So I’ve been interviewed by the BBC. How did that come about, you ask? Well, it results from a tweet I posted on Twitter after learning that Barbara Bush had died, recounting an encounter I had with her and their family when I visited DC. The tweet read:
“John Miller – @blindtravel: I once met Barbara Bush in person. Wrote a letter to George HW after being encouraged by my Orientation and Mobility teacher, and got me and 2 other blind folks a free trip to DC for a behind-the-scenes White House Tour. Drank in the Oval Office, met her, and their dog Milly.”
This little snippet actually drew the attention of many in the media, and definitely demonstrated to me, if I needed such demonstration, that social media can be quite powerful. I’ve been ruminating on that trip all day. It happened about this time in 1991, early May to be precise. Its seed was planted one cool March day, as my favorite O&M instructor and I raced to our lesson site, where presumably she either taught me to cross streets or navigate the mall.
Thinking probably of the prior year’s travel to Los Angeles, I said “I’d like to go to Washington DC.” Being a woman of big dreams herself, this individual told me to sit down at the Brailler and compose a letter to the President, that she would then figure out how to have delivered to him. I sure wish I still had the contents of that letter, because I have no doubt that its success is what really caused me to both enjoy writing and respect its power. Someone, I don’t know whom but I’d guess just in the White House who takes care of such things, booked us for a night in the Ramada a couple of blocks away, and so we, my cousin, a friend from school, and I, along with said instructor and two other adult chaperones braved the insane DC traffic and ventured up there.
The tweet pretty much sums up what happened that first day, a Friday OUT OF SCHOOL! In addition to meeting Barbara Bush though, we stood outside in the fierce wind created by President Bush the first’s helicopter as it prepared to leave for Camp David, struggling to maintain our hold of tiny American flags. This part was kind of fun. Then, hot and tired, we retreated to the hotel’s lobby for yet more soda’s before making our drive to Alexandria and the executive club suite where we would remain for the rest of our trip. Three kids? Soda? A car ride? Big mistake. Let’s just say we were all begging the merciless adults to find somewhere, anywhere, to stop as we squirmed and danced and drove them crazy. That night though, one of the chaperones who worked at Columbo Yogurt, gave us some of that delicious stuff and used what sounded like a professional camera to snap photos of us enjoying it.
Then that Saturday, we got to board the subway for the first time ever. I was alarmed by how they sounded roaring into the station and the rapidity with which we had to board in order to avoid those doors. This was, until that point, the most urban experience I had ever had. We disembarked, and hit up many of the tourist sites. The site that struck me most profoundly was the Vietnam Memorial. Feeling all those names made it real how many service members (and yes I definitely know Civilians as well) lost their lives in that conflict. There were people openly weeping along the wall even still.
Anyway, after I posted that tweet, I went off to do other things. Just in time, I returned to find a message from a BBC journalist asking me to follow and send a direct message to her. She was wondering if I would be willing to speak for a couple of minutes about that trip, as they were taking memories from regular folks who had had interactions with Bush. The piece would be live and I had only moments to kind of prepare, which probably made it easier as I was less nervous. I spoke with Mike Embley of BBC World Service, and listening to it as my initial contact sent me the files I guess I did ok. Inasmuch as one can listen to himself on the air. I think it only lasted a couple of minutes, but I really focused on trying not to speak too fast. (I probably said “orientation and mobility teacher” too quickly, but hey that’s a mouthful!)
I think I improved significantly compared to my performance on live air in 2006. I was speaking with someone about travel and why I love it, but unfortunately using a nearly inaudible landline. In this case, I had my headphones connected directly to the iPhone, and so experienced no hearing difficulties. I did, however, struggle to get her the picture she wanted of myself. First, I’m never really sure which pictures contain only me. Second, iOS makes entering email addresses, well fun, sometimes; because if you make one mistake and backspace it the entire thing is then messed up. I initially got the journalist’s address wrong, then when she tried to have me send it to another of her co-workers, I just could not get it entered in time. It is good that I gave up on that when I did, as the interview was to happen in only a couple of minutes.
These are only minor issues though, and they give me things to think about on my next attempt. Overall, it was a great and much-needed uplifting experience in a field I have pondered trying to enter for a long time. Who knows what’s next?