: On My Trip To Asheville PART 1

I stated on my Facebook page that the most recent trip to the mountains was my first in 25 years. Upon reflection, perhaps this is a bit inaccurate as I’d gone to Denver in 2008. It is easy to forget the altitude of that city, because I had flown in. Also, Denver is definitely more level than Asheville, so I guess that would be another reason not to count it.

Well to generate a more correct statement, this was my first time riding into the mountains since October of 1991. On that trip, I had gone into the Smokies where North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee converge. I believe I even stood in all three states simultaneously. I walked a fun Braille Trail, which my orientation and Mobility teacher claims to have happened upon by accident but am not sure about that. I also stayed in a log cabin, ate at a fascinating country restaurant where a horse hit me in the head with its teeth as we cavorted around the barn area while awaiting our meals, and was entertained by an auction. SOLD!

One thing I had forgotten was how that drive uphill feels. As we speed away from my apartment, I key up the GPS app to monitor elevation. Durham is at approximately 500 feet above sea level. We take I-85 till it merges with 40; which, after splitting off toward Charlotte in Greensboro, pretty much carries us all the way to Asheville. Around Catawba, we are about 1200 feet above sea level. Our next major ascent occurs as we approach the edge of McDowell County, from approximately 1500 feet till about 2200 in three minutes or so. Whew! I feel this in my stomach and, more importantly, in my ears. I don’t know if the issue is permanent, but this seems to have caused my right-side hearing aid to fade out periodically until I lodge it back into my ear canal. It continues to do this throughout our stay, but (I think) is slowly returning to normal now that I am back down low. Needless to say, I dread this as a possible disaster that can ruin my weekend with her. Because it was on the right though, it was more endurable than it would have been on the left.

We level off a bit, as nothing is really level up there, in Black Mountain, and roll on into Asheville. As we arrive at our hotel, Baymont Inn and Suites, the sun is tentatively out with temperatures about 12 degrees below what they had been at our outset. She hops out to see if we can check in at the early hour of 1 PM, and is given a room. On further inspection, she discovers that this room is located near the laundry, with the sound of banging washers, dryers, and ice machines to accompany us to sleep. She rejects this location before even entering, and we are re-assigned to a better spot right near the elevator on the second floor.

After a brief respite, we decide to attempt to catch the Asheville Trolley Tour, which I discover can be done by trekking to the Asheville Visitor Center. We make the second-to-last departure, at 3 PM, and sit on slightly uncomfortable seats in a fairly open bus to take in the sights.

Don’t fear my starter,” the driver says as he hops aboard and shuts the door. I do not understand what he means until he keys the ignition and we hear what sounds like an engine that isn’t going to turn over. “It always does that trust me” he says as the vehicle finally roars to life.

It is an interesting tour, much of which I of course cannot now recall. We do pass the swanky Grove Park Inn and Spa, and I joke that I’ll check us into that one instead. We learn a lot about Thomas Wolfe, especially that he had initially been rejected by the town due to his dark portrayal of Asheville in Look Homeward Angel, a book I am slowly making my way through now. Funny though how becoming a bestselling author will change perceptions,. Now he has a plaza named after him, and tours of his residence are also available. He died of tuberculosis at a relatively young age, sadly.

The driver is humerous, and very willing to take questions. He also notes a restaurant, Little Pigs, a local BBQ joint where we opt to eat. People do indeed “hop on hop off” as you are able to do. We do not do this because the last tour has already passed, but if you can get on earlier I would highly recommend walking around downtown. They get a look at the Biltmore, but are not allowed onto the property. Finally, we roll through the campus of UNC Asheville, during which he asks us about our feelings regarding the UNC Duke rivalry. When I note that I am a Tar Heels fan and she a Blue Devil supporter, the driver says “And you’re sitting next to her?” I know, still working on correcting that minor error.

Toward the end, we discover that we could have boarded near the Doubletree Inn within walking distance of our hotel. They do note on the site though that it is best to start at the Visitor Center anyway, so I suppose all is well.

Back at the original location and having mostly missed a downpour as we schlepped along, we make the spot decision to head to Little Pigs, where we both get fried chicken legs and thighs, hushpuppies, slaw, and I think another vegetable I can’t recall. The chicken and Southern sweet tea hit the spot! I learned later through the reviews on Google Maps that they have Key Lime pie as well, and am disappointed I didn’t get a piece of that.

To wrap up the evening, we make a quick trek downtown to the music festivel that takes place every Friday at 5. The streets in that immediate area are blocked off, and the crowds large. There are a few food vendors, the the emphasis is on alcohol consumption as one can buy arm bands for $2 that allow for as much as one can handle. It does not take long for her to determine that this is not a good atmosphere for us, so we make our way back to the parking deck to head over to the hotel. This is pretty much the end of Friday. I will post about Saturday’s estate tour later.