Another Durham Night

A month or so ago, I got a notice via email that NPR’s Ask Me Another, a puzzle/comedy show, would visit the Carolina Theater here in Durham. I decided I would go, opting for mid-priced, and thus first of two balcony level seats. It took place yesterday, and was quite enjoyable.

First though, I had to visit a more recent but instantly respected local institution, Cocoa Cinnamon. I’d read an article way back when I arrived in the Bull City last February about how this place was started, I think by some Russian folks? I can’t exactly remember the story, but was inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit it suggested. It kind of made sense to go on this day, since the little cozy coffee shop was located only a few streets from the theater.

I got there at 4:15. The crowd kept ebbing and flowing around me as I leaned back in a comfortable, homely chair. The only issue I had was that there was little table space inside, meaning I had to hold the giant, two-hands-requiring mug aloft. This meant I couldn’t immediately use my iPhone, which ok ok was probably a good thing, as it forced me to enjoy the environment while I sucked down the vanilla latte..

And speaking of that, yeah the price was a bit up, but I suppose you’ll have that at a non-chain establishment. However, as I said I looked forward to actually supporting locals with good business sense.

And the baristas were nice as well. I remained there till around 6:30, and thus a different woman helped me with the cookie recommendation, a giant coffee-flavored confection, than I’d encountered when I entered. She was also kind enough to walk me outside and help get me into my Uber ride for the short trip over to the auditorium.

Last chance for a $30 trip! Use my Uber code to sign up: johnm1014).

The show started at 7, with the house opening at 6:30. I had to wait a couple of minutes to go inside, but was able to do so in the lobby that smelled of popcorn. My kind volunteer usher told me that the building has two entertainment auditoriums and a cinema where, well different, movies are shown. I think they like to air old stuff as well as pre-screening newer ones. I’ve also learned that that theater has been around for 86 years.

Even so, I was glad to see that this theater had an elevator. I could have of course walked up the stairs, but hopefully the lift would make it more wheelchair accessible. I’m not sure about the small steps that lead up to one’s seat though, but I guess they probably have an area where chairs can park before actually getting to said stairs.

I was told that the auditorium where Ask Me Another was staged holds approximately 800 people. Into my seat, I settled in and immediately sent my cane sailing away somehow. The woman to my right couldn’t initially see it, which caused me to panic. But luckily, it had just fallen to my left. I also enjoyed a short conversation with the guy on y other side, who said he was a great fan of the show but hadn’t known what Ophira Eisenberg, the show’s host, looked like; since he’d only listened to the podcast.

Things actually got started about 12 minutes late, I suppose not too surprisingly. Weekend Edition’s Scott Simon did the courtesy announcement “please turn off your smartphones,” then Ms. Eisenberg came onto the stage. She buttered us up, “Durham, are you ready to party!”, and told stories of predictable Southern hospitality as she walked through the grocery and on the street.

“Um, I wasn’t really sure how to react to that”, she thought in response to some such acknowledgement.

The house musician, Jonathan Coulton, worked the audience into a fervor with a silly song in which he instructed us to sing roughly in a way that represented whichever characters the song was referencing. Sadly, I couldn’t exactly hear what they were saying. That’s probably not much of a surprise, though. They definitely had fun with it, and the energy of the crowd made me smile.

Then, the official recording began. What we hear on the radio only lasts an hour, but it actually takes about two to complete. It begins with two contestants answering a series of crazy category questions. The first was “Are you ready to rumble!” in which all of the correct responses would end in MBLE. The competitors got into it, mumbling “are you ready to mumble?” sounding meak and quiet when saying “are you ready to humble?”, and the like.

The next category was sports teams. They would give some silly clue, and the contestant had to determine which college team was being spoken of. Everyone was kind of quiet as she mentioned this, till someone did the example, saying something that referred to the Blue Devils. More people boo’d than cheered, which amused me since we were definitely in Duke territory. I guess in the Carolina Theater, it was a partisan Tar Heels crowd. Well, of course.

“Wow, a lot of emotion there!” she laughed in response to the crowd’s reaction. “Everybody’s like blah blah when the category is mentioned, but when I ask you who’s side you’re on?…”

After another category of some kind, she interviewed a musician who now lives in the area, but is originally from California, I think. He’d lived in Iowa before arriving in Durham, and commented on the hilarity of being able to walk onto his driveway in barefeet on Christmas here. I’m not sure if I would do that, but well… They then asked him to identify a series of songs that had been altered lyrically in some way. More contestants then did this as well, identifying songs associated with states but who’s state names had been changed to more exotic locales “to bring about world peace,” according to the show’s proctor.

Intermission happened at roughly 8:30, and I got my exercise getting up and sitting down as people moved about along the extremely narrow steps. My knees were so close to the heads below me that I had to make a conscious effort to avoid knocking them against those heads repeatedly. It was fine, though.

The final round was on hills, in honor of Chapel Hill. They nearly ran out of questions to ask the two finalists, and so came down to a tie-break that gave the win to the first to buzz in and answer correctly.

So those are a few of the highlights I can recall. Overall, I really had fun and found it to be a fascinating experience. As someone else pointed out, it was interesting to hear Eisenberg go back at the end and re-speak short portions that the producers, through an earpiece I think, told her to smooth out. This particular episode will actually air on January 22nd, and I will probably listen to it to see how it juxtaposes with what I heard while live in the place.

Now, still looking forward to the live Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me taping I’m due to attend in Chicago. I guess that’ll happen sometime next year though. I want to do more other stuff like that as well.

But that’s a thing I really love about Durham: it’s small, but has good transit and enough umph to attract some pretty cool acts. We’ll see what else I can find indoors, to keep my mind off of the falling temperatures.

Five Years of the NDA

The organization to which I am referring, the Norrie Disease Association, has actually existed for more than 5 years. If my facts are correct, it was founded in 2006 by individuals with Norrie or those who are close to such individuals, (e.g) family members, certain medical professionals. The main purpose of the NDA is to offer support to all involved, advance ability to do and knowledge into research on Norrie-related issues, and to enhance outreach within the larger medical and social context.

I became aware of this organization in 2009, when they advertised to a group of us who had completed a survey about Norrie symptoms on their upcoming conference in Boston. I decided pretty quickly that I would in fact attend that conference, with little understanding of how my life would change as a result.

On November 13 of that same year, 2009, I sat outside of my apartment clutching a nearly dead cell phone to my ear and shivering as I tried to maintain reception. I was attending my first ever teleconferemce as a board member of the NDA, and man was I ever shy. I probably didn’t say much beyond “Hello” when I called in, and “bye” on disconnecting after two hours of chatter. To be honest, I wondered why I’d opted to volunteer in this way at all, and especially as I was in the thick of a crazy first semester at grad school.

Time passed, and with few exceptions I attended each monthly meeting. Slowly, a rapport built between me and the rest of the group, which also consisted of two other Norrie men, two parents of persons with Norrie, and a sibling of that same type. The thing that most brought me out of my shell was the feeling that others took my responses seriously, even if at first they may have been hard to hear, since I would mumble with little confidence.

The person who did the most to ensure that I found a bit of my niche as NDA boardmember was the late, great Mike Kosior. My understanding is that this group was initially his idea, and at that time he held the title of Vice President. He encouraged us all actually, making each person feel like he or she had something valuable to contribute. We hadn’t discovered until he died, but Kosior took the time to email us one by one, asking how things were going, wondering how he might help to make things better, and giving us all silly knicknames. I was “Chief”. Interesting.

I got to participate in planning for the 2012 conference, a month prior to which Mr. Kosior sadly passed on. It was tough to carry on anyway, but we all felt that he would have wanted us to do so more than anything.

I’d chosen to head the meeting of Norrie men at the conference to discuss challenges and such that we face among ourselves, and I admit and have been told in critiques that I didn’t do the best job in the world at moderating said discussion. I think that shortcoming was again reflective of my general shyness, a characteristic I hope I’ve managed to tamp down a bit simply by continuing to watch how other board members conduct themselves.

I imagine I may get a good chance to find out at our next conference, which is tentatively set to take place in August of next year. I have been vice president since August of last year, and admittedly I’m still not entirely sure what I should do with the role. I do know that I have big shoes to fill, and should begin making more of an effort to do so, perhaps just by taking inspiration from what I got to see of Kosior’s actions.

In any event, I look forward to serving for as long as it is deemed acceptable and of use by and among others. I agree with the president though that we need at some point to get some new blood, so that we keep things, people, and ideas fresh. So to the rest of you in our little Norrie community, keep your ears open for when slots do open up. We will need individuals who represent a number of different backgrounds. Till then though, here’s to another five years!

#GoVote2014 : My First Election Day Ballot

I had intended to get into the early vote line, as I’d done back in 2008, but stuff kept preventing me from going. Well to be truthful, the “stuff” was cold, blustery weather! Especially the case on Saturday. So, I ended up putting it off till today.

I’d looked up where the appropriate polling station was, and thought initially that I could access it by walking. It’s only just over a quarter mile away, after all. But after taking out the GPS and walking to my apartment complex’s leasing office, and finding that I was getting no closer to that location, I almost just gave up and stayed home. Well this happened after I ventured inside of the office and asked a worker who didn’t seem to speak much English if she had any idea where the polling station was.

Once I got home though, I fired up the Uber app and it said I could get a ride within two minutes. After the craziness I’ve seen in articles about this company charging people insane fares over Halloween, I was kind of hesitant to book a ride on this possibly busy night as well. I love the service, but if they charge me $500 I would be quite unhappy, to say the least!

A car arrived, fortunately with a driver who had seen me before. As we rolled up, he said “oh yeah, looks like a voting place. The line stretches nearly off of the sidewalk!”

I hopped out, thankful that the temperature was only in the mid 60s or so, and gingerly made my way toward the line’s first occupants. A woman who was on her way out helped me to find where everyone else was.

I was initially assisted by a kind person who said she works in RTP, went to school in Boston, and was originally from DC. She ended up having to leave, because her husband called saying he needed a ride.

Then, I was attached to, well, a nice but definitely opinionated person. She made her political views known for at least the next 15 minutes, causing me to chuckle a little if anything. I suppose it is a good thing to be so passionate about your beliefs, but I am saddened by the amount of vitreal that results from said these days. I mean disagreements, or perhaps more accurately differences of opinion on how policy should be enacted and who should do it are fine. After all, how would this voting thing work if such differences didn’t exist. We just need to re-remember how to listen to each other and be willing to hear things that are quite contrary to our own positions.

So I listened to her chatter as we inched our way toward the hot room, where we were again split into lines based on our last name’s place in the alphabet. This led me to be passed on to a third individual, who told me she’s currently attending Durham Tech and studying Early Childhood. She said she sees me outside of my door on a regular basis, and also offered to give me a ride once the voting was complete. Really kind person.

After another 20 minutes or so, we finally approached the table. We were asked if we had a picture ID, but told we didn’t need to display them for this election. They will be needed for the next. I’d registered to vote at the DMV when renewing my ID anyway, so I was good there.

Next, the woman thumbed through her list of names, confirmed that I was indeed on it, and presented me with a ballot. My new friend then took me over to a guy to inquire about the accessible voting machine, and he said he often uses it because it’s “cool”.

The ballot was fed into the machine, and off I went. That guy was attempting to talk to me as I listened to the instructions, but I finally got him to hold up long enough. There were also paper coverings on the earpieces, I guess so we don’t run the risk of transmitting germs from others’ dirty ears. A Braille display was present at the bottom of the machine, but it didn’t seem to be doing much other than posting the line “Insert ballot”. I would bet though that I could have done more to activate if, if I’d needed that service.

I have to say that it was quite empowering to be able to make my own choices and have time to go through the whole list. As noted in my 08 post, I didn’t get the chance then because of impatient folks saying they didn’t want to set the machine up. I will insist from now on that I be granted such access though, just as any other eligible American has the right to make his or her own voting choices without interference from others.

I was surprised that there were so many, especially the long list of judges whom I hardly know anyway. It took me maybe 5 minutes to work my way through all of the names, then a good little while for the machine to finish “Processing,” then we were on our way. I’d arrived at 5:15 or so, and think I hit the door out nearly an hour later. I don’t know how that looks with regards to other polling stations, but it didn’t seem too bad during the after work crush. Plus, I’ve rarely met so many people at the same time.

I confess that I haven’t voted nearly as often as I should, well ok that was only my second time so doing actually. But my ability to do so in this community continues to demonstrate the unprecedented level of access I have to resources here. This is why I would really like to remain here for a long time if at all possible. Not excluding some big, as yet unforeseen opportunity to relocate to a big city and great new job, but barring that I’m pretty happy right here in this little apartment.

I am also exceedingly pleased with the fact that so much is now accessible to persons who are blind, deafblind, with other kinds of disabilities and the like. Goodness knows we still have a long way to go. But as I sat in front of that machine participating in a widely watched state election, I thought about the brave men and women, African Americans, persons with disabilities, etc, who put their lives on the line to ensure that I could take that seat. I’m reading Edge of Eternity, Ken Follett’s last in a 20th Century trilogy that takes place mostly in the 60s. He puts his characters in the place of the major historical events of that era, I suppose revealing little-known details of what it was actually like on the ground. It has definitely given me a new appreciation, and if I can help it, I will vote forever going forward. Thank you.