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On the Road with Barry – Carbondale

Day 1

I flew into St. Louis this time. Carbondale, IL is about a 2-hour drive from the airport. I had a window seat and had a great view of the Mississippi River, the Arch, and Busch Stadium. It’s a completely different view from the first time I went over the Mississippi toward Busch Stadium. The old Busch Stadium, built during the era of unimaginative, cookie cutter ballparks, all decked out Astroturf. My family were on the last leg of the great American vacation. We’d pulled our Rockwood pop-up camper all the way to Michigan from Texas, and Dad had planned our return trip around a game in St. Louis to watch his beloved Cardinals. He grew up with them, and being from mid-eastern Arkansas, KMOX out of St. Louis was the only radio station they could pick up that was broadcasting baseball. He knew them all, well before Curt Flood, a Cardinal outfielder, sued Major League baseball in order to become a free agent. Curt actually lost his suit, but Dad never forgave him. His days of knowing everyone on the team year after year were fading.

Anyway, we were heading across the bridge into St. Louis on what used to be a toll bridge, which was a completely separate irritation to my father. Toll #1. We missed the exit for Busch, got turned around in a not-so-great neighborhood, and ended up going back across the bridge. Toll #2. We got turned around again and headed back across the bridge. Toll #3. We missed the exit again, got turned around in the same neighborhood, and back across the bridge. Toll #4. As you might imagine, the mood inside the car was not great by this point, but my brother and I were having a great time sightseeing in the back seat. As we entered the lane for toll #5, with the same toll booth attendant, the mood lightened as the attendant smiled and waved us through without paying. We made our exit this time and got to the game in plenty of time.

When I got to my rental car, it was already dark so my trip across the bridge was much less memorable, but I’ll never forget the first time…

Day 2

I’m in Carbondale to see Ryan, who went to Leader Dog for our Orientation and Mobility (O&M) program about 6 years ago. Carbondale is a town of 25,000 in southern Illinois, and home to the Salukis of Southern Illinois University (SIU). (A Saluki is a hunting dog, develop from sighthounds – dogs that hunt primarily by sight and not scent. They were originally bred in the Fertile Crescent, an ancient area in the Middle East. How they got to southern Illinois is still a mystery to me. I figured, secretly, y’all wanted to know.)

Man walking on sidewalk with white caneRyan lives on his own in an apartment complex close to SIU and I headed over there after my free, hot breakfast. After tentatively planning out our week, we worked on the first route he said he’d like to learn, which is to a restaurant called Don Taco. The well-maintained sidewalks in his complex were a refreshing surprise, and they were in good repair all the way to Don Taco. Because Ryan has just light perception, straight-line travel is a challenge, and this route is full of driveways and parking lots, so we spend a lot of time on recovery. Recovery is a skill that orientation and mobility specialists teach their clients that helps them systematically regain their orientation, hopefully without getting too far off their intended path. It’s not a hard process (said the guy who can see just fine and doesn’t have to use this skill) but it is a process that needs to be done consistently in order to get consistent results. This is not new to Ryan, but it has been a while since anyone has attempted to make it a part of his daily independent travel routine. He’s very eager to learn and takes to instruction easily.

Day 3

It’s Sunday, and Ryan is going to church with his family. One of the advantages to our home delivery model of O&M instruction is that people can go about their daily schedules, for the most part, and still get instruction. Thanks to the Gideons, after breakfast I studied the Good Book myself, and Ryan and I meet up after his afternoon service. We decided to run the route to Don Taco again with the light we have left. There are quite a few families with small children in the complex where Ryan lives and one of the things small children do (and a lot of older children and adults) is leave their toys on the sidewalk. They could be an irritation to me if I let it be so, but I believe that: 1. It’s a real-life situation, and if I move everything out of the way for Ryan, I’m not helping, I’m creating a false sense of security/reality, and 2. The cane is an obstacle detection device. Good cane skills will be reinforced while locating obstacles in the path. Ryan did better on the route than he did previously, and while I had to step in a lot less than I did yesterday, we’ve still got a lot of work to do if he wants to do this route by himself.

Day 4

Man walking with woman in department store. The man is holding the woman's elbow as she acts as a sighted guideRyan and I went to Walmart this morning. He normally does his grocery shopping here and people know him. It’s good to be known in these situations. In another life, I worked as an itinerant teacher in public schools in Texas and ate at the same restaurant 2 days a week for two school years in Jacksboro, Texas. You might think that’s too much of one thing, but if you’d ever had a Herd’s Hamburger, you’d think differently. They got to know me there, and when they saw me pull up, they started preparing my cheeseburger with no pickle, BBQ chips, and an ice-cold root beer from the cooler. No orders were necessary. The only thing exchanged were money for good provided and general conversation about the weather and the local high school football talk. Herd’s is no bigger than the hotel room from which I’m typing these words. The kind of place where you could write your name on the wall, and where the hamburgers were hand-made fresh on a griddle when you ordered (or pulled up in the parking lot). I was told by a friend, Tricia Lee, that she can no longer find my name on the wall at Herd’s. It’s been too long since I’ve had a Herd’s Burger for sure…

Anyway, Walmart in Carbondale. We stood at the front of the inside of the store talking about the different shopping strategies when an employee walked up and asked Ryan if he needed assistance. She offered him her arm to hold, as if she’d been taught how to do this from a professional. She helped him find his items while I hung back and took pictures. We went to Walgreens where again Ryan was greeted by name and asked how they could help him. It’s good to be known.

After lunch, we went to a strip mall to work on straight-line travel, obstacle detection and crowd work. Ryan did an excellent job here.

Man with white cane in one hand stands near a woman while holding her elbow as she acts as a sighted guide. They are facing a shelf of products in a department storeNow, DURING lunch: I was seated by a floor-to-ceiling window, looking out onto the parking lot. A young man who was obviously under the influence of unregulated substances came running wildly around the corner and ran smack into my window. He quickly changed direction with two of Carbondale’s finest in pursuit. They cornered him, detained him and called an ambulance, which arrived about 5 minutes later. Hopefully, he got the help he needed.

Now, the funny part: when the officers appeared from around the corner, the music on the radio inside the restaurant changed from an England Dan and John Ford Coley song to “I Fought the Law and the Law Won.” (Not the original written by Sonny Curtis and performed by the Bobby Fuller Four. It was some grunge version, but nonetheless…). I kid you not. It was as if I was watching a movie that was impeccably soundtracked.  I literally laughed out loud along with… absolutely no one. Not a soul in the building recognized the irony. I felt very special, but also very alone. It’s like that sometimes for the randomly-genius like me….

Day 5

We spent the morning at Ryan’s church as he wants to feel more confident in moving around there. We discussed crowd work, locating the restrooms, and the most important aspect of church life: what to do if someone sits in your seat! God wants us in church, and in the same exact seat every time. It says it in the Bible, right next to the verse my Grandad always quoted about men not having to do the dishes. Grammie would always ask him where that verse was located and, to my knowledge, he’s still looking that one up.

After church and a very uneventful lunch, we worked on the route to Don Taco again. Ryan did really well on the way there, and really good on the way back until he crossed the last driveway. Instead of turning left toward his apartment, he kept going despite what I viewed as some pretty obvious clues. And therein lies one of the the hard part about mobility: what’s obvious to one person is not so to others. What I thought Ryan should have easily noticed, he did not. And how do I get him to notice what I notice? I don’t. It’s not my job to get him to travel like I would. I don’t live in Carbondale. I need to work harder helping him find ways to recognize his surroundings in a way that makes sense to him, not me. O&M is not a cookie-cutter career. No two people learn the same. It’s what I like the most about it. I’ve got work to do tomorrow.

Day 6

Did you know that Sonny Curtis, the guy who wrote “I Fought the Law,” (No, I haven’t let it go yet. I probably won’t.) was a member of Buddy Holly’s Crickets? Can you imagine Buddy Holly singing this song?

Spent this morning in unfamiliar environments with Ryan, trying to determine his ability to determine traffic patterns. The ability to determine traffic patterns is an important part of independent travel and we spent a long time this morning working on this skill. We finished our time together by having lunch at our most frequently traveled-to destination this week: Don Taco. It was worth the trip. Very good street tacos. As I write this and reflect on my time here in Carbondale, I realize I didn’t do a very good job of eating local, except for Don Taco. I guess I got lazy, but I did have an amazing experience at a chain restaurant when a young man tried to fight the law…

I’m headed out in the morning to have lunch with my daughter in St. Louis before flying out. I’m really looking forward to that.  Lunch, not flying out.  I’ll be in East Moline, Illinois after the Thanksgiving holidays, and I hope everyone out there enjoys their time with their families and friends. Did I mention that Buddy Holly was from Lubbock, Texas?