DC On Air 2: The Tours, NPR and Air and Space

Thursday:

Up early, as is typical when I’m in a hotel. This is primarily because I enjoy browsing the local (if any can even still be called that) radio stations of a city to which I’ve traveled.

Only, this evil, new-aged machine decides pretty quickly that it has it in for me. I somehow get it turned on, but don’t know if I ever turn it back off. And, I can only really slip between four stations, likely all presets.

Tweet Signpost: I miss simple to operate clock radios. Hope I’ve not inadvertently set an alarm. Lol

Relenting on that frivolity, I shuck the thick, warm covers and stumble towards the shower. I don’t know what has run amok, but I somehow end up with water all over the bathroom floor! *sigh* I sure hope the rest of this day will not follow suit.

Speaking of, I slide into mine, make sure I have my room key in the pocket only after the door has slammed shut, (I should win an award for highest IQ), and head for the elevator.

Coffee, the elixir of life, starts streaming through my veins, and finally things begin to make some sense. I sit among a raucous crowd in the hotel’s second floor café and also punish a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit. I decide, smartly as it turns out, to deposit the complementary bottle of orange juice into my UNC tote bag as I make for the door.

The cab ride is short and sweet. I kind of wish I’d braved the Metro system a little more though, as I surely could’ve saved some of that dough. I was concerned with being there on time however, because I’d made appointments for help from no doubt busy people.

Tweet Signpost: I have arrived at @NPR . Just waiting for someone to find me. Let the fun begin!

This is at 10:23, and the individual who would be taking me inside shows up promptly at 10:30. I am surprised when it turns out to be the person with whom I had been corresponding in order to put the tour details into place. She describes the types of things I would encounter, then takes me to the gift shop where I acquire a nice NPR travel mug and two CDs of popular NPR shows. I then ask her to take a picture of me with my iPhone.

Tweet Signpost: Me inside of the @NPR lobby in front of a sign panel (Photo)

This to me is one of the great things about having mainstream technology, something I can just hand to a sighted person and they’ll know what to do with. Photos don’t much matter to us blind folk, of course, but I know they can bring things to life for any pairs of eyes that look.

I wish I, with my faulty memory, could keep the happenings of the tour in order. If you would like to take it yourself and/or read a quick description of what one is supposed to see, check this entry. I should note that I am guided by a kind volunteer who has retired from her prior work and enjoys helping others as they go through the tour.

The building is seven floors, but we only get to see five. She says the top two don’t much contain anything of interest anyway. The voice that announces floors and direction in the elevator is that of none other than the legendary Susan Stamberg.

I enjoy sitting in the same chairs as the reporters do when in planning sessions for major shows like Morning Edition and All Things Considered. They show how stories are edited, noting that there is usually a fixed time that must be filled to the second, meaning that sometimes extended musical pieces will be used to make it all fit. I guess I feel a little better when listening now, because I often cringe involuntarily when I fear that a guest might be going on too long. I especially do this when the host says “Uh-huh?” in a way that says “Alright wrap up, please.” But, I’m just like that.

One of my favorite things to discover is to what extent NPR is going to ensure that its content is accessible. I think the tour guide says there will be an individual who can do live captioning with only a 3-second delay, for those who are hard of hearing. They also have a Braille display that is keeping time with the on-screen stories.

“Let him come up and feel this,” the guide says to the person with whom I am walking. “Can you read that?” he asks as I lightly touch the display.

“The…, suit,… It’s going too fast!” I reply. This draws laughter from the other members of our party.

And I think we’re among the lucky ones who actually do encounter an NPR host, as Weekend Edition Saturday’s Scott Simon pops out in a corridor just up ahead of us. Maybe some get to shake his hand, but I am too far back to do so. Still, it is interesting to hear him talk in person.

This largely wraps up what was for me a pretty exciting walk-through. If you’ve been following me for a long time, you know I’ve wanted to do this just as long as I’ve been blogging. My thanks to Erin McIntyre, volunteer Barbara, and the good folks of NPR Generation Listen for working with me to make that happen.

Tweet Signpost: Now the tour is over, and I’m just sitting in the lobby hoping a reporter walks by. Lol, we actually did run into @NPRScottSimon .

I sit here for a while longer drinking in the surroundings, until I am predictably approached by a security guard.

“No you aren’t in any trouble,” she says: “I just wanted to make sure you weren’t waiting for transportation or something.”

I accompany her into the café, where I buy a cheeseburger and am furnished with a cup of water. I know immediately that I won’t need a big dinner at night, as I’m still pretty full from the breakfast sandwich I’d had back at the hotel. They eat in DC!

The guard calls my next taxi, and once I arrive at my destination my iPhone decides it’d be a good idea to slip from my pocket. Imagine my panic when I touched that spot and felt nothing but flat fabric.

“Hey,” I asked no one: “y’all still see that cab?”

Fortunately for me, the driver had noticed it as he pulled off, and was already proffering the device without which I would’ve been very unhappy.

That crisis averted, I set off to do another thing I’d wanted for a while: visit Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. I kind of waited till the last minute to arrange this tour, having called on the Friday prior when they’d actually prefer that one do so two weeks in advance. Even so, a guide is found for me.

His name is Larry, and he notes that he has read for the organization now known as Learning Ally but then called Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic. Not surprisingly, his main interest is in books about planets and intraplanetary (ok, I made that up but so?) aviation. I believe he also served in one of the military branches, though I cannot remember if he tells me which.

We make our way through the huge crowds of people gawking at giant, old aircraft mounted over our heads. He pulls out a little cart on which he places model versions of some of these machines for me to feel.

I get to check out the Wright Flyer, which I am surprised to discover is kind of rectangular with its length going sideways, if that makes any sense. It has a kind of mesh at the front, and propellers. I wonder how they got that thing off of the ground.

I also see miniature versions of the first jet aircraft, which look more sleek and aerodynamic. He informs me that people initially thought that two wings were necessary in order to achieve even lift, but in actuality this depends on the level of force the aircraft’s fuselage is able to endure. Once this was discovered, some chose to build only single-wing aircraft.

Next, we take a quick trip to Space exploration. He shows me a model of Apollo 11, with its spindly lunar lander, conical mother ship part whose official name escapes me at the moment, and the bottle-shaped service module that contains all of the life-giving supplies such as oxygen and water. I’ve heard these parts described, but still it is fascinating to get a feel of what they actually look like.

He is fascinated by how much I know about air and Space travel. Well what can I say: I’ve just been hooked from a young age.

Tweet Signpost: Back at the hotel, man what a day! Pondering what to do tonight. Sleep will wait till I’m home.

And not a whole lot happens after this point. As I always must do when traveling, I take about an hour and a half in my room to de-compress and allow my ears and hearing to recover. If I don’t do this, I will develop a headache from all of the strain, becoming incredibly stressed out eventually. So, I sit on the bed with my phone in hand, firing off tweet replies to everyone who has commented over the course of the day and lining up plans for the next day’s meetings with online friends.

Tweet Signpost: Milkshake Outdoors, and My Day in a Nutshell (Audio)

Tweet Signpost: Oh, and Another for Ambience, Cuz I talked Too Much Audio

One of my favorite things to do when in a different location is to capture some of the sounds. These are a blind man’s photos, after all. In the first piece of audio, you’ll note how crazily windy it is out at that table where I sit, sucking on a delicious sweet mango milkshake from an Indian restaurant right near the hotel. My original plan was to sit outside for a bit, then head in and see if I could find some ice cream. But I hadn’t realized that I’d chosen a restaurant’s table until I am approached by a server who asks if I want anything. It ends up being quite a nice experience.

After a quick conversation with a friend in Chapel Hill once I return to my room, tiredness rolls in like a tide. I drift off as my phone and the NPR app streams All Things Considered, feeling happy and full of anticipation of what is to come.

More tomorrow.

7 Responses to DC On Air 2: The Tours, NPR and Air and Space

  1. Hi John- What a lovely write up. I actually work on the 6th floor of NPR…and while I love my job. It is true that you would not experience anything interesting there that you did not experience on the 5th floor.

  2. Pingback: Entering the Transport Revolution | A Blind Man's Journey

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