FRIENDS CAFE: A Summation of the Rest

Well, as it turns out, not a whole lot happens after Sunday. But, that is alright, as I very much needed the unwinding.

Ok, I am certain that I bring drippiness with me on any vacation I take. Just as happened to me last year when I went to Tampa, I really don’t get any sunshine down in Louisiana.

Monday: I wake at about 9, bringing in the day the same way as I had before. Just laying back, listening to 105.9, a soul station in Lafayette that someone has recommended I check out. As I do this, I read yet more of the Armstrong book.

After coffee and biscuits, we basically collapse into the rockers and sofas where we remain parked for nearly all day, listening to a TV country station. Well she doesn’t remain parked, actually. Despite still feeling yucky, she leaves to get the car ready for the return trip to New Orleans and grab us some yummy food. She brings us back a huge plate of chicken strips with fat fries and an unusual dip.

Other than this, I simply revel in the idea of just being, worrying about nothing except inhaling and enjoying the next breath, and of course cool conversation that comes and goes as we please.

On this day, as we had some on the day prior, we talk about the differences between the US and Australia. We conclude that while blind people may generally have more opportunities here, both of these fine countries still have work to do before their citizens with such disabilities really have a shot at the job and life choices they want. He is an advocate in the land down under, and I in many respects have come to see him as a sort of mentor, at least someone to whom I could look up to. I want to be a louder voice in this grand community, but have to get better at getting my voice heard. I think maybe I’ll get there fairly soon, but that remains to be seen.

I also make a silly comment about life down under.

“Everyone in Australia is upside down!”

“Upside down?” he asks.

“Yeah, relative to us. Isn’t that odd?”

This amuses us both. I hadn’t really understood what was meant by the phrase “the earth is round until I was 17 or so, due to someone’s patient explanation of how it is in fact like the globe I’ve felt many times.

On Monday night, we do watch the movie God Is Dead. It is an interesting story about a college professor who attempts to get his philosophy class to declare in writing and by signing their name to it before class starts that God doesn’t actually exist. One student refuses to do this, and is thus thrust into a semester where he must present evidence to the contrary. The movie is fast moving, and yet still thought-provoking.

Early Tuesday: We have initially planned to go to New Orleans’ French Quarter, so I wake by 6:30, not knowing at what time things will get started. But he has had trouble sleeping the night before and she is still dealing with this sickness. We soon learn that it is the flu, of the type that can’t be stopped with this season’s vaccine. I’m amazed I’ve managed to avoid it thus far.

Anyway, because of all these things, we don’t actually leave until nearly 12 PM. They decide that, due to the likely crush of traffic, cold weather, and general lack of time, we will go ahead and head for the airport instead. This is ok, it just means I have to plan another trip down to stop by and thoroughly tour New Orleans, probably when it’s warmer out.

On the way to the airport, we make what turns out to be a crazy trip to a place called Brick Oven Pizza. The GPS first leads us around the block, then up onto an unnecessary road that takes several minutes to traverse. I am surprised she doesn’t just give up.

Finally at the restaurant, I get an Italian personal pizza with sausages, peparoni, mozzarella, and some veggies. I manage to eat half of it, allowing the server to wrap the rest in see-through plastic in the hopes that maybe security won’t throw it away.

Then off to make the somewhat sad trip back to my humble abode. Though I resist it at first, I finally allow these people to put me into a wheelchair and zip me to security that way. That always makes me feel silly.

I check out some generally boring bowl games until it is time to board the flight at 6:20 for a 7:00 departure. The couple beside me, I think the woman is American and the man Mexican, are headed to Miami to visit family. Ah, how I long to go down there and stay for a week or so.

On my next flight, from Atlanta to Raleigh, I meet a woman and her mom who are returning from a wedding in Fort Meyers, Florida. I would go there as well. This kind woman offers to assist me both onto and off of the aircraft, probably getting appreciative nods and smiles from tired agents and flight attendants.

Finally back at Raleigh Durham International Airport, I have the individual who comes to collect e from this woman take me outside where I slide into a waiting airport taxi. When the driver is unable to understand the address I try to give him, I just plug it into my phone and have my GPS issue the directions out loud. This isn’t a bad idea actually, as I can then be reasonably certain that we are taking the expected streets and I’m not getting the runaround. I mercifully get home at 1 AM, message all who care to let them know I’ve made it, and slide under the covers.

And that is the end of my wonderful trip to the state of Louisiana. As I said earlier in this entry, the question isn’t if but when I will return. Heck, maybe I’ll go and find my wife there. Ha, ha. That wrapped 2014, and I am ecstatic to see what kinds of excitement 2015 has in store. Hope your year has gotten off to a good start. More probably quicker than I know.

FRIENDS CAFE: Zydeco 1, Tight Crowds and Dancing

I think this day was the climax of my trip, in many respects. I had a lot of fun, got to enjoy a new kind of music, and expand my food repertoir a bit. Not to mention bouncing around a jam-packed building with random people.

Saturday, December 27

6 AM, Having already plugged the hearing aids in so that I wouldn’t miss the household’s early rising, I am called to action by a light knock at the door. Time for their usual coffee and morning chat. I have fun with this, feeling the correct balance being restored to my “caffeine stream”. It is no wonder that coffee is a multi-billion dollar industry in this country.

Feeling even more refreshed after a quick shower, I and they are relieved to discover that the deluge of rain (supposedly 7 inches) that had been forecast has really turned out to be more of a slightly unpleasant drip. I guess that we were going to give it a go anyway, given that we’d be leaving early and were bringing along the appropriate gear to protect said hearing aids, but definitely not having to deal with that kind of craziness is preferable.

Into the car for the fairly short road to a town northeast of Lafayette called Breaux Bridge. I’ve heard of this place, because former Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme originated here. We are visiting not for sports though, but for their famed music, called Zydeco. According to the Wikipedia article I read, this musical genre is fairly distinct to Southwestern Louisiana, and was invented by African Americans and Creoles in the area. The article goes on to state that the first recorded instance of this term (Zydeco) was by a country western group in 1929 called the Zydeco Skillet Lickers, and they had a song called “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo”. Ironic title for our day’s likely outcome.

Our intended destination is a jumpin’ place called Café des Amis, from which I generated my title for these posts. Not only the building but its surrounding area are about as full of people as can possibly be, and then some. We have to connect to a long line and hope that maybe we will get inside. As we wait, we make friendly chatter with everyone around us.

“Do you know them?” I often asked the woman of our group, referring to the people to whom she speaks.

“Nope,” she replies: “I just started talking to them five minutes ago”.

Yup, it’s just that kind of place. Once inside, I even get to enjoy a little of that randomness myself when a woman pops out of the rocking masses and asks to dance with me. If I do this right and have chosen the correct photo, always an adventure for a blind man, you should see us standing there. IMG_1736 And now to something I do know for sure what I doing, I recorded an audio clip there as well. Great music and great musicians, Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco band. I hear they’re always wildly popular.

Soon enough, a table opens up and we sit to have breakfast. You always have to eat fairly quickly, as there are people pressing in on those seats as soon as you’ve finished. I opt for a yummy sausage, egg, and cheese croissant and some grits, I think, along with a glass of orange juice. I also try a piece of beignet, which was delicious. It tastes like a funnel cake that has been stuffed with eggs and such.

Once we finish, we prepare to exit this particular café. On our way out though, we come across someone to whom I am introduced who also happens to write a blog that focuses pretty heavily on travel. I like that the URL is A Road of My Own, and the title is Traveling Solo. I ask my friendly host a couple of times if she had known of this before striking up that conversation, but as usual she hadn’t known this individual at all. This is a definite, good coincidence.

We then venture over to the Joie de Vivre café, as I guess many coming from our former location do. Here, the guy in my group strikes up a jam session with some of the other musicians there, his instrument of choice being the piano. Here’s a bit of that audio as well.

By about 1:30 PM, we decide to head home, where we mostly just chill for the rest of this day. Once both of them have drifted off for a nap, I sit on the little rocker and listen to sports for a good while. Then when the guy returns, we have a bit more of a conversation, before the woman returns and we settle in for some TV and good company.

For dinner we also have croissants, because she needs to get rid of them. She puts ham, cheese, and I guess mustard in them. Whatever the sauce inside, they are so good that I eat the two almost quickly enough to lose a couple of fingers. But then, what isn’t good down there?

This makes up the bulk of Saturday’s activities. I eventually retreat upstairs, turn on some jazz, and read more of the Louis Armstrong book. I think by this point, unfortunately, she is beginning to come down with something that may have been gotten from exposure to the swells of humanity, so we just lay low after this. More soon.

FRIENDS CAFE: Kind Servers and Craw-fishy

I will use the overarching title “Friends Café” for my trip to Louisiana, both because it’s the translation of an actual place we visited, and because it applies to pretty much everything I experienced on this journey. Never have I seen truer examples of “Southern hospitality” than I have in this fine state. So, let’s begin the journey shall we?

Friday, December 26

3:20 AM, I make my halting way out to the curb, absorbing the absolute quiet and clear cold that are present on this post-Christmas night. As the duffel bag’s strap digs into my shoulder, I hope that my prearranged taxi does show up at 3:30, for I have no other viable options that I can think of. 3:22, 3:24, and finally it pulls up at 3:27; actually three minutes early. Well done!

I hop in and nearly doze, warming my digits in the heat stream as the driver, from a Middle Eastern country I think, chatters about perceived differences between Christianity and Islam.

“Do you know why you’re here?” he asks.

I think his take-home message is that death exists to keep us from doing things that are too far out there, and that it also focuses us on finding our purpose. We should also strive to live the best we can while in this body. I can agree with those conclusions. I think more than anything though, he’s just talking to keep himself awake long enough to reach Raleigh-Durham International Airport, an 18-minute ride along Durham Freeway and Highway 40 according to Google Maps.

We do reach the building, and I am disgorged at the Delta Terminal. A woman who says she is on her way to Detroit helps me to the check-in counter, but I do not get anymore time to speak to her. Really, I suppose that few people feel like speaking at 4 AM, as even the worker who is guiding me says the bare minimum.

At the ever-so-fun security checkpoint, I am pulled aside and wanded, even having the palms of my hands scanned. Fun times. Then down to my gate, where I sit for about 15 minutes before being silently ushered aboard.

The first flight to Atlanta departs promptly at 5:10. I am annoyed for most of it, because the Braille display absolutely refuses to cooperate. Airplane mode has shut down Bluetooth, and when I attempt to re-enable it I still can’t regenerate the connection. I have since come to the conclusion that it is better to turn on Bluetooth immediately after going into airplane mode, and not once I plan to actually use the display.

I have brought two books onboard with me: Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans, an exhaustive piece about that city’s musical, Jim Crow, and other history as it relates to that jazz great; and Buccaneer by Maycay Beeler, a true crime story about a drug dealer who has all sorts of adventures transporting product and eventually lands in prison. I find the latter to be a better airplane read, as the chapters are generally short and action-packed enough to hold my interest.

After having guzzled a cup of coffee to also give me juice for the day, we touch down in Atlanta where I am to wait another hour and a half for my final flight to New Orleans. No one talks to me at this point, so I finally fight the display and get it working, and chat with people online.

The next flight is relatively uneventful and on time, so I just sit and enjoy this one. On both of these trips, well really all four, I have been placed in right-side aisle seats. This means I have difficulty engaging seatmates in discussion, since I can’t hear particularly well in my right ear. In the small talk I do manage on the way to the Big Easy, I ascertain that the person beside me is from Massachusetts and is visiting family.

“It may be kind of cold out there,” she says: “but I’ll still enjoy it!”

As we disembark, the flight attendant insists that I must try beignets and of course that other Louisiana thing: crawfish. An agent then shows up, whisks me into the airport, and since I’ve managed not to check a bag, straight out to where my party awaits.

I have come to see two individuals with whom I serve on the board of the Norrie Disease Association, mostly for the vacation and fun chatter that would ensue. They are both due to make the long trek to Australia, another place I would very much like to visit, at about the time that I return to the shop for work. The woman who is hosting me at her place actually resides in Lafayette, which is about as far from New Orleans as Charlotte is from Durham. I suppose I should have known this, but still end up feeling a bit bad for not flying straight into Lafayette. That choice does save me $100 at least, though.

Before beginning that drive, we stop at IHOP for a quick bite. I opt for a sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich and fries. They really give me two, and I can barely eat even one of them! This is only the beginning of my food consumption in that great state. I also have fun talking to the server in there who asks “what are you doing with that phone!” I think she was surprised at how I could even operate an iPhone. She is fun, funny, and cool, and keeps watching me for most of the time I am there.

On the road again, the guy and I in back start conversing about topics as wide-ranging as independence for blind folks, the pending big changes in the Norrie Disease Association, and what we want out of life in general. Eventually we start to drift off, and she turns on the radio probably to stave off the silence and keep going. After nearly 3 hours, we arrive at her place.

It is a comfortable little house with a 1-car garage. I am given a quick tour: shown where the two bathrooms, stairs, and the guestroom where I will sleep are located. I am then ushered to the little rocker where I immediately get comfortable, wrapping in an LSU blanket and enjoying the warmth of a fire. I quickly adopt this chair as “mine” during my stay there.

Not much happens until dinner, where I get to try crawfish for the first time. It is in a pie that they get from a place down the street called Pouparts French Bakery, kind of like a chicken pot pie type thing. There seems to be some other filling inside of it too: consisting primarily of the “trinity”: onions, bell pepper, and celery, and I enjoy it. I don’t notice much taste in the fish itself, but it might be hard to distinguish within that context. Accompanying that, we have a delicious salad. She accidentally gives me the one with Caesar (sp?) and he the ranch dressing, but I certainly don’t mind. It is delicious and full of flavor. There is also a potato covered in flecks of bacon and cheese. MMM.

And that just about wraps up Friday. As the weather turns gloomier, we opt to just stay inside and call it a night early. I am pretty tired, so take a bottle of water upstairs, crawl under the covers to catch some football on the phone, and soon enough give in to dreamland.

Christmas Vacation 2: The Party

Because I am completely unimaginative, I will use the same subject line I did at this time last year. As I had then, this year I also venture to Lumberton NC to attend the now-Annual Christmas party this past Saturday.

First, the departure. I am excited to learn that Megabus has now made available a route straight from Durham to Fayetteville. This means that, unlike last year when I had to get a neighbor to drive me to Raleigh where I connected with Greyhound, I am able to launch straight from home.

I almost don’t even manage to get out of here in the first place, though. Uber, I still love you as a service, but I have to wonder about the drivers you’ve hired of late. I know that the Megabus is scheduled to leave at 11:25, and I would have to stand in the near-freezing rain to wait, so I admittedly opt to push it about as close as I can and leave at 11. The Uber driver I get though is unable to understand English or, I gather, follow the GPS. I try in vain a couple of times to explain the somewhat complex instructions for locating my apartment and finally hang up. Pondering what to do and prepared to call Durham’s Best Taxi, another taxi happens to pull up in front of me and ask if I need a ride. I’ve seen this guy before as he regularly cruises the neighborhood, and so I don’t hesitate to jump in and hope I still have time to get to that Megabus stop. And because I was unable to properly cancel my Uber, they still billed me $4, I guess their base fare.

Oh man is it cold at this stop! The wind is cutting, and the rain isn’t absolutely pouring but it’s certainly hard enough to make even checking my iPhone impractical. A couple of other families stand nearby, kids milling around and probably trying to keep themselves warm as well. The vehicle mercifully arrives, and a woman lets me stand with her so that I will know when we can board.

I guess the vehicles can be designed differently, as this one has virtually no seat pitch. I sit with my knees almost under my chin, well ok maybe not quite that drastic but close, and try to figure out a way to balance my Braille display on my lap so I can read.

“Excuse me, sir” I hear a voice ask: “where are you getting off?”

I tell her, and discover that she is an older woman from Connecticut who is coming to visit her mom for a month. She has some kind of physical issue who’s origins she is not even certain of, and thus is unable to walk easily.

“I usually use an electric wheelchair,” she tells me: “but they’ve taken it and put it somewhere else. Having to use my walker now, which kind of hurts me.”

We talk about potential careers, and she says she once worked in customer service, but wants now to use her cooking abilities to start a food truck. MMM!

She has offered to help me sort things in Fayetteville in the event that I arrive and my pick-up ride isn’t there, but as it turns out, my ride is indeed waiting. She, as well as the woman on the bus, expresses some concern about the area of town in which the bus disembarks, noting that it’s “real ghetto”. I am just relieved to not have to wait in the cold again.

We speed toward Lumberton as I make conversation with the driver and a front-seat passenger who is also a friend. Both of us blind folks opt to remain in the car during the quick grocery stop, sitting for only about 7 minutes while some additional supplies are acquired.

The party is much the same as it had been the year before and the one before that. I meet my cousin and his wife there, as well as another couple from smalltown NC not far away from Charlotte, who had also been there the previous two years. But, a friend from my university days has made an appearance for the first time in a while. And the most exciting find: my other long-lost “cousin” also shows up with his very kind girlfriend, who impresses us all by her willingness to just jump right in and make herself at home among this disparate, sometimes crazy group.

I am given two tins of cookies, as well as a gift that I still have wrapped because I want something to tear into on Christmas. Just a little of that childhood sentimentality, for old time’s sakes.

The evening’s highlight is the gift exchange. I brought an umbrella, easy to tell what it is even though wrapped, but hey a useful device! Especially considering that we’ve turned into Seattle lately. I don’t know who takes it, but it is plucked near last. I initially get a $25 Starbucks gift card (OO, nice!) but am not surprised in the least when someone opts to “steal” it. On my next draw, I got some sort of ringholder. Funny.

We also consume delicious nachos with cheese and meat, pasta sallad, and the requisite sausage ball that I have every time I go to this particular residence. We laugh as the NFL’s Washington Redskins amazingly knock off the Philadelphia Eagles, ending the Eagles’ hopes of making the playoffs.

After more chattering and ingestion of punch mixed with OJ, lemonade, Southern Comfort, and perhaps something else, I slunk off to bed.

And that’s pretty much the crux of the happenings at this year’s party. Most everyone had already departed long before I do, but I stay with my friend and watch our Carolina Panthers keep their playoff chances, which should by rights have been long gone, alive with a win over the Cleveland Browns 17-13. We have to defeat the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday starting at 4:25 in order to win the woeful NFC South, and extend our season with the worst record in NFL history of any team that has managed to do so.

I guess I’ll check in on that one while down in Louisiana, as I will be from this Friday till next Tuesday. Those will of course be my next series of posts. I’m guessing more will happen than I can even contain in two entries. We shall see, though. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, and happy holidays.

EDIT: Oh, and I also don’t have to await a ride when I arrive on the Megabus in Durham, as the individual I’ve designated as my favorite cabbie happens to be there. I guess she positions herself near arriving transit vehicles like that and Amtrak to see if she can get a fare. Makes me happy, again.

#WhiteCaneDay : A Big Piece of Freedom

Four cylindrical segments of aluminum, fitted together around a double elastic string. She, (because I want her to be a she), stands approximately 54 inches tall and comes to just below the second button on my comfortable sweater. She is the friend who is all good with me, as long as she doesn’t SNAP!

My beautiful, foldable, white cane. I often enjoy the stunned reaction I get when on public transit and I slide the holding string away and pop it open with a flourish.

“Wow, that stick is cool!

As an aside, I don’t have a great understanding of color, not surprisingly, so maybe you can explain why white is better than, say, red? Does red look too much like an emergency, and thus perhaps serve as a grater distraction rather than a signpost to just be aware? I’m curious.

In any event, today marks the 50th anniversary of National White Cane Safety Day, hashtagged on social media as #WhiteCaneDay. The National Federation of the Blind has published this article detailing the history and significance of this particular day. I immediately notice that it was born at the same time that equal civil rights for people of different racial/ethnic backgrounds were also being established. I doubt that this is entirely coincidental.

RELATED: Another great #WhiteCaneDay post: Don’t Fear The Cane

While I now consider her my friend, this “stick” and I were not always on such chummy terms. There are a few reasons for this, not the least of them being that my first metallic staff was a straight thing with curved top, like a candy cane. As a kid, I hated being further ostracized by this thing that I would have to slide under three chairs so as not to trip other children and teachers as they made their way around the class.

I knew the older blind kids had a folding cane, and that it would be a privilege afforded me if I got to a high enough level of Orientation and Mobility (O&M) to move around well and demonstrated a willingness to take care of the thing. Unfortunately, I did not always exercise sound judgement once I acquired that jointed object. For it also made a concealable weapon, ready to be whipped out as soon as I felt I was being insulted. Funny how quickly those halls cleared when it made that fantastic sound, like someone engaging in a sword fight. Get out of my way!

Into my high school and eventually college years, where I finally learned that she needed to stay on the ground, rising only high enough to make the taps that give me critical feedback about my environment. Are we nearing a curb? How far has the bus stopped from the sidewalk onto which I must step. And if I and my companion(s) in my blindness-oriented place of employment use proper skills, our extendable foldable friends will meet in the middle, instead of our heads! This is clearly a more desirable outcome.

As I practice these skills while out and about, I often wonder what some thoughts are that go through sighted people’s heads.

“No, ding dong, it’s not time to cross yet. You’re lucky I see you!”

RELATED: Travel By Leg: on my mobility abilities

“Aww, look at that amazing blind person who has dared to venture beyond his apartment and into the mean streets of town. I wonder where his attendant is?”

“Wait, is she really blind? She’s wearing glasses! Why the cane.

On this last point I’ll let a person with low vision explain more, but basically those who can see to some degree sometimes opt to carry canes in order to inform Joe or Jane Public that they might act in ways more consistent with individuals who are blind, due to an inability to take in a fuller picture of the environment. This can even include challenges in facial recognition, difficulties noticing where sidewalk turns to street, etc.

So if you see this person or any other using a cane, don’t make snap judgements regarding their visual acuity. Probably the best thing to do is clarity is really needed is to just ask, again as is always the case. And for my sake and all of those like me who wish to traverse our nation and world’s streets safely and in one piece, please use caution when operating a vehicle. Eyes on the road and your surroundings! Thank you.

I am grateful for those who have come before and worked hard and tirelessly to clear te way ahead for me. As the above-linked NFB article points out, as recently as 1930 most blind individuals didn’t dare venture beyond their home bounds alone. Now with a combination of fancy-shmancy technology and that good ol’ white cane, we range about as far and wide as we can dream. Here’s to 50 more years of safe, fun, informative, and ultimately life-affirming travel.

Tools To Build A Dream: King’s speech

Let the current lift your heart and send it soaring
Write the timeless message clear across the sky
So that all of us can read it and remember when we need it
That a dream conceived in truth can never die

Black Butterfly, by Deniece Williams (YouTube)

Man, I loved that song the first time I heard it. Reminds me of my recently written about first trip to the beach, as that’s the first time I remember hearing it. I’m sure I had before, as my sisters had and wore out a Deniece Williams cassette, (you know those blocky things with spools of tape that you had to flip sides in order to continue hearing?) But I think we had little else to listen to on the radio during that trip, and so that cassette was played several more times. The song was then indelibly etched into my memory. Anyway, you’ll see its relevance to this entry in a bit.

The Second Leg (Cont)

The train rattled first westward, into the small town of Belmont in Gaston County, then made stops in Gastonia and Kings Mountain NC, Greenville, Spartanburg and Clemson SC, and a town called Taquoa or some such then Gainesville Ga before arriving. There may have been more, but if so I missed those in what little sleep I managed. I found that if I turned my body just so and pressed my head against the seat, I could drift off for minutes at a time. I’d set my timer for two hours, because I didn’t want to take a chance on missing Atlanta if one could remain onboard past that point. I don’t think we could have anyway, but better safe than sorry.

As we approached, the cabin stirred and began coming to life. Someone wouldn’t or couldn’t stop coughing. A baby cried. The woman next to me told me a little of her story, particularly that she would be babysitting a tribe of grandchildren, including a rambunctious 4-year-old whom she had little hope of keeping up with. I didn’t ask that woman’s name, just enjoyed the conversation.

On disembarkation, it took staff so long to come and assist us that that woman decided to walk me in herself. We took an elevator up a level, popped out, and my sister was already there waiting.

A Place With Space

Ever been somewhere that just makes you feel like the Chinese ideals of feng shui probably intend? Just a certain openness, where the walls are curved and thus the energy seems to flow effortlessly throughout. That’s the feeling I got when I walked into my sister and her partner’s apartment. Or maybe it had to do with being tired and slightly loopy after such a long and bumpy ride, but whatever. They currently reside about 20 minutes outside of Atlanta proper, in a town called Duluth. Man, I don’t think any other US city has as many parts to it as Atlanta does.

Anyhow, I discovered that my eldest sister’s twin, along with her partner, were also there. Party time! Dogs came to say hi, as I sat on their comfortable sectional and tried to keep my head from bouncing up and down too many times. It was about 9 AM, but after a delicious breakfast of bacon, eggs, and grits, I finally gave over to an hour or so of sleep on stationary ground. It felt great.

We passed time catching some of the early football games, especially watching Georgia Tech, the local public university, smack Waford, a private school in South Carolina, around. Then we wanted to find a little something to get into.

Off to See King

Pic of my sisters and I standing near the MLK fountain

We decided to visit the Martin Luther King Center, to which I had been before but always seem to learn something new when I come. The most interesting part was going down into the fellowship hall at the old Ebenezer Baptist Church, where we listened to an individual first give a bit of a history lesson. I can’t recall all of what he said, but others in King’s family had also been assassinated after his death. Those were sad and turbulent times, and I’d recommend taking a look at the King Center site as well as a supposedly pretty good Wikipedia article on his life. I plan to once I finish writing this, as there is no doubt much that I don’t know. And from what I’ve been told, school kids nowadays are learning even less than we did.

“The number one question I get” that guy said “is are services still held in this building. The answer is no.” That church has been designated as a historical landmark, and services now take place in a newer facility across the street.

The speaker concludes with a near spot-on impersonation of Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech, even capturing the right inflections and King’s tendency to almost ram sentences into each other. I hadn’t realized that we had permission to record it, or I may have. The only thing that would’ve ade it more real is audience interaction, but still it was pretty powerful to hear those words spoken where King himself had delivered countless other speeches.

Saturday Wind-down

The rest of the day was the kind of relaxation I’d come for: first in a spacious townhome on comfortable leather couches that we left as my sister said “let’s get out of here before you go to sleep!”

Back at their place, someone cooked up some delicious nachos with meat, sauce and the works, and I got my fingers all sticky. I loved every bite, though. Then we sat on the deck with a couple of beers and talked about life while enjoying the sweltering night.

And that pretty much made up Saturday. Finally inside to bed, sliding under sheets and, after listening to the Florida State Seminoles just manage to stave off an upset bid by the Oklahoma State University Cowboys, diving headlong into the first real, sweet sleep I’d really had all week.

Tools To Build A Dream: The sleeper

He kept dreamin’
(Dreamin’)
Ooh, that someday, he’d be a star
(A superstar but he didn’t get far)
But he sure found out the hard way
That dreams don’t always come true, oh no

Read more: Gladys Knight And The Pips – Midnight Train To Georgia Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Midnight Train To Georgia, by Gladys Knight and the Pips (YouTube)

Oddly, I’ve had this song bouncing around in my head ever since I began planning my Atlanta trip to visit one of my sisters. It probably has more to do with the Amtrak that departs from Greensboro, North Carolina at 12:22 AM for Atlanta. This makes up the second leg of travel if one wishes to reach the city of peaches? peach tree city? haha I don’t know Atlanta’s knickname but imagine it’s something to do with peaches right?, from Durham.

First The Backstory

Because every character must have a backstory, and my family is full of characters.

Many of us see social media’s dark side: its tendency to isolate us and make a person more likely to hold a conversation with someone 2,000 miles away than one sitting right across the table from him. Board any bus or train these days, and you’ll note that there is an element of truth to this assumption.

However, there are some silver linings. For instance, I think that Facebook has made our somewhat scattered family more aware of what is going on with each of its members than we have been in many years. Most of us don’t really have easy access to constant transportation, or else priorities like kids, jobs, etc mean that we must stay relatively close to home. The online space allows us to celebrate achievements, pick each other up, and otherwise respond on a near daily basis, bringing some real closeness back.

So, my eldest sister responded to one of my recent Facebook posts by saying that she would really like it if I made the journey down to Atlanta someday. I thought about it, and decided why not sooner rather than later. I go to see my cousin most holidays, and while I will always enjoy hanging out with him and would do so whenever possible, a little variety is, as they say, the spice of life. Daring to do something different creates unexpected opportunity, as I most certainly discovered throughout this vacation. I left Friday and returned yesterday.

The First Leg

As the Friday workday drew to a close, I was already feeling concerned due to a wave of tiredness brought on by Sunday night’s lack of sleep. How does that make any sense, you ask? Well, I never really get the chance to fully catch up if that initial workday is offkilter, at least not till the next weekend. I figured what the hey though, after that long overnight train ride I would be way out of sorts anyway.

The cab deposited me at Durham Amtrak Station, and after stepping inside of its frigid confines to retrieve my boarding pass, I insisted on waiting in the mugginess that threatened rain.

“I’m not built for cold!” I told the woman behind the counter as she slid the ticket into my hand. Maybe it’s a sign of how many times I’ve passed through that station that she was saying “Hi, Mr. Miller” before I even got all the way to the counter. And her voice didn’t even sound like one of the people I know for sure.

The train is supposed to leave at 5:24, but that big thing is almost never on time. Yet for a holiday weekend it did remarkably well, rolling in at 5:39. A passenger ran up to assist me, because she hadn’t seen that one of the other women who works in there, my favorite, was making her way out. As I made my way down the aisle, a pair of hands popped out to suck me into a row and I settled in.

“Hi,” I said, because I must always attempt to greet the person sitting next to me. I allow them to decide if they wish to converse further.

Immediately, this person was interested. It seems that she rather suddenly lost a significant amount of sight, especially her central vision. I don’t know much about how sight works, but apparently this makes it hard for her to identify faces, view things that are either too close or too far away, and results in a classification of legal blindness. Understandably, she has found the adjustment challenging. I talked about how I can empathize due to the fact that I have lost so much hearing over the years and have to keep re-thinking how I handle social situations. Unintended feelings in others of having been snubbed by simply not knowing that our attention was being requested was definitely a common issue.

I’m never sure to what degree I am helpful in such situations, but this is a big reason why I am always open to talking to people about my blindness, heck we may as well say deafblindness at least if not wearing hearing aids, and how I cope. I’m just hoping that she can use technology that she already has, like the iPhone, to at least mitigate some of the changes. I will continue to do what I can.

The train arrived in Greensboro pretty much on time, after another minor delay while we awaited the passing of the Raleigh-bound train. I was interested, because I would finally get to enter their vaunted station.

On entering, I met a nice individual who made sure I had everything I needed from arrival till departure. We got to their little coffee shop just as it was closing, and I snagged a Mountain Dew. Then, she dug up menus from somewhere and I placed an order with a place called, I think, Big City Burgers for, you guessed it, a burger and fries. It seems that any restaurants in that general vicinity will deliver to the station, which is pretty cool. Given that I had six hours to wait, I had contemplated taking a cab somewhere. I guess this saved me some dough, though.

I didn’t do much else, except wolf down that sandwich, listen to some of the college football game between Syracuse and Vilanova, and read a little. The wait didn’t seem that bad, so long as my wonderful entertainment device was charged and functioning. And speaking of, if you have a smart phone or tablet and don’t have an external battery, I recommend getting this one from Amazon. It has changed my life. Well ok that’s probably an exaggeration, but you get my point.

The Second Leg<

Because the train left from Greensboro’s station, it departed right on time. This time, I was seated beside an older woman who wrapped up in her blanket and dropped off pretty quickly.

In fact, the whole cabin felt almost otherworldly, with the whistle sound drifting in as if on a fog. This may have had more to do with the mode in which I had my hearing aids set. I’d wanted to see the lounge on this train, if that were even possible, but figured it would be hard to summon someone with everything so quiet. No stations were called either, and after a 45 minute stop in Charlotte, we largely just kept on rolling.

Continued in next entry, as it stretched on into Saturday like my flight to Madrid nearly 10 years ago. Stay tuned!

Beached

I stand on the edge, listening to the awesome roar of wind and waves, and feeling the water slide up and down my legs, up and down. I note the shifting sands underfoot, and think to myself that I am slowly being sucked down into a deeper and deeper hole. And I’m amazed at the idea that, some 3,000 miles away, on the other side of this great body of water stands someone who is probably doing the same.

Few things are to me like going to the beach, an activity I sadly haven’t engaged in for at least ten years. The mighty ocean is the closest most of us will ever come to deep Space, and from what I’ve learned, is actually less known about than said overhead environment.

I can still recall my first experience with the ocean and beach. It is probably more primarily stitched into my memory, because not two weeks later Hurricane Hugo slammed into those shores and took out many of the structures we had just enjoyed. Hard to believe that was 25 years ago, but it was. Man am I getting old.

I think that Myrtle Beach, South Carolina hadn’t yet become as crowded as it is nowadays. My family, always interesting navigators and especially in the era before widespread GPS was available, turned a 4-hour trip from Charlotte into an eight-hour trip. I think the more surprising thing there was that we pressed on until 1:15 AM, finally arriving at the Driftwood Motel and more or less dropping straight into bed./p>

That next day, I was taken aback by the smell of salty air and water that almost seemed alive somehow. I was also, maybe irrationally? I don’t know, afraid of being stung by jellyfish. I wasn’t brave enough to go any farther than waste-deep, that’s for sure. Once we stepped clear of the water, I think we only actually visited it one time, it evaporated pretty quickly, leaving me covered in crystals.

Then a fierce rainstorm blew in. The hallway of our motel had a balcony/viewing area, and my sisters looked out and said the tempest caused the ocean to look even more beautiful.

“I can see England in the distance”, one of them erroneously said. I thought maybe she could.

We went to Myrtle once again in the mid 90s, for a high-priced family reunion in which we spent a fair amount of time in a cold banquet room eating rubbery vegetables. I think most of us were wishing we’d just booked a cookout on the sand. We did stay in a nicer hotel though, Tropical Seas, which had a cool indoor/outdoor pool that would allow you to swim between them.

I visited two other times, both with the Charlotte Beep baseball team. One was to the incredibly nice Ocean Isle Beach in 1999. This trip was punctuated by the woman who was to drive my cousin and me down from Charlotte having crazy issues getting us into the rental car. For reasons known only to her, she thought the car had only two doors when it actually had four. She thus leaned the front seat all the way back and had us clammer over it, squeezing in there like crazy people. I showed her the back door when we got to a gas station and needed to relieve ourselves. I didn’t have time to wait for that fun again!

And my final trip was with that same team to Charleston, SC, where that year’s beep ball tournament was being held. My most memorable part of that experience was sitting on a huge deck, with sand blowing into my delicious shrimp meal and making things a bit gritty.

A trip with my high school out onto the Atlantic just off of the North Carolina coast showed me that I might have difficulties riding the waves on a boat, as I got kind of seasick. I enjoyed my only ride on the Pacific, though, a cruise through the relatively calm Marina del Rey, just off the coast of Los Angeles. I would like to stand on a beach of that ocean someday, as I hear it’s even more ferocious.

And that’s a little about one of my favorite experiences. I love the ocean and would consider living by it, if doing so wasn’t so frought with danger. I don’t know, maybe there’s some location where I could do so relatively safely.

Have you visited an ocean? What was it like? Ever been swimming in one?

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.