Ride, Ride, Ride…Hitchin’ a Ride

So, I have been noticeably absent in my blog posts for the past…5 months??? Oh boy. In my Happy Anniversary post about Jingles, I mentioned some of my new pastimes – running and tandem biking – and now I have three favorite causes: Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Achilles International, and InTandem.

Today, I’d like to share with you a little about InTandem. As you all are well aware of now, I didn’t grow up as “the blind girl.” I loved doing all sorts of visual things – one of those being riding my bike. My family and I used to ride for miles on the Rails to Trails (converted railroad tracks turned biking / walking paths). I loved feeling the wind hitting my face, whizzing through the countryside through small towns, and watching the miles rack up.

Then, I began losing more vision. The last time I tried to ride a bike; I was around 20 with some college friends. After riding a few hundred yards, I realized how little I could see, and the cliff to my right seemed precariously close. I walked the rest of the way. And that was the last time I picked up a bike.

Until InTandem. This past spring I discovered an amazing organization that makes riding a bike accessible to people like me through tandem bike rides. . Enthusiastically, I signed up for my first ride, and Jingles and I headed to Central Park early one Saturday morning. And, did we ride! Wow, I couldn’t believe the amazing feeling, whizzing through the park, getting to know the person in the front seat. I smiled the entire time, and couldn’t wait for the next ride.

Even more fantastic – the opportunities to ride are completely free. To put it into perspective, a 1-hour tandem ride through the park will put you out a good $50 bucks, which is basically out of my price range for a leisurely hobby. But InTandem provides FREE rides on their own tandem bikes. The bikes are captained (steered) by kindhearted volunteers, and there are even people who give up their time to watch the guide dogs.

I’ve met great people, had great rides, and worked some muscles. Now, I’m going to ride 43 miles in the Gran Fondo NJ on September 13. I am doing this to raise money for this fantastic organization. I may not be able to move for a week afterward, but it will be totally worth it.

So, if you would like to help make my trip a triumph, please give a visit to my Crowdrise page and make a donation. If you can’t donate, I’d love some happy thoughts on race day: DDDD

Team InTandem Crowdrise | Rebekah Cross

A Whole New Way to See a Movie

Recently, Adam and I went to see a movie. That is the most normal of phrases, except that I haven’t gone to see a movie in nearly five years, due to my not being able to enjoy it fully. Sure, blindness advocates will say don’t let your lack of sight keep you from seeing a movie, but in my opinion, paying $15 to sit in a theater and not exactly know what’s going on isn’t worth it. I’d rather just rent the movie when it comes out, and have Adam tell me the important visual portions of the film. And that’s where I stood for nearly half a decade.

Last year, I was doing some research about audio description for my job, and learned that some movie theaters were now offering the service. This intrigued me, but I never pursued it because I just figured it’d be a pain in the butt to even try to find a theater that offered audio description. Fast forward to last month. I started the book “Unbroken,” which is by far one of the best books I’ve ever read. Around the same time I learned that the film adaptation was playing in theaters. Adam and I decided that it would be fun to read the book, and then go see the movie together.

A friend that I “met” as a result of my job (we’ve never met in person) is a real movie buff, who also happens to be blind. He is a guest blogger for visionaware.org, and recently sent me a movie review about watching Unbroken with description. Upon remembering that, I asked if he ever went into the City to see movies (he lives about ½ hour outside of NYC), and if so, which were the best theaters for audio description. He wrote back that he didn’t often go into the city, but did a little research and sent me the info for Regal Theater in Union Square. He even called ahead to make sure the movie was still playing. My friend also gave me a step by step guide to getting the correct device.

Armed with my “insider” knowledge, Adam and I went to the cinema. It was a huge place, four floors I think, with a snaking line and escalators everywhere. I had chosen to leave Jingles behind for a few hours, so it was just the two of us. When it was our turn at the counter, I asked for the device knowing that I may have to educate them on what it is, or they may have to search dusty drawers or shelves for one. To my relief, the clerk actually knew what I was talking about! She handed me a small receiver and told me how to wear it. All I had to do was give her my photo ID so they could keep track of it.

Once inside the correct theater, I turned the device on and waited. Nothing played during the commercials (which I anticipated, thanks to my friend). Then, it was time for the main feature. The movie started, and I realized the device was set for the hearing impaired, and was just playing the sound louder through the headphones. This I had also anticipated, thanks to my friend. I told Adam, who went out to the lobby to find someone to help him switch the device from “H” to “V.” Adam returned a few minutes later, and voila! The device was perfectly synchronized to the movie with audio description.

I didn’t miss a detail. I knew exactly what was going on, and didn’t have to ask Adam anything. I know I enjoyed the movie as fully as Adam did, and it was so easy! While the movie was not nearly as good as the book, the description was everything I had hoped, and more. I am thrilled that movies are once again fully accessible to me, and can’t wait to see my next film!

Kudos to Regal Theater for making my experience so easy! I’d recommend their Union Square location for anyone who wants to see a movie with description.

Broadway Bound

On Thursday, Adam Jingles, and I went to the Broadway play “You Can’t Take it with You,” starring James Earl Jones. The play is based off the old movie featuring Jimmy Stewart (I believe it came out in 1938), and was a special audio described showing, made possible through HAI’s Describe! Program.

It was a frigid day, so I had Jingles sporting her blue winter sweater as we traveled. We met Adam at Grand Central Terminal, on the subway train platform. This is an easy way to meet up with someone, as finding each other in the huge abyss of Grand Central can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Since I had my husband-man, I heeled Jingles alongside of me. This is nice to do sometimes because I can still hold Adam’s hand and talk with him while keeping my pup with us. As a side note, I have found that going sighted guide with Adam has had no ill effects on Jingles’ performance, save for us not learning whatever route we are taking that day. She switches right back to work mode the moment I pick up the harness handle.

The first stop on our journey was the Shake Shack in Grand Central. In my opinion, Shake Shack makes the best burgers in NYC. Adam managed to find us a seat, and I tried to get Jingles into a down position under the table. This proved somewhat difficult, as the chair I was sitting in was a high seat, much like a bar stool, and she was fascinated with every smell and crumb around her. Eventually I got her settled, for the most part, and we ate our chow. After dinner, our little crowd headed to the theatre. We had to transfer trains at a different station, so we took the shuttle to Times Square, which I would never recommend to any blind person, as the trains arrive on 4 different tracks, and are only open for less than a minute. Because of this, Adam, Jingles and I would rush to a platform, only to find the doors closing in our face, turn around and repeat the process to a different track, ultimately catching the third shuttle to arrive. Finally, we made it to the theatre, picked up our tickets and my audio receiver from the HAI staffer in front of the theatre, and headed to our seats.

Jingles on escalator
Caption: Jingles rides the escalator in Grand Central. She is wearing her blue sweater and a sign that says “don’t pet me, I’m working.”

It was an interesting ordeal getting the dog settled in at our designated seats. The area was cramped (like all Broadway theaters), and there were several other guide dogs present, which required strategic placement of the dogs so they didn’t try to interact with one another. I wasn’t sure what to do about Jingles’ harness. Since she is small, and I am tall, we have the long handle, so it’s hard to fit her into small places because the harness handle is as long as she is, preventing her from curling up. I was a bit nervous after Jingles’ last theater experience (a story best not mentioned), so I chose to leave the harness on and wedge her between the seat in front of me and my legs. We sat next to a nice couple, with the wife also blind with a guide dog and the husband also sighted. After a little finagling, we managed to get our dogs settled, and got to know each other a bit before the show and during the intermissions.

The play was awesome, and the description was great. There were three acts. Jingles stayed down during the first act, groaning to let me know that she was not pleased with the arrangement. During the first intermission, she jumped into a sit and refused to lay back down. So, Jingles literally sat through the entire second act. I wouldn’t have minded, but the space between the seat and my legs did not allow her to sit straight, so she kept shifting her legs to get back into a sit, which was inching her toward the man to my left. I kept my hand on her collar, fearing that she might randomly bolt, but she didn’t. I figured she was rather uncomfortable, so I unclipped her harness so it would be loose on her. She proceeded to get it wedged, so I removed it completely. About 2/3 through the second act, I reached down to find that Jingles had somehow managed to shimmy out of her winter sweater and it was stuck around her legs and back. Since I knew it was really tight, I tried to remove it completely without disturbing those around me. Finally, the second act ended and I had a naked, unharnessed dog. Once the third act began, Jingles laid down and slept like a rock.

In hindsight, I figure Jingles was extremely hot in her sweater, and uncomfortable because of the harness, which is why she refused to lay down during the second act. While trying to behave for me, Jingles apparently decided to take matters in her own hands. Silly dog. All in all, great play, great day, and I learned some tricks for next time.

2014 in Review

To add to the trend that I’ve seen circulating around Facebook and in conversation with others, wow, I can hardly believe today is the final day of 2014! It seems like only yesterday, I was preparing to usher in this year, and here I turn around and the year is at its close. On this eve of the New Year, and since this blog was my somewhat belated resolution for 2014 (see my first post), I thought it only fitting to post a recap of sorts to my little space on the web.

2014 was a year of immense change in my life, most for the better, some for the worse. The year felt like a car accelerating, or a vortex forming, with many events taking place towards the second part of the year. As noted above, I began this year with a resolve to let others glimpse a day in the life of me – partly to inform and inspire, and partly to try to transform my embarrassment of my condition to some sort of acceptance that I am a blind person. In early 2014, I finally gained the courage to apply for a guide dog, and tried for the better part of the year to wrap my mind around the transformation that was to take place when I would be introduced to my “other half.” Over the course of the year, I feel I’ve lost an incredible amount of vision – or perhaps, I had so little to begin with that every change was insurmountable. Either way, I feel close to what must be classified as completely blind. I can no longer focus on any pictures, most of the world is a mix of origami shades of black, tan and gray, mixed with double vision, and I can’t remember the last time I saw my husband’s face.

As 2014 rolled on, I moved into a new apartment, which was a small change, yes, but was the beginning of an onslaught of newness. A few weeks later, I headed off to guide dog school and met Jingles, my new set of “eyes.” While I was gone, my family grew as my stepdaughter moved in with my husband and I to put her mark on the Big Apple. Upon my return, I set about adjusting to a new dog, a new apartment, and a new family life. Since then, I’ve been doing just that.

Now that the concrete has been reviewed, I’d like to reflect on a few abstracts. For one, I feel like I’ve grown much stronger over the course of the year, not physically (though there’s been a little of that too since training with Jingles), but inwardly. I’ve faced many situations that have scared me half to death, and have not only conquered them, but also found that they all have turned out better than I feared. My family is growing tighter as time passes; I’ve tackled situations in dealing with the public from work to embarrassing moments of blindness, and survived every one. I’m much more confident on my own – and I have Jingles to thank for that. I used to only leave the house alone out of necessity, now I do more for fun. I can now take my much enjoyed long walks solo, though not lately because it’s cold and cold and Bekah do not mix, and being blind in public isn’t so bad when I have my furry companion to look cute and get me around tricky situations. I can speed walk again, and amuse myself leaving folks in the dust on my way home from work. And, I am slowly, slowly becoming more adventurous…slowly.

As far as the whole blind thing goes…I do feel like I’m beginning to gradually come to terms with the fact that until there is some kind of cure, I am without sight. I am no longer embarrassed when someone may hear my voice over on my iPhone or catch a bit of my screen reader on my computer (though I still, and forever will, use an ear bud at work). I am more willing to ask for help when looking for something, and I no longer strain to see something I know I can’t. On the flipside though, the more blind I get, the more isolated from my beloved former life I feel. This isn’t to make people pity me, or start some kind of dialogue about how blind people can do whatever sighted people can do; it is simply a fact of my life. I have always been a very visual person, gaining my greatest enjoyment from small observations of the world around me. From photography, to videography, to graphic design and exchanging glances with my loved ones to watching the snow fall, those I care about grow and change, and spending hours alone browsing through shops just because, my greatest pleasures have been through my eyes. So, now that I have to experience the world differently, I feel a bit numb…jaded almost. Things make me happy, but I rarely feel the pure immense pleasure of what only visual images can bring. Those who care about me will describe things, and thank goodness for audio books and the ever growing accessibility of audio description, but it’s just not the same, and never will be for this girl.

BUT……….not to end this on a downer note. I AM BLESSED. So what, I have hardships. Who doesn’t? I have a wonderful husband, family, and extended family who I love dearly, the spunkiest and arguably cutest guide dog in history, a great job and colleagues who see beyond my blindness to my underlying potential, and a great apartment in the greatest city on earth! Really, what more could I ask for?

So, bring on 2015! I cannot wait to see what this New Year brings. I hope its new adventures, renewed independence and confidence, opportunities for growth, and the strengthening of my current relationships paired with the building of fabulous new ones!

Graduation and the First Week Home

Wow, so apparently I’ve fallen off the face of the planet…sorry!

Day 21 – Graduation
First, I can’t believe it’s been more than a week since graduation. I woke up thinking to myself that I couldn’t believe the day was finally here. Three weeks had gone by so fast, and I surely didn’t quite feel ready to face the real world yet. But, training at the school was over and it was time to present ourselves to the world.
After breakfast and graduation practice, we got to let all the dogs play together one last time. We all journeyed over to the community run and let the dogs be dogs 100%. We also had the freedom to pet and play with each other’s dogs. What fun it was!
Lunch was soon after, and then it was time to get ready for graduation. While I was putting the final touches on my ensemble, there was a knock at my door. My boss had come out to support me at the graduation! How incredibly sweet  He congratulated me, we hugged, and let our dogs meet, and then he was off to the hall, followed soon after by me.
We proceeded into the room, one by one, and stood at the front facing the audience. After each of our names were called, we sat down and put our dogs under our chairs. There were a few words spoken by the president and training director, and then it was time for the graduate speeches. First, my classmate sang a song he’d written for the school accompanied by his acoustic guitar. It was completely heartfelt and left the audience in tears. So sweet. Then it was my turn.

I walked up and tried to get my dog to settle. When she wouldn’t sit, I kind of gave up and began my speech. Halfway through it, I noticed Jingles was…a little distracted. She was giving kisses to my friend’s dog, who was doing her best to keep them settled. I paused in my speech, made a joke about Jingles having a boyfriend, and moved her to the other side of me. Then, I finished. I was pretty happy that I’d remembered all the words. After my speech, another classmate – a returning graduate – gave her speech. It was beautiful. Once the speeches were over, the certificates were given out to us and the puppy raisers, and the ceremony wrapped up.

We were each instructed to take the harnesses off our dogs, and then our puppy raisers were allowed to come up and meet us and see their darling dogs. I was excited to see that mine had come out to the graduation! She led me and Jingles out of the crowd to her group of friends – two of which had helped a lot in raising Jingles – and we went back to my room to talk.

I learned that Jingles had been raised in western NY by a lovely lady who also ran a dog watching and obedience training business. She brought me a gift bag with some treats and a bone for Jingles, and a lint glove and a photo book of Jingles’ life for me! It was so incredibly sweet 😀 We chatted for quite a while, and before I knew it, it was time for her to hit the road for the long drive back home. It was so wonderful to meet everyone who was such a crucial part of Jingles’ life. I definitely made some lasting friendships that day.

That evening, my classmates and I stayed up late (in school-time late was 11:00 pm ha), not wanting our time together to end. But, we all knew we had to go to bed eventually, and said one more good night.

-Going Home and the First Week –
There was a definite sadness in the air Sunday morning. We were all excited to get home, and yet, we knew that going home meant no more hanging out in between training with our dogs and after dinner in the evenings, sharing stories over coffee and laughing. The first van departed at 7:00 am. Those of us going later gave our classmates a hug, knowing that we may never see each other again, and wished each other well. The rest of us had one more breakfast at the school and wrapped up packing. I left at 9:00. The school was amazing and got me a car service from their door to mine! I gave my remaining classmates a hug and got into the car. What a bittersweet morning. Of course, it’s nice to go home…but the school was wonderful, and my classmates were fabulous. We shared so many moments, and I really think we built friendships that would take months, or even years, in a matter of weeks.

I chatted with the driver all the way back to Brooklyn, and before I knew it, I was home. The drive had only taken an hour…I still can’t believe I was so far away and yet, so close. Adam met me out front and we brought Jingles into her new home.

This first week was crazy, I’m not going to lie. It has been quite the adjustment for everyone. For three humans, a cat, a dog, and some rats in a 2 br apartment, things can get chaotic fast. We’ve had our ups and downs, but overall things are smoothing out. I think the biggest thing on my plate at home now is getting the cat and dog to get along. Jingles thinks Muffin’s a toy. Muffin is stressed out, and I love them both, so I get stressed out. I’m sure time will help them get used to living together. My hope is that one day they are cuddle buddies.

It took me a while, but I am starting to get used to the 5:30 am schedule…get up, shower, get the dog fed and parked, finish getting ready and get out the door…then to work, and back by around 6ish. Then dinner, take care of dog, and bedtime.

The first day I was back, I basically tried to get used to being home. I took Monday off, and with Adam’s help, taught the dog the route from my house to the subway.

Tuesday, Adam came with me to make sure I made it to work all right on my first day back. My work is basically the best job ever. I couldn’t ask for more understanding and caring colleagues. When I came back to work the first day, my boss had set up his crate under my desk, brought me toys, and bought me a new bed for the dog to sleep on. It nearly brought tears to my eyes. Everyone welcomed me back warmly, hugging me and asking all about school. It took a little while to get adjusted back to work, but I’m in the swing of things now.

Thursday was Jingles’ first “public” appearance for a function at work. She did pretty well, considering she had to behave ALL day. Friday, I was completely drained, but after some sleep, the weekend was better.

Friday evening, I let Jingles off the leash in the house (the dogs have to be attached to you at all times for the first while home) and that helped relax both of us, I think. Saturday, Jingles and I went for our first long walk to nowhere in particular. It was really an amazing feeling. Its funny how with the stick, sure I could go for that walk, but would I ever want to? Absolutely not. With the dog, I stick out just as much, but it’s different. I have this living, breathing thing guiding me, thriving off my praise, wanting to please me. We’re in it together, and I don’t mind sticking out so much with Jingles by my side.

Sunday Adam, Jingles, and I ventured into the Sprint store to check out the new iPhone. Then we journeyed to Downtown Brooklyn, and after a little walk, we left Adam to finish his errands, and Jingles and I made our way through the subway, and back home.

Today – and I’ll stop droning on after this – I decided to venture into Duane Reade after work to pick up a prescription. Again, I probably would’ve never done this with my stick unless I had to, out of sheer embarrassment, but with Jingles it was an adventure. We got off the appropriate subway stop and made our way up to the surface. Aside from Jingles wanting to check out every trashcan (I’m still working on this one) and attempt to eat some nasty piece of bread, she did fabulous. I, on the other hand, have a little learning to do. I knew generally where the door was, but I went to the back entrance, so it was hard to tell exactly when to turn. With a little assistance from a person on the street, we made our way inside and got in line. I had to wait a few minutes while they filled it, but no one was nasty to me, which was nice. On the way out, I turned a little too soon and ended up in a waiting area. Again, after some help, we were out of the store and on our way. We walked the seven blocks home, through rush hour crowds, with no problems. I came home thrilled that I had accomplished this new adventure, as small as it may be, and did not feel the least bit like crying. It’s hard to imagine that only a month ago, I was coming home nearly in tears out of frustration walking with Bob. No offense man, but Jingles blows you out of the water, even if I can pack you away and don’t have to take you to the bathroom.

The Final Countdown

Wow…Summer is almost gone and dog school is quickly approaching! On Sunday, I will be shipped off to Yorktown Heights for training with my “Paws.”

When I started this blog in February, I had just sent out my application for training at Guiding Eyes for the Blind. It has always been my intention to share with folks my experience throughout this journey, and I simply cannot believe the day is almost here…

Right now, I am a ball of emotions (on the inside). Excitement, anxiety, apprehension, anticipation, what-ifs, what-abouts, how-will-Is, can’t wait, want to chicken out….all surging through my veins simultaneously. The dog, the stay, the introverted person set in an unfamiliar place for 21 days. The awkward training trips, the standing out, the being away from home and work for three weeks. The coming home, and everything has changed…

Nevertheless, I will face my fears! Why? Because you don’t grow unless you step out of your comfort zone. And, I’ve found that when I do, the end result is usually better than I could’ve imagined 

I’ve received some information from the school. It looks to be a pretty structured schedule. I’m hoping to spend a few minutes nightly typing away at the keys to fill you all in on what’s going down up here (notice that word play? Ha.) Keep checking back, because this blog famine will soon turn into a feast (I hope)

On a side note, I wish I could recap for you my entire summer. The past few months alone have brought so much growth. It appears my shoe journey really did start something on the inside of me. A few notable moments include:
-Detouring to grab a cup of coffee, just because. I know that looks insignificant…but it is not.
-Utilizing Bob to make my journey through the airport easier
– Finding my way home on at least 2 occasions through large stations that I’ve never been in or rarely are in.
-Moving and now walking 6 blocks, instead of my old 1.5 blocks on the way home from work.

I know to the average person the above statements look trivial, but to me, they are huge. I have definitely grown more okay with standing out than I was even a few short months ago.

Onward and Upward!

Crazy Commute

I thought I’d share with you all a crazy commute I had the other day. When you’re blind, the path of least resistance is to plan, plan, plan…especially when it comes from getting from point A to point B… and then keep to the plan. One hitch in the plan and life becomes confusing. But, life likes to throw wrenches in the best laid plans of men (and women).

My team at work was scheduled to make a presentation at our staff meeting, 9 am sharp. Knowing this, and contemplating how I sometimes run behind, I left my house extra early, so as not to risk being even a minute late. I walked to my normal place on the platform, happy to see the train coming soon after. I’m really going to be on time here!

My first train pulled up to my transfer station, and I got off, noting an excessive amount of people trying to get on the train. I walked across the platform and noticed that no one was getting on the other train…maybe they are already on there? As I stood there wondering, a woman came up to me and informed me that “they are making everyone get back on the other train.” I turned around to find the doors closing and the train pulling out. Argh. So much for that train. Now, I’ll be basically on time. That’s okay…that’s why I left early.

While I waited on the platform, I heard a garbled voice over the intercom saying something about a broken rail and no Q trains into Manhattan. I wondered if that would affect my own train, but since they didn’t say anything about it, I decided to wait to hear what the conductor in the next train would say. The next train pulled in, and I got on to try to transfer to my train into Manhattan at the next available station, pending the conductor didn’t mention a problem. And, they didn’t. When we pulled into the next transfer station other people were getting off, so I did too, and the second train I was on pulled away. As I stood there, an express train pulled in on the local tracks, and the conductor informed us that none of my usual trains were going into the city, and so now I was faced with two large transfers on my commute to work.

If a large terminal is confusing enough to a person with good vision, imagine how it would be to someone who lacks sight. Full of wide terminals and staircases going every which way…I avoid those stations like the plague. I stood on this third train, snaking along at a snail’s pace and planned out my route. There was no way I was making it to work on time now. This sucks. The one day I couldn’t be late.

The train pulled into Atlantic Terminal, my first huge transfer. Luckily, I knew this station pretty well, as Adam and I frequent it. I got off the train with the hoards of other people rushing to catch an alternate train and make it into work. Although I was going crazy on the inside, I knew I had to snake along at a snail’s pace like the train I was just on. I slowly made my way to where I thought the appropriate stairs would be, running into people all along the way. Suddenly, a woman came to my rescue. She asked where I was headed, took my arm, and walked with me toward the stairs. I’ve had to deflate my personal bubble long ago, due to having to hold people’s arms, running into folks, and dealing with random strangers grabbing me to lead me somewhere…even if I say I’m fine and don’t need help. Today, this woman was an angel. I was so relieved to have the assistance. As we walked up the stairs, she introduced herself, and lo and behold, we share the same first name. How funny. Interestingly enough, I was able to assist the other Rebekah in a small way myself. She was looking for the 1 train, which doesn’t run to Atlantic Terminal, but I was able to send her to the 2 and 3 trains which will transfer to the 1 at a later point. That was kind of cool, but I digress.

Rebekah got me to the bottom of the stairs of the next train I was to take, and I got on my fourth train for the day. First crazy transfer complete, now off to Grand Central Terminal…which I am not as familiar with.

I held the bar on the crowded train, again trying to plot my route. I couldn’t remember the route to the final train I needed. There was no way around it, I was going to have to flag someone down and ask the way. I’ve also had to deflate my pride long ago, due to actually needing help more often than I’d like to admit. The train pulled in, and I hopped off, arbitrarily choosing a direction to walk in.

Then another angel appeared. She asked if I was heading upstairs. In reply, I asked if she knew which way to the train I was looking for. It was in the opposite direction, and down the stairs. Good thing I asked her. Not only that, but she was taking the same train I was, so She walked with me to the next platform!

The train pulled in and I got on. The insanity was almost over. As soon as I got cell reception I texted my supervisor to let him know I was on my way, and that the commute was crazy. Now all I had to do was get to work. But what if the train drops me off in a different location on the platform than I am used to? Funny how you have to think of such small things when you can’t see. I’ve actually gotten lost on that very platform when I was just starting my job. Oh, well. If I could handle this morning’s commute, I can handle a silly platform. I got off the train, and had no problems getting the rest of the way to work. Once inside, I could’ve cried as the build up tension in my mind and body began to fade. Not only that, but it didn’t end up being a big deal that I was late, as the others seemed to understand my tardiness.

I took a few things away from this situation. For one, I realize I’m becoming bolder in the unfamiliar. This situation would’ve mortified me a few months ago, and it still kind of did, but I find myself being more ready to stand out in the crowd if it gets me where I need to be. Secondly, it is really comforting to know that even in the extreme hustle of the city; there are plenty of good people out there ready to help their fellow man. If you’re one of those people, don’t stop. Maybe it’s embarrassing and a bit uncomfortable, but what a blessing a simple act can be! Okay, I’ll stop being mushy now.

Dude…Where’s my Dog?

As I mentiponed in my last post, I applied for a guide dog last month. The process is long, at least six months, and is comprised of getting a lot of forms filled out by doctors (along with the necessary appointments), having a home interview, and a whole lot of waiting.

Wednesday was my home interview. I was warned in advance that the appointment may last 2 to 3 hours, so I took a half day from work. I knew there would be some amount of embarrassment, as I had been told over the phone that I would have to walk a route with my interviewer. I had also read somewhere that the interviewer would bring a harness and have me try it out. So, as I waited for my appointed time, I grew increasingly nervous.

K (I shall use only her first initial) arrived at around 8:30 in the morning. Adam was getting ready to leave, but was able to meet her and ask a few questions of his own about what owning a guide dog would be like. After a couple minutes, he had to be off, and K and I were left to begin the interview process. The whole point of the home interview is to determine whether or not the applicant will be well suited for a guide dog and if the environment is one that would be healthy for the dog. It costs an average of $48,000 to train one of these creatures; so in essence, getting a guide dog is like being given a Mercedes and taught how to drive it.

The first portion of the interview was long, but pleasant. I was asked a lot of questions about my lifestyle, where I go, what I like to do in my spare time, work and more. I also had to answer some of the same questions I filled out on my original application and medical form. At this time, I mentioned that I am allergic…to animals. *slaps forehead* When K heard this she asked “you understand that you are applying for a dog, right?” Of course I understand. I’m allergic to my cat, and I still got her… I tried to explain that I controlled my allergies generally, but she still recommended that I see an Allergist and wrote that in her report. Dang. More doctors. Did I mention I hate going to any kind of doctor? What is going to an Allergist going to tell me that I don’t know already? Wash your sheets, vacuum, air purifier, I’ve heard it all. Maybe they’ll recommend allergy shots. I’ve always wanted to try those…but, I digress. Oh well, if I have to see another doctor and spend a little to get a new Mercedes, it’s worth it. Although I am still kicking myself for mentioning my allergies to animals, K and I found common ground when I informed her that I am gluten intolerant, and what do you know, she is too! We talked all about living without wheat, alternatives, and I recommended some great places to eat whenever she is in the city.

After the questions about me were over, I was told about the school, how the dogs are raised, and how people get in. The school is located about an hour from the city, and students stay on the premises for the 21 day training period. Training is a bit like boot camp, but everyone has a great time and bonds over the mutual learning process. You don’t pick your own dog. Instead, the guide dog trainers pair you based on temperament and activity levels. The process on how dogs are trained is equally interesting. The school raises 98% black, chocolate, or yellow Labs, with the other 2% being German Shepherds that are spoken for years in advance. There is a special lab where the genetics of the dogs are tested, and the most intelligent and well mannered are picked carefully to be bred. Once these special dogs are born, the are trained in the basics by volunteer puppy raisers, who take the dogs into their houses, socialize them, and teach them to behave. At some point during their puppy life, the dogs are given a temperament test. Only about 50% of the already specially bred dogs are accepted into being trained to be a guide. The other half become police dogs, airport security dogs, or therapeutic dogs for children with Autism. Wow, this is the cream of the crop! Somewhere between the ages of 12-18 months, the dogs are taken back to the school grounds for four months of guide dog training. After that, students are brought to the school and trained with the dog.

Acceptance into the program is determined by a committee and is similar to the process of getting into a desirable college. The committee reviews all the material from the forms submitted, the home interview, and whether or not the applicant is recommended for acceptance by the interviewer, and makes a decision on who is best for the program. Then the wait begins. Right now, the wait is 6-7 months from the time of acceptance, and I don’t even have all my forms in yet.

After being informed of the process, it was my turn to ask some questions. Once my curiosity was satisfied, it was time to hit the pavement. Before going outside, I had to sign a video waiver. Yes folks, I was about to be videotaped for the committee. Oh, boy. We journeyed outside. It had begun to drizzle. At least it’s not snowing, I thought. Locking my door, I turned around. Let the embarrassment begin!

First, I had to introduce myself. Wishing this could’ve been done inside, I swallowed my embarrassment and introduced myself and the ol’ Bob to the committee, and then it was time to walk. I traveled down to the subway entrance, then turned and crossed the thoroughfare that runs past my house, then walked a couple blocks down the other direction, all the time being filmed by K. Now, the real “fun” begins.
To preface this next portion, I live in the busiest part of my neighborhood. My apartment is on the main road through the neighborhood, and perpendicular to that is the busiest shopping district in the area. It had begun to rain harder as I finished walking with Bob. At that time, K told me to put away my stick because it was time to pull out the harness. NOOOOOOOOO! With everything inside me, I wished that this examination and familiarization process could’ve taken place inside, but it wasn’t, and I had to go through this in front of hundreds of folks milling around on foot or in cars. To top it off, we were almost directly across the street from my landlords’s store, and I hoped to goodness I didn’t have to explain this behavior later.

K pulled out the harness, which was void of dog, and had me examine the leash and handle. After I had checked it all out, it was time to go for a walk. I dealt with this uncomfortable situation as I deal with all others, by cracking lots of jokes and laughing through the humiliation. I was instructed on the commands I was to give the nonexistent dog, the name Juno that I was to call the oxygen filling the harness, and the hand motions I was to use. Once this was sorted, we were off. “Juno, forward.” I said, and K pulled the harness along, down the thoroughfare, in front of my daily surroundings. We made it to the curb. “Now, praise the dog,” K instructed. Am I really doing this? I thought as I bent over and pretended to scratch the ears of the nonexistent dog. Now, turn to the right. “Juno, right.” I was led right, then across the road, and then down the street near my house, which just happened to have one of the busiest stores in Brooklyn. And, now it gets more interesting. I have to reprimand the dog. K jerks the harness down “No!” I yell and jerk the leash. I wonder what the passersby are thinking when this woman jerks a harness without a dog filling it downward and the holder of the harness reprimands it? Oh well, nothing I can do about it. The harness jerks again. “No!” This happens about three more times. We rounded the block and eventually made it to the front door of my house, where I had to learn the other way of reprimanding a dog, directly in front of the neighboring business. But, then it was over.

K told me that pending I see an allergist, I would be a great fit for a guide dog and she was going to recommend to the committee that I be accepted. After a hug and a thank you, I went upstairs to dry off and get ready for work.

This was probably one of the more embarrassing experiences of my life, but as I look back, I think to myself about the amount of embarrassing things people do on game shows to win $40k, and then I think, this interview was like my non-TV version of a game show. If I end up being accepted, the embarrassment will be worth it anyway.

Here’s hoping I do!

I Got Lost

This story happened to me about a month ago, during the extreme cold snap. (I warn you, it is a little long).

The temperature was in the single digits, with a wind chill of bitterly cold negatives. It had snowed a few days before, and now piles of snow lay everywhere where it had been shoveled or plowed off the path. Snow is beautiful, but is also one of the arch-nemeses of a blind person walking with a stick. The blanket of frozen water covers landmarks that are necessary to hit with the stick to orient yourself, and snow piles are completely unpleasant to climb. Nevertheless, I made my way to work as usual…I can’t let a little snow keep me down.

For some reason, I wasn’t wearing my sunglasses, which blinded me even more than usual, as everything was reflecting the sun, and I couldn’t see much but neon lights in my eyes. As I walked my usual path from the train, I noted that a sidewalk that had been previously covered with snow had been shoveled, making it easier to walk today. Sweet. I hurried along. I work near water, which always amplifies the wind. Today, the never-ending wind was cutting right through my coat, gloves, and shoes, and my fingers and toes were going numb fast.

I made it to the corner. My office building is just across the street. I’m in the home stretch…hurray! There is only one problem with this street crossing…no traffic light. There is a traffic light on the next block over, but it is way too cold and snowy to walk an extra 2 blocks just to catch the light. Besides, this road isn’t too heavily trafficked, but when the cars come – they come fast. This fact makes me extra cautious, as I don’t particularly want to become an asphalt pancake. So I always wait extra long to make sure there are no cars coming.

When it snows, every corner becomes the home of a giant snow pile, and this corner is no exception. Except today, I found the pile to be larger than it was the day before, which is weird because it hadn’t snowed. I climbed the pile and stood there with the wind constantly cutting through my coat, and waited until I was sure there was no traffic. Then, from a car in the street I hear “Go. Go go! Go now!” the person was obviously trying to get me to cross the street. I took the cue and scrambled over the pile to get across. “Straight, straight…you’re almost there. Go straight!” I had hit the corner of the street “I want to go left!” I yelled back, and turned the corner, hitting a snow drift. What the…? This wasn’t here before… I walked on. Getting to the end of the block, I turned the corner, happy to finally get to the office. Bang! I hit…a car??? What is going on here?? Why is a car parked on the sidewalk in front of the door? I walk around the car, but no door was to be found. Now, I was freaking out. My fingers and toes were completely numb, and I had no clue where I was. Frantically, I took out my phone and tried to launch my GPS app. I had to take off my gloves and could barely operate the phone. Plus, the voice over was on an extremely low volume, since last time I had used it in my house. I tried to get the speaker louder, but my fingers didn’t want to work. Finally I got it loud enough to tell me where I was. The address made no sense. It had the same street name, but was a block over? Panic mode set in. My hands and feet hurt. How could this have happened? I did everything the same as usual…and how am I here? I couldn’t feel my fingers to type an address into my GPS. I stood there frozen, trying to figure out my next plan of action.

Then…an angel emerged from the building I was standing in front of. I never do this, but I called to get his attention. I told him where I was looking for, and after some thought he surmised that it was probably the building across the road. I thanked him, and headed with uncertainty that way. He asked if I needed help. I answered that I would be okay, but after seeing my disoriented condition, he decided to accompany me anyway. As we walked, he asked if it was my first day. “No, I’ve worked here almost 6 months. I have no clue how this could have happened.”

When we came to the building I realized that I had landed diagonally on the opposite corner of the building than I should have been, and we walked around the corner. I thanked him profusely, and went to work, perplexed at what had just happened.

All day I thought about it. I couldn’t figure out how that happened. Finally I came to this conclusion, and it is still the only one that makes sense – When the guy in the car was yelling at me to go, I scrambled over the pile on a diagonal, not straight. Since I wasn’t wearing my sunglasses, I was more blinded than usual, and didn’t see the shadow of my building, and so ended up on the opposite side of the street facing the wrong way. I turned left as usual, but walked down the wrong block. Mystery solved.

It’s rather embarrassing that I got lost on a block I know so well. A little scary too. When pondering over this, I decided that I was going to apply for a guide dog, something I have been considering for months, but always too undecided to start the process. This situation made my decision. I know these dogs can learn frequented locations. There is no way I would’ve gotten lost with a dog.

Long story longer, I have applied and will be writing about my journey to dog-dom.

Every Blog Needs an Introduction


So, you’ve stumbled upon my blog, or I’ve shared it with you. Either way. Every good blog needs an introductory post as to why it has been started, and here’s mine:


I have been dealing with progressive vision loss for 13 years…well, I’ve been dealing with it all my life, but I have only known about it since the age of 15, when I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa. Since then, my life has been a series of re-evaluating and learning to live with a “new normal.” The only problem is, every time I get used to a new normal, it changes, and I am forced to adapt once again. For all these countless new normals, I have started a handful of blogs that never got past the first two or three posts. But, here I am again, putting fingertip to keyboard in an attempt to share…well something anyway.


Honestly, this is sort of a New Year’s Resolution; albeit a month late. For the past month, I have been going back and forth in my mind as to whether I really wanted to take a stab at the writing thing again. However, after various exchanges with people – some strangers and some friends- I realize the general goings-ons of a person in my shoes is interesting to others. With that in mind, and armed with a few motivational quotes for courage, I’ve decided to go for it.


In closing of my introductory post, I hope you, whoever you may be, will find encouragement, humor, insight, or at least entertainment from the stories of my life.


I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do. –Leonardo da Vinci