The Real Deal 5: Show Over, What Next

For many, the show doesn’t end till Saturday, July 19. But my time is up on Wednesday the 16, a day I haven’t been looking forward to.

I have to think that I have come up with the most ingenius packing solution ever. I’d just taken all of my clothes out on arrival, and put each outfit back into the bag once I was done wearing it. Thus, really nothing to do prior to departure but make sure I’ve collected all newly acquired goods and found somewhere to squeeze them in. It wouldn’t do to forget my $50 Bluetooth speaker!

I’d set the alarm as a precautionary measure, but don’t need it. I am awake by 6:15, and out of the door in an hour. In the elevator vestibule back on the main floor, I meet two of the most well-known individuals in the ACB who assist me to the check-out desk. We take an outdoor shortcut that I wish I’d known about earlier.

As soon as I turn in my keys, I step outside to find that my super shuttle vehicle is already there. It is only 7:40 and they aren’t actually due to pick me up till 8. I think a couple of others join us as well, and so it takes a minute to get everything stowed and all inside. Soon enough though, we bid the Riviera Hotel adieu and head back towards McCarran International Airport.

Despite having had several flights without being tagged due to an expired ID, I am not surprised when they call me asaide for this issue again as they had in Raleigh. It seems like once that cat is out of the bag, it won’t be put back in. So, I must in fact do something about it now, a truth that is proving harder to rectify than it should. The darn DMV isn’t really open in a way that accommodates working people! All of the other three-letter acronymed government agencies probably don’t like me either. It will be dealt with eventually, somehow.

In any event, I am far less rattled this time by being subjected to a more aggressive security apparatus. I am mostly relieved that I will indeed get to depart Las Vegas. I had started to contemplate how I would get an apartment, job, etc there. Kidding, I think.

My flight departs at 9:30, and so by the time all of that is done I have only to stand at my gate for 10 minutes while waiting for a flight attendant to run over from a just-landed plane so we can have a full crew. I should’ve recorded the silliness of those attendants. I think her name is Sally, and she has us all laughing from the second she starts talking.

I also talk to my seat mate, an older woman who says she had been a real estate broker, but retired since 1980 to travel the world. Can I get that job? She also states that her husband wears hearing aids as wel, having lost his hearing due to age. They live in a small town outside of San Francisco, and have traveled from SFO to RDU, where they will then be driven to an NC town called Reidsville to meet family. I’ve heard of this place, but never been there.

Once airborne, I have three bags of peanuts, a pack of cheese crackers, two bags of chocolate chip cookies, and some kind of delicious chips. Fear not though, I don’t actually eat all of that while onboard. I just stash some of it in my tote for consumption later. I opt to purchase WiFi, because it is a 4 and a half hour flight and my phone is at 99% charge. I was most wanting to hear the NLS Talking Books narrator speak during ACB General Session, so I scrambled to get the WiFi set up and hoped perhaps they’d be slightly delayed as they usually are. Only this time, she seems to have spoken on time! Bah, I missed it.

Not much else of substance happens.
After flying around some “weather” we arrive more or less on time.

“In the airline industry,” Sally begins as soon as we touch down: “many say that landings are like a box of chocolates. Ya never know what you’re gonna get. Wouldn’t you say that one was coconut cream?” This drew clapping from the cabin.

Bladder mercifully emptied inside of the airport restroom, I head downstairs to await the unnerving bag reclamation process. I really start to fear that mine will not arrive, as it is just about the last to come trundling through, but finally it does show up.

At this point, the time change already begins to descend upon me like a wave. Still, I choose to catch the bus back home and save more dough. While waiting, I meet an individual who says he has flown in from Seattle and is barely remaining upright too.

And that is pretty much the meat of my trip. I’ve spent most of my summer counting down to it, and now that it has come and gone I’m not sure how else to remain motivated. The first couple of working days back, Thursday and Friday, were excruciating, especially as we’d run out of our normal work and were doing some other blah task. I finally started to adapt on Friday afternoon though, and did better with it today. Still it has me feeling, lonely? somewhat depressed? I just don’t know. Needing to move on! But trying desperately to figure out where to. We shall see. More whenever there are new developments.

I definitely enjoyed my time at convention and the people I hung out with, friends new and old. Thank you for a nice time.

The Real Deal 4: Last Full Day

Tuesday is already here? Man, how the week has flown.

I ring in the day again listening to a bit of that morning show. This time though, I turn it off at about 7, so I can shower and come back to listen to some of that day’s ACB General Session. I most enjoy listening to the scholarship recipients, as I hope maybe their career choices will inspire me to become unstuck somehow. Still thinking…

On Twitter, Indianapolis woman mentions she is at the Java Stop, s I indicate that I might come down and try to meet her. Given how incredibly crowded it is, I know that us actually finding each other are not all that high. However, I happen to be seated just behind her after purchasing a banana nut muffin and coffee, and she hears me arrive, thus scooting over to the small, rickety table. The woman from Canada then tries to find us as well, but this does not prove to be as successful.

We sit here for a few, chattering about all sorts of things. Then, we go to the exhibit hall again, mainly to pick up an iBill currency reader, but also to check out a couple of other products/vendors.

In place of fully accessible paper currency, which I’m pretty sure they’re still working on and think should debut no later than 2020, the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing is distributing the iBill free of charge to all blind folks who need one. They essentially had a trial run during the convention, allowing attendies to snap these things up in exhibit hall. The representative told us that they will be available for all blind folks by January, with those who are already eligible to use the National Library Service for the Blind (NLS) being able to preorder in September. I’m not sure what advantage preordering confers, but maybe they get them first?

So I can cheat a bit, now that I am at home and have unboxed the reader. The instructions are readable, and it doesn’t take too long to figure out how to work the thing. I put the money in wrong initially, though. I want to really learn the vibrations, as then I won’t have to have the thing call out “50!” when I scan that, not that I carry around that kind of cash anyway. Still, vibrating would be more effective in very loud situations as well.

After grabbing the box containing that device, they also ask for our contact info, we make our way toward others. I go over to the Freedom Scientific booth, where I play a bit with a Windows tablet running Jaws 16. They have a nice Bluetooth keyboard with that thing as well. I don’t notice anything particularly exciting about that, but I think it may be a bit cheaper than buying an iPad or some such. If I do go for a tablet, I will probably still get an iPad and Bluetooth keyboard anyway, maybe once this laptop is on the fritz.

I also play with a Blaze EZ, at least I guess that’s how it’s spelled. This is kind of a combination of blindness-specific notetaker and smartphone, and its most impressive feature is OCR technology. They scan a document and let me hear as the voice reads it. Apparently, these things have been selling like hotcakes.

Finally, we make our way back toward the lobby and food court, as she wishes to have lunch before attending a 2:00 event. There, we run into our Canadian friend, and the four of us head to Big Burger where I opt for just a soda as I will have dinner at 4:30 with yet another friend.

Since the woman from Canada and I are planning to meet the same person, she and I hang out for the next couple of hours. Neither of us really have anything else on our schedule. I am already starting to feel drowsy and somewhat sad.

Dinner is again at Wicked Vicky’s, a place with pretty good food for prices that aren’t too bad for hotel stuff anyway. Canada woman has me craving popcorn shrimp, but I decide at the last minute that I want one of their chili dogs. I figure I can get shrimp whenever I want, and that this hotdog is probably unusual.

And I figure correctly. First, it’s huge! The bun is super-sized, and still the frank extends beyond its edge. The chili isn’t ground beef, at least not like hamburger meat that one might expect, but rather real, delicious chunks of meat. There are also beans and veggies. Served with fries, it has me full to bursting and happy to part with the $13 it cost.

I contemplate attending the Talent Showcase, as I have at the previous two conventions to which I have gone, but decide against it. Admission at the door is $25, not too bad I guess but higher than the $10 it usually goes for. Plus, I can just stream it from my room. It is a pretty good show though, and I think I most would have enjoyed the band that accompanied people and had its own tracks as well. One woman does a particularly stong spoken word piece, and a couple of others perform great original songs.

The last thing I really do in Vegas is to ask my friend from the previous day’s breakfast if she could come and take a picture of me in the casino. Hopefully it can be seen here, via Twitter. I’m sitting at a slot machine. Do I gamble? Well, no. I keep meaning to, but just feel it’s basically throwing money away. I know I know, I could keep it really small and stop after a couple of turns. I guess I’ll do it the next time I go out there.

My picture-taker and I then wrap up the evening again at Banana Leaf while drinking delicious mango smoothies and talking more. That smoothy reminds me of the sweet mango milk shake I had in Washington DC, MMM. She tells me that a smoothy and milk shake differ in the same way that yogurt differs from ice cream: that the former is generally healthier.

She needs to head back up and do some work though, so I take about a third of that to my room, listen to the ever-saddening news, and go to bed.

The Real Deal 3: Information and Enrichment

Monday morning. No alarms! Still, I awake at 6:30.

I hop from station to station initially, but decide to listen mostly to the Mark and Mercedes Morning show on Mix 94.1. It’s at least local! They keep advertising some sort of “eat and greet” where you get to chat with the Goo Goo Dolls at a pool party put on by the station. It sounds like fun stuff. They also note, with a combination of happiness and bewilderment over the surrounding hype, that Las Vegas will soon have an Ikea furniture store. Their most interesting discussion revolves around the question of whether you can be in love with two people at the same time.

I have arranged to meet yet another Twitter follower whom I hadn’t met previously for breakfast at 9:15. She had indicated that we might leave the hotel in search of quieter environs, but when we start to look around inside we discover that Wicked Vicky’s (I keep wanting to call that place either “Wicky Vicky’s,” or “Wicked Vicked”) is actually relatively empty.

This will give us more time to sit,” she reasons. It ends up being her, one of the exhibitors whom she assists, whom I also have gotten to know well online, and the woman from Indy, whom we suck in as she floats by. It is again all in the randomness of convention.

For breakfast, I order a Wicked Vicky’s Stack, which consists of delicious French toast, sausage patties, and cheese eggs. I also have two cups of nice, hot coffee.

To make talking easier, the person I’d come to meet asks the server if someone will turn the music, which is kind of loud, down. They just plain turn it off. I often get nervous about requesting such things, but must admit that I could hear a lot better without it. I enjoy the chatter as my belly fills.

At this point, I have little to do until approximately 1:45. So I head back up to my room, where I read, fade into and out of sleep, and just enjoy vacating. Until..

“Housekeeping.” Oops? I’m about to be kicked out of here! Well ok, I doubt it would’ve been that serious. Still, I opt to get out of their way and let them work, realizing only after I’m on the elevator that I have forgotten my bag. Better hope the hearing aid batteries hold up.

I make my way into the lobby and towards the convention center so I can see about attending the workshop on deafblindness and employment. I enter the room, where I am told they cannot scan credit cards so I must head back out to registration to purchase a ticket. The line for that isn’t terribly long, and in about 6 minutes I am seated again and ready for the presentation.

Some technical issues pop up, and while they try to fix them the main presentor, who is totally deafblind, goes around to meet those in attendance. She takes my hand, and another voice says “Hello, nice to meet you. Where are you from?”

“Me?” I reply just to be sure it is she who is speaking to me. I believe she makes a sound to try and confirm that for me, even as the interpreter speaks for her.

Once on stage, she asks us why we think she wants to meet us in that way, making contact while doing so. It is an important, and really the only, way she has to physically connect to a person, and insodoing she gleans other information from the person as well. She also has an environmental interpreter who lets her know how the audience is reacting: are people falling to sleep, cell phones ringing, other conversations going on, etc. As a blind person, I don’t even know some of that kind of information as I present. It is fascinating.

I think that kind of interpreting takes quite a bit of work though, as the voices switch off three times during the talk. Another individual, whom I think is blind and hears ok, speaks as well. There may have also been a third, sighted/hearing person up there.

They highlight the work being done at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind in employing those who are deafblind. That location hires interpreters to allow employees to talk with supervisors and co-workers, as well as working with those groups of people to teach at least some rudimentary signs to facilitate basic communication. They also use normal pagers to alert deafblind people of breaks, dismissal time, and emergencies through a series of different vibrations.

The crux of their talk is that we must understand how privilege, power and independence work together to make possible or shut someone out of a chance to use his/her skills in a meaningful way. When possible, try to stay away from words like “help” and instead say “support(s)” as it can indicate a more active role by the deafblind individual. In my opinion, some of this is a question of what a person means when using certain wording, but I do agree that it should all be considered.

After this event concludes, hunger has again gotten the best of me. I order a too expensive ham and cheese sandwich and Mountain Dew from the Java Stop, though if I had waited another hour or so I would have been fed. It is 4:45 now, and the Vanda Pharmeceuticals reception starts at 5:45. But whatever. Without my bag, and thus my headphones, I am forced to press the iPhone against my head as I check email and messages over the roaring crowd while I chomp.

Next to the Vanda reception, where I have at least five different kinds of cheese, crackers, grapes, shrimp, and a spring roll. They give us about 15 minutes to work on our plates before beginning.

Vanda is a relatively small drug company that has worked for several years to develop a drug, now called hetlioz and previously Tacemelteon, to help totally blind individuals combat non-24-hour Sleep/Wake Disorder, otherwise known as Non-24. After a fairly intensive study, this drug has just gained FDA approval for that narrow subset of the population. A doctor speaking on behalf of the company gives a comprehensive presentation covering what is known about the drug, reasons for using it, and possible side effects.

The drug must be taken continuously and at the same time once started. If one were paying out of pocket it would cost a considerable amount, however they continue with their campaign to get more insurance carriers to cover it. To start, people will receive refills from a program called Hetlioz Solutions, but they hope to bring large pharmacies like Walgreens into the mix eventually.

With regards to side effects, none are particularly dangerous. The most common, I suppose not surprisingly with a sleep medication, is drowsiness. There could also be liver problems, so you have to be aware of that if your liver is already compromised in some way. Less effective in those at or over 65. Always seek medical advice before even starting to take something like this anyway, as possible drug interactions and/or the presence of other disorders may need to be taken into account.

After a moving personal testimony about how this drug has helped one woman come back to herself, they take questions. The most notable comment, and it can apply to some other companies as well, is that the ads promoting this treatment tend to portray blindness in a very negative light. We need to find a way to get the message across without making it sound as if we are all sad sacks who don’t know how to cope.

Overall though, I found it to be an informative talk. Will I take it? I’m not sure, as I’m a bit wary of depending on anything continuously like that. And while regular sleep would be good, my life is such that it would be impractical for me to go to bed at the same time absolutely every night. I don’t know, we’ll see.

At this point, it is 7:53. With the assistance of one of the presentors, I make a mad dash for the Suite Tower elevators as I am to participate in a Braille study at 8 PM. Once onto the correct floor, we already hear those folks calling my name, and so I slide in.

The guy who running the study seems to be totally blind, and has a sighted assistant who makes sure that things are in the right place. They fit my right index finger, the reading finger, with a small camera that will record my motion. Something is also strapped to my wrist, I guess more for stability than anything else. Before I start each test, the cameras must be calibrated to the beginning and end of the Braille line.

First, I am given a small hard copy Braille book to read. I take it in as quickly as I can, then am asked a series of questions about what I’ve just learned. I find it hard to read with any kind of speed and remember exactly what I’ve read. Man! Kinda makes me worry about whether I have some kind of issues with this period, and if it didn’t make my education not go as smoothly as it could have, especially in grad school.

The second, shorter passage is done via a refreshable Braille display, an electronic device that can be connected to computers or mobile devices and made to render the text in Braille. I find this a lot easier, and really want one of those HandyTech displays! This particular display is 40 cells, which causes me to sail right along. I still have some issues remembering all of what I have read, though.

“I feel like a lab rad!” I quip.

The final part makes me feel most like a lab rat, as I had to try to decide if something was a word by jumping over two extraneous Braille cells being placed in the middle. This is a real challenge, because my brain needs the continuity. I note my decision by pressing pedals with my feet, right for yes it is a word and no for it isn’t.

“Am I going to receive some sort of electric shock for getting it wrong?” I ask while chuckling.

“Nah, I’d be in jail if I did that,” he replies.

I can’t help grunting and moaning when I mash a pedal and realize a second later that I have made the wrong decision. It is all rather amusing. I think mostly he wants to get a sense of how and why we make mistakes when reading that might help in coming up with methods of increasing our effectiveness with the Braille medium. Meanwhile, as I walk back to the elevators I shake my head and question my intelligence.

I wrap this day in the Banana Leaf Café, an Asian fusion (whatever that means) restaurant at the hotel. I grab a delicious chocolate cake, and get my iPhone screen all sticky as I pound out messages while eating. Then it’s up to my room for more reading, and off to bed.

The Real Deal 2: Sunday Fun Day!

Sunday arrives, slow and sweet. I allow myself to lay in bed, luxuriating in the fact that I have no immediate reason to rise and can enjoy the time away.

As always, my favorite thing to do is listen to road morning shows. I initially reach for what I think is the clock radio, but quickly give up on that and start playing with the Tune In app on my iPhone. I hate that they no longer make it as easy to change stations, other than once they’re in the Recent Stations feed. They have some sort of cumbersome social media-type interface now, which just makes it harder for me to find stuff.

Of course, most Sunday mornings are given to religious content. So, I listen to a bit of some pastor in Vegas before rising at 10:30? 7:30? something:30! What is this time thing we’ve made up anyway. They say humanity is really the only species that so closely watches it.

After spattering water all over the floor from my shower, as there seems to be no way to stop it from flying out the side, I slip into a casual pair of slacks and button-down shirt. I hope to look just presentable enough for new sets of eyes that I might encounter.

Then into the hall for the fun elevator game! Gah it drives me a little bit crazy when places have four of them from which to choose. Whack the button, stop breathing, stand really still, and there it is! Only BANG! no? wrong one. Oh that one wait, I nearly lost a finger! Relax, begin cycle again.

I play this annoying sprint around the vestibule a couple of times, until I hear some, I guess high, heels come clicking into the room.

“Sir, may I help you?” she asks. I’ll finally get down!

I don’t notice till she tells me, but she is from Scotland. One of my favorite accents, for sure. She says she’s about to check out of the hotel and head back, I think.

She kindly walks me to the jam-packed Java stop, where I latch onto an endless line. I try not to pound the person’s back who stands in front of me too many times, but also to balance that with moving up when I need to. I sometimes feel I’m the worst at waiting in line.

Audio recorded from therein: Initial Craziness

Then I meet a kind volunteer from Georgia, cool accent too, who agrees to help me find somewhere to sit while I await my city tour. Only everything is pretty much full, so I go back into the Java Stop and sit till she again comes to collect me at 12:45 to board the bus for the 1:00 departure.

I love heat! But, that Vegas heat is something different somehow. The second we step into it, I feel all of my water leaving my body.

“I couldn’t stay out in this for more than ten minutes,” I say.

More audio: City Tour Snippet

And that woman continued being just as entertaining, having us all applauding, laughing, or groaning in turn. One thing became clear from her words: Vegas was built by rich folk who had that kind of money to throw around. I know she said one person built a casino at the request of his wife, so that his love for gambling wouldn’t end up costing him everything. He’d just be recycling his own money. Not surprisingly of course, Vegas is seeking to diversify beyond strictly a gambling Mecca of sorts, as well.

I had always wanted to get to convention early enough to do the city tour, just because I love hearing people talk about their area. Yes, it would’ve been cooler to walk around some of those places, but I’m not sure how much of that I could have handled anyway.

Back into the hotel by 3, I finally decide to make my way to the exhibit hall. Here, I meet a couple of long-time online friends and folks who were selling products for the first time.

From the AT Guys, I purchase a Soundpods portable Bluetooth speaker. I’m pretty satisfied with it, and think for its size it doesn’t sound half bad. It does make it easier for me to take in content from my iPhone while in bed.

From Elegant Insights, I acquire a Braille-embossed, copper key chain that reads “ACB 2014. It’s a nice little souvenir. I also volunteer to be this vendor’s first experiment using a credit card, a task made interesting by the fact that she uses a somewhat challenging iPhone app that requires turning VoiceOver off and back on a few times to get it to record the card info. Still, it is great that such technology is even moderately accessible to blind folks, and I hope it continues to become more so.

Finally, it is the part for which I have most been waiting: the tweet-up! I am surprised that the crowd there isn’t larger, but it works out for me as I can easily hear everyone in attendance. Here, I meet one of my longest-running online friends from our neighbors to the north, Canada. I also meet a long-running friend who stays in Vegas for the second time ever. We all introduce ourselves by name and Twitter handle, then spend the rest of the time chattering away about any and everything.

I plan to go to the opening ACB General Session, but as soon as I make my way out of the tweet-up location around 6:30, my Canadian friend, one from Indianapolis, another person from Canada and I think yet one more ask me if I wish to join them for dinner.

“Hmmm, that sounds fun,” I reply.

We then spend the next half hour working our way to the Wicked Vicky’s Tavern, being given spotty directions and losing each other a time or two in the process.

“Hey, this is how we roll at convention,” I say. “We’ll get there eventually.”

Once seated, I opt to have some delicious-sounding meatloaf and mac and cheese. The mac and cheese wasn’t the “real” baked stuff I most prefer, but then I guess I shouldn’t have really expected it to be. It was pretty good anyway, though I had to stop eating it once that runny cheese began to make me feel sick.

This is really the last thing I do, after which I retire to my room to see how my speaker works. I know that, not being the most technologically adept person, it would probably take me a minute to figure out the Bluetooth component. In the meantime, and this is probably unfortunate as I may never get around to learning said component, I discover that the cable they provide for charging also has an end that will allow it to be plugged into a headphone jack. So, I’m still kind of just using that.

I play with the volume, trying not to turn it up too loudly as those walls seem to retain no sound. As I feel myself flagging by 11, I finally slide under the covers and call it a night.

The Real Deal 1: A Near-botched Arrival

I intend to title my whole series about this fun, fantastic trip to Las Vegas Nevada The Real Deal, since it was the theme adopted by the organization who put it on. And what is that organization? Well of course, the American Council of the Blind (ACB. This year marked their 53rd annual convention, and was my third convention in 6 years. I seem to have adopted an odd pattern of attending every three years, as I had in 2008 and 2011 before.

I am fortunate that I was able to depart on Saturday, for reasons you shall soon learn. First though, I shuck my bags and bounce down to the local Dunkin Donuts for reading and enjoyment of my coffee. While here, I decide that I’m going to save money and take the bus all the way to the airport.

This actually goes well. I first hop the 400/700 all the way to the Regional Transit Center, then I have only to wait a few minutes before the 100 bus comes to take me to Raleigh/Durham International Airport (RDU). The bus stops only a few feet from the terminal, and a traffic officer offers to help me inside.

“I’d recommend you take the curbside check-in,” he says: “as there’s no line out here and inside of the building it’s really long.

“May I see your identification?” the counter agent asks.

Someday, like now, I’ll learn to put my ID in a separate pocket. Because I have not so done, we spend the better part of 2 minutes combing through a thicket of plastic that would be sufficient to drown the world’s oceans. Once it is finally found, more bad news follows.

“Um sir,” he says: “this thing is expired. It has been for a while. If a year or less, you could probably get away with it. But any longer, and they’re gonna have a problem with this (up at security).”

Yes, it’s a bit ridiculous for me to have allowed my card to so aggregiously have expired. However, I rarely need the thing and when I do, no one points out this discrepancy. I had even flown a few times during its expiration period and not been flagged at all.

After waiting another 30 bone-jarring minutes for an assistant to lead me through the incredibly packed airport, we arrive at the security desk. I think the woman there actually consults the no-fly list, verifies that I am not on it, then just orders an enhanced screening. Not having realized that this second layer of screening has been put into place, I attempt to retrieve my items after sliding through the scanner as I normally would.

“No, don’t do that yet sir!”

After asking preliminary questions about medical or other equipment that might be implanted, possible sore spots and the like, I am asked to hold my hands out, palms up. I am then thoroughly patted from my neckbone all the way down to my toes. Finally I am cleared, but remain rattled for most of the rest of that day.

I try to calm myself while sitting in the boarding area by reading, but am unable to get into the book so give up. At this time it is just after 6. I drift and doze till my flight is called at 7:30, then make my way to my usual, favorite, right-side window seat.

This flight is strange to me, as about midway I notice that we seem to descend to a lower altitude and hold there for its remainder. Nothing is said about why this has occurred, so I feel nervous on top of everything else. In fact, it seemed nothing was really said by anyone after takeoff, making me feel I’d suddenly been sucked into a Stephen King novel. Needless to say, I was more than a little relieved when it was wheels-down in Las Vegas.

Another hour waiting for checked bags? *sigh* I am absolutely famished, since I haven’t had enough sense to eat some food with that coffee, and am just wondering what on earth is taking so long. Not to mention that it’s already pushing 1 AM Eastern, 10 Pacific.

Out to the Super Shuttle, the same folks I’d used when arriving in Tampa this December. We stop at 3 hotels before arriving at mine, the Riviera Hotel and Casino, and by the time I get up to my room and shuck my bags, it’s 11:35 Pacific. So? I’m going to get something to eat! This is Vegas, I’d guess second only to New York City in its unwillingness to sleep.

Using the hotel orientation that ACB has attempted to provide via Email, I make my way gingerly towards the food court. My room is in the Monaco Tower, 1 of five such towers, and so I have to take the elevators down, locate an exit that leads out to and past the pool, and try to remain on a fairly long sidewalk before re-entering the hotel at another door. The food court could also be reached through the casino, but obviously this isn’t the best idea for a blind person who wants to hold onto a little bit of sanity.

After even a sighted person and I get a bit more turned around, we eventually make our way inside. I choose a restaurant called Big Burger. And it is a BIG BURGER. While I certainly love the burger, I am most enamored with the fries. Just the right amount of seasoning, no need for ketchup. I also order sweet tea, and laugh as it doesn’t taste like Southern sweet tea. It really just tastes like some kind of juice. Hits the spot though, as I am dried out and thirstier than a camel.

It takes another 30 minutes of standing on sidewalks, just inside of buildings, and being passed from person to person, but I finally! make it to my room. I then slide very much contentedly into my bed and am out before I can even finish the thought about being too tired to read.

End of Saturday. Still to come, Sunday’s tour, tweet-up, and surprise dinner; Monday’s surprisingly expanded breakfast, deafblindness workshop, Vanda Reception, and Crazy Braille study; Tuesday’s basically just hanging with friends, and surprisingly large hot dog! Lot of surprises, huh? Stay tuned!

A Crazy Workday’s End

This post is kind of an extension of what I’ve already put in my Facebook status. Monday fun day? It had been a pretty good one until…

It’s about 2:25. I’m keeping myself awake with the many thoughts buzzing through my head regarding preparation for my coming trip, plans once I get out of there today, and the like. And keeping myself awake is an effort, as I’ve managed only about two hours of sleep the night before. I still get wound up like a kid when pondering travel!

Eventually, maybe five minutes later, I start to smell something. Because of my 2007 experience with a fairly significant fire, it takes no time at all for my nose to identify it as the first toxic whiffs of something burning.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the fire alarm starts chirping shortly,” I think to myself. If only I’d had the good sense to sling my bag onto my shoulders and place cane in lap while I continued working, which I could have done.

Sure enough, “deet, deet, deet”.

Naturally, one’s first instinct in that situation, even if one thinks it is a drill, is to just jump out of the chair and make a beeline for the nearest exit. This gut reaction is tripled when there is already an acrid smell in the air. Part of my mind, the asleep part, says don’t worry about taking a half second to grab your stuff. It’ll probably just be a drill anyway.

It wasn’t.

I grab an arm as it hurtles by, and we shoot a good ways across the factory floor, into another vestibule, and finally outside. This is why they suggest that totally blind individuals get assistance in a fire situation, because we don’t use the routes we’re used to. Given that, I left not only my trusty, much-needed cane, but also my bag behind.

Out into the blazing sun, where everyone milled about chattering and awaiting that eventual all-clear that usually comes. 2:45, 2:53, 3:00, and 3:15 pass. Quitting time is 3:20.

“Ok,” one of the supervisors pipes up as we draw near to that time, “they’re not letting us back in because the smoke is too thick. Anyone who can still leave, please consult with a supervisor to get a ride to the other side of the plant where all buses will gather. If your stuff is inside, you’ll have to wait. I’m in the same position, as I’ve left my keys in there!”

I and a couple others groaned, knowing we would miss the 3:30 departure of the 700 bus to Durham Station. It was even worse for the individuals who needed to meet paratransit. I think the supervisors agreed to take them home.

Fortunately, I suppose, not much else happens. I guess the fire folks just gathered up all of the items we wanted and brought them out to be reclaimed by about 4. They inform us that the smoke is so thick we may not be able to go in tomorrow either, and so I’ll have to check that before attempting to catch the bus. The biggest issue while waiting is the intense sunshine, causing every part of me to go bone dry.

All things considered though, it could have been a lot worse. I don’t know what may have caused the fire, and wonder also why it took a good 5-8 minutes after I smelled it for the alarms to kick in. Perhaps we’re gonna need to speed that time up a bit. And despite the inconvenience caused by doing it, I still believed I made the correct decision to skidaddle rather than gathering my things, especially as I hadn’t done so when I first noticed something amiss. I can replace those, but I can’t replace me!

Definitely not the plan I had for today, but that’s how life works sometimes. Now I’ll suck down this pizza and not feel guilty about it, and then it’s outside to read. I guess I can say never take a moment, a thought, a breath, for granted. For things can change before you even know it.

Random Rambles, and Monkeying with Site

So at this moment, I don’t have a good topic to write about. However, I feel like pounding on the keyboard anyway, so this is what you’ll get.

I now officially own this patio in front of Dunkin Donuts. I’m here again, for the 200th time, so often that people in every business along this strip know my name. Someone even randomly gave me a $10 gift card, which helped to fund my delicious, traditional ice cream sundae on July 4th. This sundae consisted of vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, and chopped nuts.

As I told someone else via Twitter, the tradition has its roots in middle childhood, when my mom would load her seven kids (including my cousin) into the family minivan, roll through a McDonald’s drive through, and get us all either sundaes or cones. I’ve always favored sundaes, because they tend to be a lot less messy. Plus, some cones taste like eating cardboard. I do kinda like the flavored ones, though they make the already sweet ice cream perhaps a bit too sweet.

Anyway, we would speed down the highway heading out of Charlotte for nearly 2 hours sometimes. Music from the Quiet Storm (remember that concept?) would finally lull us into a state of sleep that mom would have difficulty rousing us from once we finally turned back into our driveway. I know she’d be relieved though, as we would then drop straight into our beds. I’m guessing for her, this also served as good thinking time, a chance to just let everything float away on the cool, country-scented wind.

Speaking of which, there’s a fairly brisk breeze blowing out here as I sit and listen, with an umbrella flapping noisily overhead. Today and tomorrow are to be mid 80s, but then on Tuesday we’re gonna suddenly shoot up to 99! Hello, full-on summer.

In celebration of that, I activated the Beach theme on this page. I actually have no idea how that looked or if it worked, so eyes can tell me what they see. I just thought it sounded cool, and like something I’d like to be thinking about right now.

And finally, just six more days till my trip out west! Las Vegas Nevada, or as the flight attendant in The Goldfinch called it as they landed: “lost wages”. I certainly won’t be losing much of my wages there, as I plan to play the slots only once or twice, mostly so I can tell you what it’s like.

I find it somewhat amusing that I’d chosen to read this book without checking the reviews, and thus not knowing that a significant part of it takes place in Vegas. It confirms what happens to me every time I go somewhere, that area suddenly seems to become prominent in the news. Well area, object, person, whatever I’m noticing at the moment. I know, I’m important! Haha. Other instances of Vegas can be found in this NPR story on lack of youth employment opportunities there, and an article from the travel site Skift about how Vegas is marketing itself as a more welcoming summer tourism destination.

More sometime soon, maybe not till I get out there or back. I’m trying to decide if I wanna bring my laptop with me, though I fear that’d have to be checked and could thus be damaged, or just stick with the iPhone. I’ve blogged from the iPhone before, but we’ll see if I feel like doing that while on the go. Truthfully, I’ll probably be on the move too much to do it anyway. I have at least twelve people to meet. In any event, you’ll still hear about the fun. I also hope you’ll see some pictures, again if I find eyes to snap them with my iPhone. And there’ll be plenty of audio for us blind folk who thoroughly enjoy it. I’m all inclusive! To those who will be out there with me, have fun, and I can’t wait to hook up.