The Little Things: On a Relaxing July 4 Vacation and Work

Happy late Independence Day to all of us Americans who celebrate. Understanding many of the nuances of this nation’s history gives me much to ponder on that day, but I suppose I can get down with good food and family fun, as well as knowing that I’m fortunate that people have worked hard so that I have what I do have.

And what I did have on this July 4th was mostly blessed quiet, the calm before the storm one might say. My wife just had one of her sisters over, and she threw some steaks, dogs, burgers, and even chicken on the grill. I ate till bursting, then topped the night off with some of her homemade butter pecan ice cream. That takes me back to my childhood, when we so often ate the boxes of that stuff my mom would get as it was her favorite. “Eat the strawberry I got for y’all” she would say. But such is life when you have kids I guess, as many times someone would not only eat all of her butter pecan, but also put the empty box back into the freezer.

Ah, the glory days. That piece of waxing nostalgic done, I return you to your regularly scheduled programming, already in progress. Friday was more of the same, as I opted to take it off and not have to return to the office immediately after the holiday. I spent much of the day in a groggy fugue, as I had awakened kind of early. And I spent most of it indoors, as we topped out with heat indeces in the low 110s. That’s smokin’!

As that heat finally, sort of, broke over these parts on Saturday, my wife put up the summerish swinging bench she got for the back porch. That thing is pretty cool too, another piece of childhood though they don’t make them like they used to. My grandma had a bit metal swing chair thingy on her porch that I loved to sit on for hours, listening to the world go by. This one is more plastic, with a cloth canopy overhead and tables to either side that can hold cups or phones.

And as the heat continued to mostly hold off on Sunday, we took a stroll through Raleigh’s Dorthea Dixx Park so she could see and I could put my hands on the sunflowers. As we did so, a light, warm rain fell that actually felt good walking through. And, I got to feel and sit in a hammock, which I’ve often tried to visualize but could not quite understand. I love when I get to discover how things I’ve only read about actually work. That rope is kind of tricky to get into, and I could quickly understand how you could easily lie in or sit down on one. Cool.

So all of that had me relaxed and ready to enter what I knew would be a fast-paced week. My work is picking up, as we begin the training I alluded to in the previous post. Turns out I’m going to help someone at least acquire the basics of braille, and I will work with another on Customer Service stuff. I think the most enjoyable part of this is getting to express and expand my creativity as I work with others. It was a good day, just long and ending with a rewarding sense of exhaustion (there are multiple kinds of exhaustion). So just remember to ake heed of and be thankful for those little things that make up a life.

Why a Blind Man Watches Spacecraft Launches

And yes, I used the word “watch,” as it commonly refers to consuming video content. I “watch” TV or YouTube, or what have you.

I tried to watch the launch of the new Starliner spacecraft yesterday, but unfortunately they still haven’t been able to get it off the ground. Of course because it is a new machine, I’m sure they have to take every caution in putting it into the skies. But I find it particularly interesting to catch it, as this will be only the sixth different American craft created since the U.S. space program began.

My earliest memories of humanity hurling things out of Earth’s atmosphere are the same as many of my generation: the very sad Challenger space shuttle disaster. Because a teacher was going into space, all of the schools had us tuned in to watch this spectacle unfold. I think I only partially understood what had happened that day, because I was only 6 years old. But it gave me my first taste of a desire to explore and the dangers that could come with it.

This desire was deepened, oddly perhaps, by the little-known sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (one of my all-time favorite books by the way) called Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. In this one, Charlie ends up riding the elevator, I think from the factory, into space where he encounters aliens called Vermitious Knids. I guess they were a sort of stand-in for bad kids? Looking back on his writing, it seems maybe the author Roald Dahl didn’t like kids too much. Anyway, I remember the aliens smelling like eggs, and I was rapt by this nonsensical story. It even awoke in me a need to meet people not of my background who brought different perspectives and lived different lives.

As I got older I watched many of the shuttle launches, always feeling a thrill as all that audible power thrust them up, up, and away! I’ve read nearly every story written about the Apollo missions, and was most focused on how the astronauts felt as they left our planet, a slow ride at first with increasing G-force and speed until suddenly you go slack and float off of the couches. How I would love to experience that.

My interest in space and space travel went through the roof (clouds?) with the Apollo 13 movie starring Tom Hanks, which I got to catch in theaters. It was even more awe-inspiring to hear that power projected through a good sound system. And obviously getting those folks back home safely after everything unraveled is one of the best examples of the good we can do when we choose to work together.

Fast-forward to 2011 and the second-to-last shuttle flight. I sat in the lobby of my graduate school department building, feeling ho hum as I faced an insurmountable workload and had no clue how to deal with it. So I took a break and listened to the shuttle blast off. When I finished, I met a wonderful Lebanese woman who helped me get through that last, bumpy year and a half. I have an entire entry about her if you’d like to read it, but it again showed me the power of meeting and getting to know people from different backgrounds.

And as we are still stuck in low-earth orbit, I have read and am reading some sci-fi novels that take me many parsecs (I learned that a parsec represents roughly 3.26 light years) away and years into the future. The Noumenon series, by Marina J. Lostetter, is one of the most imaginative series I have ever read, and I’ve read many of them (the Frank Kitridge Mars series is also excellent). In Noumenon, she has them awake while traveling incredible distances rather than being frozen. I like how she takes care to represent all kinds of people, including multiple cultures and even people with disabilities (a deaf woman and one in a wheelchair play significant roles.) The books, three of them, are long but worth it. So if you get the chance, check them out.

So yeah, my interest in spacecraft launches and space travel overall stems from all kinds of experiences. Hey, maybe I’ll do as I told my mom and be the first blind man on the moon (I’ll plant my cane there!)

O the Days of Yore

Describe a phase in life that was difficult to say goodbye to.

So I’m writing in here again, mainly because I’m still paying for this thing and can’t bring myself to give it up after all these years of hard work. I’m going to use these writing prompts to try and get back off the pad (I’m reading a book about shuttle launches, hence that metaphor) and get the writing flowing again.

With that noted, I’m to write about a phase of life I found hard to let go of. Truth is, I still find it hard to let go of.

1997. I stepped from my mom’s car into the steamy Charlotte afternoon, stomach fluttering, as I readied to begin my biggest adventure yet. Freshmen year of college at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. And I may have written about this elsewhere in my blog, but hey I’m old and I ain’t going back to check.

Anyhow, my mom and I made a few runs up to my room to get all of my stuff installed. I briefly met my room mate (probably the part to which I least looked forward, and rightfully so) then we headed out to visit my sister in her apartment. She was also starting her attendance at that university, though unlike me this was not her first year in college overall.

When we returned to my dorm, my mom gave me a hug before parting and placed me on the wall. “Do you know how to get back to your building,” she asked.

“Yes,” I answered timidly. There was no way I knew how to get back over there yet, as I hadn’t undergone the grueling orientation and mobility (O&M) training I as a blind student would have to endure to get used to the campus. But I was too terrified to admit otherwise.

College, the five and a half of years I spent there, were far from perfect. I had some periods where depression became so intense that I was urged to seek counseling. I also didn’t do so well in some courses not because of my inability to understand the work, but rather an unwillingness to seek the resources I needed.

But college was fun. It seemed I rarely had to study to get good grades. I also made friends easily, and if I hadn’t been as shy as I was I would have definitely gotten into even more things. (Granted it’s probably good I didn’t get into some of those things, but I’m just sayin’.)

People told me over and over again that those days were not reality, and now that I’m an adult I can see that. Reality is for me, as for most of us, waking at 5 AM.M. To slog off to a long workday to bring home the bacon, as they say. As I do that, I’m glad I have those years to reflect on and give me many good memories. I also still have especially the music I listened to in those days, as it is so easy to just live in the ‘90s using SiriusXM and Apple Music. There’ll likely never be such carefree days again.

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!

Home: Alone

In his song Still In Love, Luther tells us that “a house is not a home if there’s no one there to hold you tight”. I often think about this wordplay, that involving the terms “house” and “home”, and whether it actually has significance.

Today, the 23rd of September, marks the time when, two years ago, I moved back into what I guess I still call home for the last time. Well barring any unforeseen circumstances, of course. In contrast to this one, that Sunday was still dripping with the refuse of summer as we squeezed what remained of my belongings into my family’s car and trundled off for the small town of Pinebluff, North Carolina.

I lived there for almost exactly four months, departing on an icy late January day for my current residence. To me, “home” came to mean a place where I no longer had to worry about what I was going to eat, or making sure that the meaningful bills were paid. I did have to maintain my cell phone bill, but otherwise all of that was back out of my hands. It was a bit of a welcome reprieve, and one which I now wish I had allowed myself to enjoy more than I did.

Instead, I spent much of that time kind of to myself, and pondering how I would get back into the larger world. Granted, I shouldn’t have wanted to remain there forever, but I just think I should have slipped into the role of “brother” and “Uncle” more thoroughly, as I don’t really know if I’ll experience these roles in as profound and constant a way again, or at least anytime soon.

I have my own apartment now, of course, and had one before that September day two years ago. Yet I don’t think I ever really called those rentals home. Is this because they both have had an air of draftiness? I guess industrial, like a giant space that isn’t really meant to absorb all of the memories, emotions, etc that make up a life.

Or is it because I have occupied these units by myself. Waking up on major holidays, which I haven’t done as much since relocating to Durham but certainly did in Carrboro, with no one around brings with it an attendant sadness and distance, reminiscent of the room with “Nothing there but gloom” that Luther refers to later in his song.

Well, I had stayed with my cousin in a unit that also had that somewhat unhomely feeling from 2003 till 2009, but perhaps because he was there most of the time also, it did at least seem to hold more of a sentimental value when I prepared to depart. I do recall spending one of those weird holidays, the first time we woke to a quiet Christmas in that same 2003 year that we arrived, with store-bought burgers and a plate that arrived later in the night. It still wasn’t as tough as some of those days in 09/10.

So I say all that to ask: what makes “home” to you? Do you still refer to your parent(s) place in this way exclusively? Does it become different once or if you have children. I suspect home is a place where you really have those family roots laink regardless of what role you actually play in said family. Just some thoughts as we begin the seasons where such bonds become more profound and important: cold, drippy, less ideal for meeting people outside of the household. Chime in!

Summer Wrap: Stream of Consciousness

Even writing those words makes me want to cry buckets of tears. Already, we have reached the last weekend of official summer. I’m taking it all in though, enjoying a stiff breeze outside as I type and planning to remain out here nearly all day.

Hey, at least I had fun. This summer was characterized by more travel than I’ve been able to do in a long time: highlighted by trips to Las Vegas, Atlanta, and the usual repeated visits to Charlotte. I didn’t really finish my Atlanta story, but think I can still remember it well enough to capture the rest. I may do that tomorrow. I just went through a particularly bad period where I hadn’t really felt motivated, but one thing I can say for the Fall is it does fill me with the idea that things may turn the corner. That has rarely actually happened, but one has to think that eventually it will.

One thing I especially enjoyed during the month of August, though it seems to have quieted down lately, is making a new friend in the area. She is the kind of person who reminds me of others in my family, such as my Aunt who sadly is no longer living, as she loves to walk.

We took a stroll to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, a couple miles away from here maybe, and listened to the animals and kids waddle by while taking in the aromas of almost every kind of plant imaginable.

Then we went to a wine tasting at our local grocery store, where I drank enough to feel it a bit but not anymore. It doesn’t take much for this lightweight, of course.

With her, I learned where our pool is, as she’s a huge fan of swimming, more about the bus system, and that there are even a couple more places around here that I need to visit for their menus. Plus, she helped me to acquire and consume my requisite summer watermelon, MMM! I guess it wasn’t as good as it could have been, but one should expect that from grocery store fruit in my opinion.

That kind of serendipitous encounter can bring so much richness to a person’s life, for sure. I appreciated the patience she had not only in assisting me, but doing so while managing her two young children as well.

And now, I must go back into a post-summer savings mode, to try and recover from the wild financial flins I took this year. Well hey, I worked all summer too, so had to have a bit of fun! The last big thing I’ve done is upgrade to the iPhone 6, because my 4S is giving me all kinds of trouble lately and it’s just time to move on from that thing anyway. The 6 won’t get here for probably another couple of weeks though, as it’s being shipped and they’re probably backed up all the way to the Pacific in orders. I think I can make it till then, though.

So, what was the most interesting thing you did this summer? Meet any new people?

And finally, I want to thank the owner of this blog for publishing a few of my older posts. It got me some recognition, which is cool. More soon, and go Panthers! Off to a 2-0 start, and we have a nationally televised game against the Pittsburgh Steelers tomorrow night. Football is one of the only things I do like about colder times.

A Birthday, The Middle

Happy Saturday! And a big birthday milestone reached for me, my 35th. (I almost typed 354th, but that would be something entirely different for sure).

The somewhat morbid side of me became curious: what might my life expectancy be. According to this chart in Wikipedia, which I’ll admit I don’t entirely understand, the US is 34th in national life expectancy rates, at about 78 years? My grandparents lived at least until their 80s, so presumably if I start to eat healthier than I do now I shouldn’t even be halfway to the end. In any event, 35 just sounds like a nice round number, and a good place from which to evaluate and take stock of one’s outcome thus far.

Things are certainly getting better for me. It was at this point last year really that I suddenly became much more familiar with my surrounding neighborhood. Probably since then, I’ve only been to Chapel Hill a handful of times. I’ve already written many times though about my treks to the strip of restaurants that contain Dunkin Donuts, most notably my Regulars post. I love this area, feel quite attached to it, and will remain here if I find desirable employment nearby. I think that may happen within my next year. Optimistic? Maybe, but so much momentum seems to be building.

For some time, I’d wanted to explore a local restaurant here in Durham. While I rail against the “chain”edness of everything, I still too often end up spending my money in such establishments. I must admit that this is because chains tend to be cheaper, and I have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to get.

Today though, I opted to finally venture over to Geer Street Garden. Located at 636 Foster Street, which I find odd as it is named after the street on whose corner it sits, its main claim to fame is “real, downhome food”.

Before departing, I attempt to look up the menu on the iPhone as I usually like to. It seems though that Google Maps is losing some of its accessibility, as loading it now causes my phone to act eradically at best. I get to where I can tap on the menu, but give up on trying to read it after it refreshes and throws me back to refreshes and throws me back to back to the beginning of the line ugh! I finally just opt to call and check on how crowded things are, as I usually like to do, then I summon my Uber ride.

(Wanna use my Uber code? Please? johnm1014.)

I arrive at the restaurant, and am asked if I wish to go to the outdoor patio. Of course! The night is nearly windless, and drier than I’d expected given the forecast of all rain. I’d also gotten lots of sun earlier therein, too. This of course improves my mood.

I sit at a small table, the loner table I guess, and listen to the people as they filter in. Kids running around the porch and screaming. Music playing. Me sitting there, attempting to play with my iPhone in the data dead zone.

The server comes over, and I quickly decide to have the lasagna plate special, with garlic bread and a side salad. For my initial drink, I have lemonade.

The salad is covered in balsamic dressing. This non-foodie thinks that’s a vinegrette? Whatever it is, it tastes like vinegar. There was mostly lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes.

The lasagna reminds me of what real lasagna tastes like. Piping hot, delicious cheese and sauce, and nice, real chunks of ground beef. I even enjoy the crunchy stuff on the side of the bowl.

And the bread? Oh, man. It has little peppers therein, and real garlic that somehow tops any garlic bread I’ve ever had. I savor each bite, mixing it with the last of that yummy dish.

Ah, I don’t like that their online menu is image-based, so I can’t review the kind of drink I had. I ask the server for something local, especially a beer.

“Do you like cider”

Um, I think so” I reply.

I think he tells me I am drinking something called Cristin’s Hard Cider? It tastes delicious, but more like a wine than anything. I am not really sure if it has much of an effect on me either.

Finally, I decide for dessert to have Keylime pie. I get that to go though, and as of the writing of this entry, I haven’t consumed it. I hope it will be good.

Another server, a woman, helps me back out front and waits with me while I summon my return Uber ride. We chat amiably for the few minutes it takes for the vehicle to arrive, and I am off home. After getting a bit lost in this sometimes confusing complex, I come back inside and call it a day.

This was a fun birthday, about as much as I could ask for as an adult. I like that I heard from so many old friends via Facebook and Twitter, and managed to make a couple of new ones. Very interested to see what year 36 will bring.

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?

Going On A Coaster Ride

As this summer is ending far more quickly than I would like, I thought it would be fun to continue reflecting on reasons why I enjoy the season so much. The only experiences I’ve really written about thus far are attending summer camps and old-time traditions of ice cream and car-cruising with the family. For the next few entries, I will talk about my trips to amusement parks, public pool jaunts, and standing beside the awe-inspiring Atlantic Ocean.

Have you ever been to an amusement park? It’s hard for me to imagine that one hasn’t, especially in the US and I guess most European countries. With that line of thought, I wonder exactly how many amusement parks there are.

In my hometown of Charlotte, we have Carowinds. I think I saw in an article that someone wrote about his experiences with the Thunder Road and White Lightning roller coasters that this park opened in 1976? It is built right on the North Carolina/South Carolina line, which creates a fun photo opportunity of shooting oneself while standing in both states. I think many of the coasters traverse the line as riders hurtle along as well.

The first time I can remember going, I was probably 7 or so. I think back then, they’d give out vouchers to attend the park for kids who had achieved perfect attendance at school. This is likely the only way our family of seven, including my cousin; my mom, dad, and Aunt could have gotten into the park at the same time.

We would stop by Bojangle’s to procure giant boxes of chicken and biscuits that we would leave the park to consume around lunch time, in lieu of the expensive fare provided inside. Better make sure the stamps on our hands could clearly be seen!

Back in those days, we had a big hatchback, and so a lot of us kids would squeeze in back with the trunk flung wide open, trying not to be sucked out by the roaring wind. I wonder if that sort of thing could even be done today? Probably a bit crazy, but fun.

Man, was I ever the cry baby back then. And it didn’t help that my biological father would pick on me constantly about it, calling me “sissy” in particular. He kept urging me to try riding Thunder Road, even though I was probably too short to do so then anyway. Not to mention terrified just by the sound and screaming people! Back in those days, I enjoyed smaller stuff like the Octopus, Metiorite (“Enjoy your flight, on the Metiorite!”) and swings that more like sucked you high into the air and spun faster and faster while doing so.

I eventually did try the coasters though, probably at age 10 or so. All that anticipation builds while standing in line, and I nearly got sick before getting on.

It’s probably more of an adventure for blind folks, as we can’t see what’s going to come beyond that hill. I was always amused by the clicking sound it makes as we slowly work our way up.

“Ah, I don’t think this is gonna be too bad.” I thought.

Till we leveled out, and woosh! Down we flew, with screeching metal and the shrill roar of voices reverberating off of the tunnel walls until those sounds became indistinguishable from one another. I felt the bar press toward my lap as I rose a bit from the seat and pulled the bar down towards me. There would be a few seconds of reprieve, allowing me to think it was over, then off we shot again! After that, I couldn’t get enough.

On that day, I rode Thunder Road, the Carolina Cyclone, (first time I’d even gone upside down on a ride,) and the Carolina Gold Rush. I was never brave enough to ride White Lightning, because I’d heard about it jumping the tracks and getting stuck a few times. I think they eventually shut that one down, if I’m not mistaken.

The ones that really terrified me though were the water rides! See my previously mentioned fear of water. There was one called the Waterlog, which would bump ominously against the side of its enclosure as we raced downhill toward the pool there. The sides were so low that I feared losing an arm or plain being thrown from the boat. In retrospect though, I suppose I enjoyed it.

At both Carowinds and Six Flags over Georgia in Atlanta, I rode what is basically the same stand-up coaster. At our park, it’s known as the Vortex, while down there they called it BatMan. A sighted person showed me how frighteningly close we come to the ground on one of the big turns on that thing.

Probably the most unnerving experience I know of someone having on that ride happened to my sister. She squeezed on the bars as the ride sped around the bend, and the bar came up as if unlocked! This caused her to hang in the air for the remainder of the ride, hoping she’d have enough strength to hold on until it stopped. Thinking of that makes me feel queasy. I think stuff like that may be why they’ve installed belts on most of those rides nowadays to offer additional security.

So which parks have you visited? What were the names of your favorite coasters? Do you know if they still exist?

The Caged Bird, and Other Reflections

I’m guessing by now that you know of the passing of Maya Angelou, one of the gratest and most inspiring writers/poets of all time. It’s funny, but to me she seemed like one who could go on and on for many more years. She certainly didn’t sound different in the last NPR interview I heard with her, though I grant that happened over a year ago. In any event, I guess all of our stories must at some point come to its end.

In an attempt to learn more about her, I read the first of her autobiographies entitled I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. It’s a powerful story, with the feel of fiction but accompanied by the heavy weight of many injustices. We watch as she navigates and tries to learn the confusing roles of “black person” and “female” in the deep south.

On the former, this is one of the first books that really got me to understand a bit of why there was, and sadly still is in some cases, so much mistrust between individuals of different racial/ethnic backgrounds. Maya, (real name Marguerite) and her brother Bailey to whom she was very close, are called all sorts of names by the few whites that visit them. They also are forced to watch as some of the visitors attempt to disrespect their grandmother, because social norms dictate that she can do little or nothing about this treatment.

Meanwhile, they also grow up seeing white people as not human, primarily due to the infrequent and charged interactions among and between them. I find this very sad on all counts, and hope that we as members of this great but sometimes misled species jostle to survive and thrive on this planet.

As to the latter role of female, I’m sure most have heard the part of the story where she stops talking after having been sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend, who was subsequently killed by the family. She feels as if she has caused this killing by what she uttered, and thus refuses to talk with anyone but her brother for a long time.

This event was definitely awful, but what makes it worse for the reader is that Angelou manages to view it through childlike eyes again: not really able to understand what is happening or its meaning.

I think it is her ability to assume this perspective that makes her entire bio more poignant. If you’ve not read it, I’d recommend. For along with the sadness, there are rather humorous stories speckled in. It also gave me much to reflect on regarding my own life and its happenings.

It especially gave me cause to recall my own project on the lives and societal standing of African American males that I completed as a Ronald E. McNair Summer Research Internship Scholar. This program was created to honor Dr. McNair, one of the astronauts who lost his life in the Challenger explosion, and I believe the first black astronaut. Its aim was to improve the attendance rates of graduate school for minority/underrepresented students. I still remember that summer of 2001 as being one of the best I’ve ever experienced, especially from a social standpoint.

As I benefited both academically and financially from that program, I’m still hoping to, if not attend grad school, find some way to carry out enough of its mission to be more successful than I currently am. I’m wondering if, by extension, it might work for me to advise others on a college campus on how to strengthen their good points and maybe avoid pitfalls. It’s definitely something about which I’ve thought for years.

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I know it isn’t the only path to such a career or maybe even the one I’ll end up taking, but one of my Twitter followers suggested I look into a master’s-level program in Student Affairs at the University of South Florida. From what I’ve seen of that program, it looks pretty good. They take seriously placing individuals who complete it, requiring also that one work while studying the theories and other classroom stuff. So I’d feel pretty confident about my chances upon completing it.

I think the primary issue here is that I need to somehow make sure that I’m cut out for this sort of thing. Perhaps the most feasible way to do this would be to mentor an incoming first-year student and just see how well I can make suggestions that might actually be helpful. I would also like to get a taste of my potential leadership skills.

So I think this is one of the reasons I keep reading these days, looking for that one piece of information that will set me on the right path. Does such a thing even exist? I intend to keep trying to find out.