DC On Air 1: The Going

Wednesday:

A light rain falls as I disembark from the Triangle Transit 700 which, ironically, arrives at the Durham Station transportation center on time. This is the first time all week, as on both Monday and Tuesday the bus got there so late that I had been unable to make my connection to the DATA Route 6 bus that takes me home. Today, I don’t even need it.

I kind of hang out at that immediate location from 4 PM until almost 5, knowing there are still a couple of hours to kill. Then the bladder places its call to the brain, and so I stand and make my way toward the Greyhound station to meet that need.

People are milling around, babies crying, teens may as well be. Meanwhile, I put my hearing aids into the beautiful t-coil setting that largely isolates all sound and settle in with my audio books to complete the wait.

I don’t think I’ve talked about it yet, but I’m reading The Twelve by Justin Cronan. In order to really read this one though, you have to have read The Passage first as it’s a sequel. Both novels, of epic length, start out in modern times and quickly advance to a somewhat post-apocalyptic future where “virals,” previously human figures that have been taken over by an awful virus, attack and destroy the fabric of civilization. These resulted from an experiment on prisoners that went very wrong. It’s good stuff, if quite disturbing.

So once 5:45 rolls around, I know it is time to start finding my way out to where the Megabus departs. I meet a nice individual who says he knows where I should go, and walk with him out to the back as we chat. The rain is still coming down, but sun also shines, which actually feels pretty good other than the fact that my clothes are getting wet.

I’d tried to memorize the confirmation number for my reservation, but apparently get it wrong. iPhone to the rescue, as I just pull up the email so the driver can have a look. Ah, I love no longer having to find a way to print this stuff out. Then, off we go.

Tweet Signpost:

And with that, my trip to DC is underway. Sitting upstairs, which is cool. Helpful pax showed me electrical outlet

I think this may be only the second time I’ve ever ridden on a double-decker bus. The ride is quite comfortable, and I’m surprised that I can feel a little less engine rumble up here. People do turn on their music and play it aloud, which I’m sure the rules stipulate should not be done. I guess the driver doesn’t particularly care, though.

Tweet Signpost:

And the first county on the other side of the NC/VA line is Mecklenburg. Copy cats! Also a town called Norlina right at border

Yep, one of the things I especially enjoy about this trip is really taking Ariadne GPS, an iPhone app that is customized for VoiceOver, for a spin. I have my destination hotel saved to its favorites, and so I watch the milage count down as we get closer and closer. It makes me feel like I’m headed to another planet.

We take on passengers in Richmond, stopping for only about 15 minutes. At this station, a woman boards who manages to hold up a very loud cell phone conversation for the duration of the trip. She speaks in what sounds like a mix of English and perhaps some African language, alternately stomping eratically and laughing hysterically. I don’t have a problem with this per se, but I’m willing to bet that some passengers do.

Tweet Signpost:

Yikes! Right into the heart of some heavy rain.

And right at that moment, I become glad I hadn’t opted to take Amtrak. Of course if I had, I would’ve had to leave earlier anyway, so that likely is a moot point. But I remember what happened to me as I attempted to reach Charlotte and my cousin’s wedding through a dounpour.

I watch as we bounce onto a bridge and the GPS reports “Potomac River”. I think that’s the Woodrow Wilson Bridge? It takes us from Arlington into DC, depositing us, I think, on SW 14th Street. I also note the towns of Lorton, Springfield, and Alexandria as we close in on the city.

At Union Station, I am assisted to the level to grab a taxi by a young woman who says she’s from Chapel Hill and about to complete her MSW at Howard. Impressive, I say.

Tweet Signpost:

Here In DC (Audio)

Hunger has nearly crippled me by this point, so as I state in that audio post, I call up a place called New York Pizza. I listen to the belly rumblings and order a 12-inch cheeseburger sub, when I would definitely have been fine with only 8 inches. I end up only able to consume half of it, depositing the rest into the can untouched. This is why I wish all hotel rooms had refrigeration.

I think I will stop here and continue with Thursday’s happenings tomorrow.

I Get Around

On Twitter I follow Micki Maynard, a reporter who just announced the Curbing Cars Project. This is an effort to get a sense of how and to what degree our transportation choices may have changed in the last few decades. In short, how do we get around? I’m participating, by keeping a diary for a week on my transportation interactions to collect data that will then be used, along with many others, to get a sense of wider trends.
As a person with a visual disability, I obviously have never been able to drive. This may well change in the future though, as companies like Google and others continue to make strides in creating cars that won’t really need much input from their drivers in order to cruise the streets. I suppose there are reasons to be leary of this invention, and as many say in reference to that the idea of blind people in such automobiles by themselves will be slow to catch on even if they are proven safe, mainly due to what some call social capital. This means that the general attitudes will have to moderate, which will likely take many years.
So until that beautiful time comes, we have to cobble together the easiest way to get across town and to hit the road. Many would say that’d be paratransit, but well that just depends.
And what is paratransit, you ask? Loosely defined, it is a patchwork of accessible vehicles, usually an offshoot of a city’s fixed-route transit system, that takes clients with verified disabilities from door to door. I don’t know how wide that criteria spans, but they definitely work with people with mobility difficulties and blind folks. Someone conducts assessments to determine whether an individual can cross streets and thus gain access to fixed-route buses. The way it worked when I was in Charlotte was that if you actually could hop the bus sometimes, you were able to get a pass that would grant use of both systems. This meant I could use the paratransit to get to work, and still have an unplanned day on the town if I wanted.
That last is an important point, and the main reason I don’t often use paratransit. Many systems require you to call at least a day in advance in order to book a ride, mostly because of the logistical challenges involved in planning routes. I discovered why having such a policy does generally make sense, but still one rarely has everything thought out even that far in advance.
Here in Durham, I still haven’t signed up for the local paratransit system. I know there are some legitimate reasons why I should do so, but the paperwork will take a while to process. Plus, even if I do opt in, I’ll likely still take the Durham Area Transit Authority (DATA) and Triangle Transit routes to work, because they are considerably cheaper. Here I can’t get one of those combination passes, but must instead pay almost double per ride on a paratransit vehicle.
The only area in which I see using paratransit potentially benefiting me would be in getting to the grocery store. Although even that has been mitigated some by my having found an excellent taxi driver who always charges me a predictable price and also will walk me up and down the aisles as I acquire the goods.
This gets to my final point about getting around, especially as it applies to persons with disabilities that make it difficult to drive: it can be a real challenge! Often even in the cities with the best transit systems, there are times where one wishes to just jump in a car and get to somewhere quickly. What about when it’s not an ambulance-level emergency but one must confront an issue that suddenly crops up and do so without a big hastle.
Most of us have the experience of dealing with kind, well-meaning friends who may in the end make us feel like a nuisance because we have chosen to ask for their assistance to reach a destination. Usually in these situations, our options are limited. Yet I at least always try to ensure that an individual whom I’ve asked can feel free to say no. And believe me, because our options are so limited it is far better for you to say no as quickly as you can rather than just kind of sitting on the fence, so that we can look into whatever other possibilities might exist. Often, it’s almost worse to actually get what we want done but feel a person’s inconvenience over having to do this thing while tired or wishing to do something else than to just let it go by. So if I ask you, or anyone needing such a service does, please let us know what the deal is. And if you feel you should charge for that favor, please state it. I then have to make the decision whether I can pay your named price or come up with another means of getting where I want to go.
These are just some of my thoughts regarding transportation for persons with disabilities, about which I admit I think a lot. I invite others to chime in with their thoughts as well.

On Unruly Bus Passengers And Social Skills

Sometimes, things happen that leave one shaking his head. They also kind of dove-tail with some of the thoughts I’d had regarding my own social skills, which admittedly may or may not be where I’d like them to be.
The relatively empty bus rattles toward the transportation center. I have my headset on, listening to the latest news as usual. A passenger boards approximately a stop before the station, but at a point where some highway still separates us from that final location.
“Hey!” I hear him say: “don’t you do…?”
I kind of lose track of what he is asking the driver, but I know at first he was inquiring about which bus left for the airport and at what time. Then he says he’d need to take the driver’s number, because apparently the driver provides some service that he was desperately seeking. I think that driver expressed reluctance to divulge his digits.
“Ah alright, man,” he said: “I’ll just give you my number!”
I put exclamation points, because everything this guy said is indeed very loud. It doesn’t take long for me to develop a headache and long for that bus to hurry up and let me off!
I transfer. Ah, I’m free of that, right? Wrong!
Not long after hopping onto the second bus, the skies open up and thunder booms overhead. We ease away from the station, this time with a woman at the wheel.
“Hey!” someone yells.
And again, I lose track of his thoughts as he thunders on and on.
“I can’t really even hear you!” the driver says over the din of the downpour.
And if that isn’t the same guy as before, then it’s incredibly ironic.
When I do manage to re-connect with the conversation, he is asking “but you’re not allowed to give out your number, right?”
“Right,” she says.
“Ok, well I’ll give you mine when I get off. … Ok?”
“Ok,” she replies.
Woo, I think to myself; perhaps that’s finally over.
“You know, your husband is really lucky,” he pipes up again.
Sigh. I have no idea what kind of state this guy is in, but maybe he was trying to figure out a way to talk to people. It probably bordered on, if not actually being, harassment.
While that’s a particularly brazen example of how not to socialize with others, I can’t entirely say I’ve been all that good at it either.
Back in my younger days, I pretty much thought that every time I met a woman, I should try and get her number or find some other way to ensure that a connection was established. I wasn’t doing this for malicious reasons, but because I thought it was the only way I could have a chance of finding where and with whom I might be able to build a relationship.
Needless to say behaving in this manner can create sticky situations, and especially for one who is blind and can’t see her husband, standing right there. Yes, I’ve done that once. That incident finally showed me why just taking that sort of blanket approach was a bad idea.
So during this phase of my social development, I’ve pretty much gone to the other extreme. I really don’t try to connect with anyone, but instead I just keep working on my conversation skills. I do know that it takes more than a couple of minutes to really know if you want to continue talking to a person. I guess my difficulty now is that I feel that I’ve missed some good opportunities out of an abundance of caution. And of course, it would be nice just to have someone with whom to hang out. But all in time. I certainly don’t think it’s ever! Acceptable to make people feel uncomfortable in order to get something I want, and feel badly for the, hopefully, few times I’ve done that.

Just Another Insane Workday

Because what weekend doesn’t end crazily? I’m certainly hoping things get to be a bit more to my liking as this week goes on.
My cousin and I sit in the four-bedroom house, chatting. One of our old, favorite country albums plays in the background.
“Wanna go swimming?” he asks suddenly.
“Yeah,” I reply.
The delicious scent of fried chicken and baked macaroni and cheese follows us as we make our way onto the back deck and maneuver around a collections of chairs irregularly placed. I slip out of my shirt and shoes, walk down the stairs, dive in, and!… lurch out of bed toward the restroom, as I suddenly realize the problem.
I was mostly relieved that my clock only read 2:15, instead of the 4:15 that would mean I must go ahead and shower. But I made the classic mistake of browsing the notifications that had poured into my phone while it rested in my pocket, Do Not Disturb setting activated so that only the vibrating alarm would rouse me.
I don’t know if any sleep was had after that, but in any event it was far too soon by the time I did in fact have to make my way toward that warm-to-hot water. I turned on the brain cells as best I could, hoping mostly to come up with some kind of topic in order to keep my writing challenge goal alive of pumping out an entry every day of this month.
You know, I’ve never really done that. Oh sure, I posted in my Live Journal continuously for a little over 2 years, but not all of those were actually written entries. Many were those silly Internet memes, polls, or low-quality telephone voice posts. So it remains to be seen if I can measure up to this high bar. I do enjoy your feedback, as that may well be the thing to keep me going.
Anyway, back to my day. I chose to dress nicely, not because I had to but because it sometimes boosts my confidence and mood as the week begins. On stepping outside, I was glad to have made such a choice. It seems fall is coming in with a vengeance, or perhaps my already low cold tolerance levels have fallen further. They said it was approximately 63 degrees, but I stood quaking in my Sunday shoes as cars streamed by and I awaited a slightly late Durham Area Transit Authority (DATA) Route 11 bus.
On boarding, I flashed my Disability Discount ID card, deposited my pass into the slot and waited for it to magically pop back up, and took my sideways-facing seat. I was nervous, because that vehicle had a disturbing rattle as we headed down the road. It sounded this way when I took it on Thursday as well. I suppose there isn’t anything really wrong with it, but still.
At the Durham Station transit center stop, I made small talk with the woman I’ve seen fairly regularly for almost 3 months. She has a complicated story, the likes of which I’ve not entirely figured out. But it seems she’s from Las Vegas, has two children, and is either in her 20’s or 40’s. I get somewhat different answers on different days! She’s really kind however, and always has an encouraging word even though she doesn’t seem to feel all that happy with circumstances much of the time.
The Triangle Transit Route 700 that takes me on my second leg to work was also significantly late, arriving at nearly 6:15 instead of 6:00. Maybe today was just a particularly bad traffic day or something. This meant I got to work at 6:45 AM, and had only 15 minutes to clock in, suck down my required coke, and tune in to some NPR.
By clicking on the work tab, you can get a sense of what I do, or at least used to do, at this location. Today though is spent as much of the rest of these last two months have been, just kind of passing time. They did say some sort of project should be ready for us by tomorrow or Wednesday, thank goodness.
At about 2:30 my supervisor brought over a collection of belt buckles that we were to sort into piles of 100. This held us for most of the rest of the day, until we finally ran out of boxes into which we could place the piles.
You know, I’m trying to have a better attitude about all of this. An intelligent woman on Twitter pointed out that this was essential in order to eventually rise above my current situation. But I’ve spent almost exactly 10 years, as one could argue that I began my job search on July 31 of 2003, trying to find something that would really be desirable.
I know the numbers: 70% of persons with disabilities unemployed, and those of us who are fortunate to be working are mostly in sheltered workshops such as the one in which I currently work. I am, more than anything, glad to be alive in an era when I can realistically hope to change that not only for myself, but also to give keys, information and insight to others so they can change it as well.

Data About DATA

I wrote an article entitled Riding The Bus in Chapel Hill a few months ago for the Go Triangle blog, in which I talked about my experience using Chapel Hill Transit. Given that I have located to another city in the Triangle area, Durham, I thought it would be fun to juxtapose that prior experience with my current one.

My silly title comes from the fact the the Durham Area Transit Authority? Association? I’m not sure which, is shortened to DATA. Makes it sound like the city is a hub for technology and information, which I suppose this whole area strives to be with its Research Triangle Park.

Of course, DATA is different from Chapel Hill Transit in that its primary base isn’t necessarily college students. Well maybe many college students ride, as the Route 6 that takes me to my apartment in Duke Manor spends a significant amount of time on the Duke University campus.

Any system is most obviously powered by its drivers. The Durham drivers are perhaps less likely to engage me in brief conversation than those in Chapel Hill were. By this point though, the ones who regularly transport me know who I am and will say “good morning” or “have a good rest of the day” when appropriate.

One very good thing is that I have yet to miss a stop and go sailing back around. This is a result not only of the drivers’ vigilance, but also that of the other passengers. Invariably, someone will tap me on the leg or shoulder to ask where I plan to disembark. I have learned, as I usually do, to notice when I’m arriving at my apartment’s location.

This ability is aided by the stop announcement system, which is more intricate than any I can recall hearing. I recorded an audio file some time ago to capture that ambience that I called A Fun Ride Through Durham .

The first thing I noticed, as I demonstrate in that recording, is that every time someone pulls the cord to request a stop, the bus says “Please remember to remain seated, or hold onto a railing, until the bus comes to a complete stop”. Then once the door hisses open, it says “For your safety, please watch your step when getting off the bus”.

Second, it somehow recognizes if individuals are rockin’ too hard to a song, either in open speakers or a headset. It’ll say “Please, no loud music allowed on the DATA bus,” until something is done about this situation.

Finally, and perhaps most fascinating of all, someone had taken the side-facing seats at the front of the bus that are typically reserved for older folks and those with disabilities. I continued down the aisle until I was able to locate an open seat, but then the system pointed this out:

“Please note, seats in front are reserved for the elderly and those with disabilities”.

It kind of put a big, red dot on that poor individual’s forehead.

That’s just a little taste of what it’s like for me taking the DATA bus to and from work every day. Quite often packed, full of interesting happenings and conversation. I’m sure it’ll become even more so with the improving weather, supposing said improvements actually happen.