Explaining The Sports Thing: or, why do I get so into something that doesn’t really matter?

My cousin and I are the only ones sitting at the table, our plates piled high with sloppy joe, mashed potatoes and baked beans. The headphones connected to our walkmen are plastered to our ears as we eat nervously.

The rest of the apartment’s occupants, my sisters and parents, are watching a movie in the adjoining living room. It has reached a particularly quiet, I think sad, scene, and everyone seems to be sitting wrapped in his or her own thoughts about whatever is happening onscreen.

Meanwhile, the game we’re listening to, the Charlotte Hornets vs. the Miami Heat, is winding down in the old Charlotte Coliseum. The bees trail by 3, and Glen Rice prepares to take the hopefully game-tying shot. This act itself comes with its own weight, as Rice had recently defected from the Heat team he is now trying to defeat, having departed on somewhat unhappy terms.

Rice receives the pass. The clock ticks through final seconds: 3, 2, 1.

Glen Rice for three!” our favorite announcer Steve Martin says. The buzzer sounds, crowd noise increases significantly, and Martin says “good!”

My cousin and I erupt simultaneously into hoops of joy and clapping. Once we calm down, we discover that we’ve upset the silence and everyone is a little concerned about what might be wrong with us. I’ve also lost my Walkman, as it’s been flung to the floor and the batteries dislodged, but at this moment I don’t care. He hit the shot!

I wonder why so many people get attached to team sports in this way? We sit on the clich├ęd edge of our seats, as if the outcome will cause us real harm of joy. And when did this sort of attachment really begin. Could it have existed before the presence of electronic media?

Certainly if you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed, and perhaps been a bit annoyed by, my live tweeting during sporting events. I always work not to take it too far overboard, but for me having this form of interaction definitely enhances the experience. As a blind person, I enjoy the feeling that I’m in a sort of virtual bar with people all around who somewhat unwittingly describe exactly what’s going on to me, in addition to what the radio analysts detail.

When I first began getting into sports, my favorite was professional basketball. Specifically, I loved our Charlotte Hornets until they ripped my heart out!

Ever since, though, my and seemingly much of the country’s (US of course) favorite sport seems to be American football. Go Carolina Panthers! I’ve often wondered why this is, given its violent nature and the too-high likelihood that someone will sustain a significant injury on a fairly regular basis. In the last few years though, even my mostly non-sports-watching family will allow the TV to be dominated by this pastime on major holidays like Thanksgiving, and we can all sit around and talk strategy, wins and losses, etc.

I guess that longtime junkies like myself and more recent suplicants who have folded themselves into the sports-watching universe have realized is that cheering on this sort of athletic competition allows us to get at some primal pleasure that is deeply embedded in being human. We can get a pure rush of adrenaline, have reason to swear, throw things, and otherwise blow off steam as a game reaches either a favorable or unfavorable conclusion.

Whatever the reason, I think sports represent one of the best forms of escape we have available. So if I rib you about your team, remember that it’s all in fun. And please note my law that requires that you pull for the team in the city/state/region in which you were born. No Cowboys or Skins fans allowed in North Carolina!

I think the most fun I’ve ever had at a sporting event was when I attended a Bobcats/Celtics game in Boston. This was 2005, so the Celtics hadn’t yet gotten into championship form. I was so dismayed when Paul Pierce hit the winning layup that I yelled at passing fans as we made our way out of the arena. Catching our team on the road definitely gave me a stronger sense of pride in my hometown, though.

Do you enjoy sports? Have you ever been to a game. One where your team was playing away?

This topic inspired by one of my favorite writer friends on Twitter. Feel free to suggest other stuff you’d like to see me talk about, as I work to produce regular posts. Thanks.

GPS? Oh Yes!

So tell me, am I the only oddball with like eight different GPS apps on my iPhone? Well, there’s a lot of practical reason for this. They all do slightly different things, and I can usually benefit from each at its own time.

Google Maps: This one suddenly got a lot better than it had been when I first looked. Now, it’s about on the level of Google’s map on the computer. I love the ease with which I can plug in restaurants and actually view their menus. Also being able to see a comprehensive list of places nearby finally breaks me out of the difficulty I’ve so often had in deciding where we should eat when out with a friend, an issue that has often irked said friends!

Yesterday, in fact, I’d taken a look at a lot of our local eateries as I attempted to decide where I and one of my former grad school classmates would go. I wanted to eat at Piedmont Restaurant, but some of their entrees went for $27! Also, they seemed not to have a whole lot of options. So, I ended up going with Texas Roadhouse. I wanted more of that delicious Country-fried Chicken. She had chosen pulled pork at first, but they’d run out of it. How often does a restaurant run out of one of its main menu items? So she had to settle for barbecue chicken.

And man was it loud in there, and it seemed the servers were celebrating birthdays every 3 minutes. There was also some kind of odd musical performance of which my friend was audibly relieved when it ended.

To get to that restaurant, I opted to use MapQuest. This is because while I like Google Maps for many things, I’m not yet sure how well I trust its directions yet. As I noted when I’d had someone take me to the Greyhound station to begin my Christmas vacation, Google Maps didn’t always tell me whether we were to turn left or right onto major thoroughfares. I figured the less frustration, the better.

Well, sort of. In returning home, I decided to try Seeing Eye GPS, the blindness-specific app about which I wrote back in July. I have to say that it performs a lot better now, I’m guessing due both to the fact that I now have a 4S which is better than a 4, and that they’ve probably made quite a few modifications.

The main reason I’d chosen to use it was that you can just press the button labeled “Go Home,” and it’ll take you to the place you’ve saved in that slot. Figuring out how to tell people this apartment’s address has always vexed me, since half of the people over here aren’t even sure just what it is. I can say just enter at 311 South LaSalle St, which is near the leasing office, and come on back; but sometimes that can throw people not particularly familiar with my neighborhood.

Things went well with that app, for the most part. VoiceOver tends to read most of the information though, and can sometimes oververbalize the street names. Plus I’m not sure it told us which direction we needed to go when getting on 15-501, meaning that we ended up taking one exit up to North Gate Mall, then riding back to my place on street level like the bus does. It was interesting though, because Seeing Eye called out a lot of the area businesses and every street we crossed. She also laughed at the silly sounds it makes: a turn signal when you should turn, and a three-part ascending chime when the next set of directions are to be followed.

I’ve also found out that another app, a free one no less, does a pretty good job at describing street layouts and will even point out local businesses as we pass. This one deals with transit specifically and is called Rider. It comes from a company called Transloc, and it works by connecting with your local transit agency and telling you which buses can be caught in your area. It can even give alerts for up to five minutes before a bus is to arrive at your stop.

I’m not sure with how many agencies this works currently, but they said on Twitter that they’re constantly trying to expand their presence and so if it doesn’t yet work where you are and you want it to, call your agency and ask. I liked the app well enough, though it seemed to be an even bigger battery drain than GPS units usually are. So I’d just have to be juiced up well before boarding if I wanted to use it.

And speaking of battery drain, I’ll talk about my favorite activity to do of probably anything I do with the phone, play with the maps feature on Ariadne GPS. I believe this one is a blindness-specific program too, but I’m not entirely sure on that. In any event, it does work well with VoiceOver. I love putting in cities nearby and farflung and moving my finger around the screen to discover things. It has special sounds that indicate water, very relaxing, a park or more naturalistic setting, also very relaxing, train tracks I think?, and a couple of other sounds indicating things of which I’m not entirely certain. It also, if you move your finger slowly enough, makes the sound of the character walking in what sounds like high heels. I find that amusing.

Because of this app, I finally know the answers to some questions that have always confounded me.

How is the UK laid out? Scotland is to the north of England, Wales to the west, and Ireland across the Irish sea farther to the west. There is also a body of water called the Celtic sea, I think a bit to the south of the Irish sea. Then going east from London is Esses, and to the southeast Dover and the English Channel.

I explored Egypt and its relation to the Red Sea, which lies to the East, and the Mediterranean, which is north of the country. Looking at Japan was interesting, because only the universities were labeled in English. This activity is so fascinating to me though, and when I get wrapped up in it I can go for hours.

A little of my weirdness, but perhaps one of life’s simple pleasures too. I actually hope that some of this information is helpful to other individuals who are blind, or anyone else for that matter. More later.

Book Review: Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

Note the change of my blog URL to blindtravel.net. Actually, it’s a full-feature WordPress site that I suspect will take on its own identity over time. I’m just glad I’ve gotten everything working!
I actually finished this book a week ago, but never got around to writing about it. As one who is stimulated by the idea of traveling and learning about the scenery though, I knew I wanted to read it ever since I heard the National Library Service narrator Jill Scott talking about it at the last convention of the American Counsel of the Blind.
The full title is Wild, from lost to found on the Pacific Coast Trail, by Cheryl Strayed. Even her last name, Strayed, was no happenstance. She says she chose it to reflect her wandering spirit and the attempts to find herself that were obviously a big reason why she took this trip.
The story starts with tales of life on a farm in Minnesota, getting used to a stepfather and trying to get along with her brother and sister. It progresses with she and her mother deciding to enroll in college together, though vowing to allow each other the space to develop freely, and then with her mother becoming inexplicably sick and discovering that she has advanced cancer. The conclusion of that revelation is fairly obvious, but I won’t give it away.
After these events unfolded, she felt that the only way she could get herself back together would be to take a long hike along the Pacific Crest Trail from about midway through California, up through Oregon, and ending at the Bridge of the Gods, which spans the Columbia River and connects Oregon to Washington. Along the way, she encounters a series of characters that challenged her thinking, resulted in new friendships, and on a couple of unfortunate occasions, caused her to fear for her safety.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and particularly the descriptions of what it took to trek through the snow, attempts to survive blistering walks through the sun, and other experiences the likes of which I can only imagine. I think she probably went a bit overboard with some things though, exposing the reader constantly to thoughts of sexual desire and other off-color things. However, I guess these were pretty central in her mind during that time, being alone for large stretches and having been quite a bit unprepared for the rigors this journey would exact on her body.
One of the ways she especially soothed herself was through music. I liked her talk of a “mixtape in my head,” as I definitely use this to get through most of my workdays. Some of the songs she mentioned were Texas Flood by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Box of Rain by Grateful Dead, and one called Red River Valley which I guess is some sort of folk song. I listened to all of these titles via YouTube, bringing the story a bit more to life for me.
I think this story has inspired me to someday attempt hiking our version of that trail, the Appalachian Trail. This runs from Georgia to somewhere in Maine I think, and I’d be interested in perhaps taking in at least a bit of it. I’m not sure how much of an outdoors person I am, but think that every type of travel in which I could engage could be beneficial. She definitely showed me that a lot of thought and preparation need to go into that sort of venture if one wants it to go as smoothly as possible. Heck, I suppose I’d be lucky not to be eaten by a bear.
Aside from the somewhat overboard talk of sex I mentioned earlier, there is also a pretty intense scene involving her and her brother’s attempts to put down their old horse. I’d say if you have a particularly hard time reading about harm to animals, just be aware of that. They do explain why this needed to be done though, regretting somewhat the exact course of action that was taken.
I’d still say I can recommend this book as a way to get out of the normal pattern of modern life. Do check it out.

Next Steps

Hello! I think I’ve been quiet too long, mainly because I’m trying to survive one of the craziest winters I can remember. Snow, ice, single-digit temperatures; you name it, we’ve seen it! Thankfully, this coming week has the promise of 70-degree readings, even if they are accompanied by rain.

Naturally all of this cold has left me with plenty of time to think about what I’m trying to do and where I want to go. I still can’t say that I’m certain, but I think I’ve almost come all the way back around to where I was at this time 10 years ago, in that I’m considering a degree in Journalism.

Now though, I have an idea of what I’d be doing with it and am perusing the accompanying job descriptions. It looks like many of them only require a Bachelor’s Degree, and so hopefully in the next few weeks I’ll be discussing with some who know whether that is a good idea or of I’ll need to pursue a Master’s level.

In any event, I’m guessing I won’t get started till Fall of 2015. I have a lot of preparation to complete to improve my odds of success, starting with making sure I know the requisite writing style and have an idea of how things will be made accessible.

I am continuing my preparation from a technological, web design standpoint. I’m now taking a second CAVI course, this one in WordPress. I think the first class of that semester is tomorrow, and we’ll learn how to work with the WordPress content management system. I gather that this can also be used on web sites, in addition to their blogging platform. I certainly admit to not knowing a whole lot about that yet, but this is why I’m working to make sure I learn. I think I’ve talked before about how I haven’t actually figured out a particularly accessible way to post entries to this blog, other than to email them to myself and upload them via the iPhone app. Look forward therefore to pretty big improvements to the look and feel of this thing as I master them throughout class.

I actually had a fair amount of fun with the website I created for the HTML class, a sort of fake travel agency I called Travel Trails who’s aim it was to work with travelers with disabilities to get what they needed to make a trip accessible. It wasn’t perfect, in that I’d made the headings twice as usual and probably had a coule of other visual issues. I don’t think it was half bad though for one who was starting largely from scratch in terms of building a site.

And that’s basically all I have for today. I’m sure I’ll come alive more as we finally begin to thaw out. We shall see what awaits.