FB pixel

On the Road with Barry – Mechanicsburg

Day 1

I’ve got a plan. I’m flying to Baltimore, then driving to Mechanicsburg. On the way, there’s this little town called Gettysburg. You may have heard of it. I’ve wanted to come here for most of my adult life and it’s finally going to happen. I got an earlier-than-normal flight so I could do it. I even took, in my mind at least, a “lesser” airline so I could have a direct flight. I didn’t check a bag, so I even sacrificed having my pocket knife for this! But then there was a delay. Then another. Then another. Then another. It’s a good thing I took my blood pressure medicine this morning. They finally get a plane there, the whole world lines up to board at the same time and they announce that the captain has “timed out”. This means they have to replace the captain and get this bird in the sky before the crew times out as well. Will it happen? Only if my luck continues as it has all morning.

I am finally on the plane and in the air and I have no book. Probably the only time I’ve been on an airplane without one. Never again. But I do have an audiobook downloaded and, at the risk of burning my battery down, I listen to it instead. The “lesser” airline advertised that I could charge my phone from my seat. They also promised a comfortable seat but I’m still waiting for that part too.

So, the history nerd that I am, I’m listening to a 3-volume series on the Civil War written by one of my favorite history authors, Shelby Foote. I’ve timed it so I could be listening to the Gettysburg campaign while I’m actually visiting Gettysburg. I know. I know. It’s just who I am. I’ve learned to live with it. Anyway, I have to be very careful as to how much I listen so as to not ruin my perfect plan. I listen as far as I dare, then switch to a movie I’ve been wanting to see called The Iron Claw. It’s a true story about Fritz Von Erich and his sons who were all professional wrestlers from Texas. I almost finished it when we started our approach to Baltimore.

I’m sitting on the correct side of the plane to view the remnants of the Francis Scott Key bridge, the one that was struck by the barge a little bit ago and collapsed. However, I’m not in my favorite window seat and the mindless teenager who is sitting there is clueless about history or current events and leaves his window shade down.  His parents (probably tired of me looking over their shoulders) finally encouraged him to open his window and look at what was left of the bridge. Very sobering site.

I passed by the Gettysburg exit in the dark. Life is pointless. I’ve lost my sense of purpose. I’ve lost my sense of taste and smell. I will more than likely push through this and eat again. Probably…

Day 2

Sandy walking down a sidewalk with her white caneSo, I’m here to see Sandy, who had some O&M from the state a few years ago but wanted more because she’s angling for a guide dog and wants to be as sharp as she can be before she applies. She’s lived here in Mechanicsburg for 53 years, has been married to Ralph for 53 years, and they’ve lived in the same house for 53 years. All that to say, she knows her area pretty well.

And she still has some useable vision so she gets around pretty well. Her biggest issue and this is VERY common for those folks who have lost vision gradually as they age, is that she holds her head down too much. She uses her vision to find out about impediments directly under her feet. If you’ve read this blog before (Mom), you’ve heard me preach about how important it is to hold your head up, even if you don’t have any vision at all. So, she’s gonna hear that from me a lot this week. A vast majority of people with whom I’ve worked have heard it too, so Sandy’s in good company.

I go to a late lunch at the #1 spot on my thoroughly researched where-to-eat-list, Dad’s Garage and Grill. Right on the corner of Main and Walnut, they cook a really nice burger and crispy fries. I have a hard time turning down a burger with a fried egg on it. And bacon? C’mon man! I go back to Sandy’s for one more lesson this afternoon, mostly because I ate too many of the fries. Not all of them mind you. That may be a first for me. So we get finished for the day and there’s still plenty of light left for the day, so I head south down the Chambersburg Pike (like any good southerner should) to the little hamlet of (insert dramatic music here) Gettysburg!

I’m going to do my best to not go on and on about this. But this is for me, right up there with going to a baseball game or watching my son swim. I’ve read all the books, seen all the movies and listened to all the podcasts, but being here is different.

I moved around the battlefield chronologically, following the days of the actual battle. I took a lot of pictures and texted my brother every one with an update on where I was. He MAY be a bigger history nerd than me, but it’d be a close race. However, he’s never been here and is very jealous of me right now. I’d send him a photo and he’d reply with facts, most of which I did not know.

So many famous places: Seminary Ridge, Cemetery Ridge, the wheat field, Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, the (bloody) Angle, the clump of trees, the railroad cut and the peach orchard. I walked them all. I read all the signs I could. But I’ll need more time. The sun went down on me as I stood where the Confederate army stood on the third day of battle, waiting to make what’s become known as Pickett’s Charge. Bad day for them, but a really, really good day for me.

Day 3

I get back over to Sandy’s and we head out for another tour of her regular routes. This morning, we went to two pharmacies, an ice cream shop, her grocery store and the local Dairy Queen. Most of what we discussed, O&M-wise, was eerily similar to yesterday: “Hold your head up, Sandy.” “Keep the cane moving all the time, Sandy.” However, it was less than yesterday. Honestly, this is the way it works. People who want to get better take direction and apply it to their techniques and go on from there. Sandy really wants to improve her techniques and is willing to do the little things which, as we all know, add up to big things.

I had phone calls and e-mails to return, so lunch was boring leftovers from the charcuterie tray I purchased on my way back to the hotel last night. I ate Chick-fil-A tonight and used DoorDash to do it because the Cubs were on cable TV. That doesn’t happen often, so I decided to stay in.

A fortuitous twist of fate will occur the next day. I’m in Mechanicsburg teaching O&M. Just across the Susquehanna River to the northeast of me is Harrisburg where my friend and colleague, Tommy Strasz, is going to be presenting at a professional conference. Tommy is another one of the incredible on-campus O&M team members at Leader. I’m usually the Lone Ranger out here on the road, so it will be nice to have a friend close by.

We’re going to take a road trip tomorrow afternoon to a little hamlet to the south. You may have heard of it: Gettysburg! Yes, I’m going again, but this time, I’m taking a friend who may or may not enjoy it as much as I do. I can’t wait to share this with him!

Day 4

A Civil War era canon in a field at Gettysburg National ParkAs an added surprise, I got to see Tommy present and I got to see Jeanine Penzone, former O&M intern at Leader, who is also attending the conference. I also got to see two of my friends and mentors in the business: George Zimmerman, who ran the vision program at the University of Pittsburgh, and Lukas Frank, who was a Field Rep for the Seeing Eye. George is in town to present an award to a former student and Lukas is presenting at the conference. It is so great to see them both. They’re both officially retired, and our business is lesser because of it. Luckily, they’re still involved in one way or another.

Tommy did a great job with his presentation, and I decided that it would be bad for him and me to present together because he would make me look like a schmuck. He’s so passionate, animated and knowledgeable. Excellent work. After Tommy finished shining, he and I headed off to do something I’m good at talking about history!

Tommy’s no slouch when it comes to history either, so we have an absolute blast at Gettysburg. Yes, I came here on Monday. No, I don’t care. Yes, I could have come here every day and learned something else. Tommy and I stayed at the battlefield until darkness ran us off, and then we went in search of dinner.

But before that, I was privileged to be a guest reader in Tommy’s son’s bedtime story. He is reading Lord of the Rings to them, and I got to read the part of Aragorn tonight. Tommy’s character was one of the riders of the Mark, I forget which one, but Tommy read in a fantastic Scottish accent. I sounded like Dave Chappell trying to imitate a white guy. Regardless, I was honored to be a part of the ceremony.

We ate at an Irish pub and had Irish fare: Rashers and mashed potatoes for Tommy, Shepherd’s Pie for me. We also solved most of the world’s problems over dinner. You’re welcome.

Day 5

Sandy waiting to cross the street holding her white caneToday, Sandy and I did a little Juno work. If you don’t know, Juno is guiding with an empty harness to simulate the work of a guide dog. I use this for people who are dog-motivated or at least dog-curious, which Sandy is. It gives people a chance to find out what it might be like to travel without a cane in which they lose most of the tactile information they’re used to.

It can be a difficult transition for some folks. That and the fact that you move a little faster with a dog. Not necessarily because you are walking faster, probably some, but mostly in that you are stopping less. The cane is an obstacle-detection device, while the dog is an obstacle-avoidance device. Sandy did pretty well. She mostly enjoyed calling me “Juno” and getting me to obey commands. She’s progressing with her cane skills as well and is quite the historian for Mechanicsburg, having lived here for 53 years.

After Sandy and I are done for the day, I head back over to Harrisburg and the conference to have dinner with Tommy, Jeanine, Lukas and Chelsea. I haven’t mentioned Chelsea before but she’s also a field rep for The Seeing Eye. I’ve got a lot of stories and history with Chelsea, but I’ll have to cover that in another blog.

At Jeanine’s suggestion, we had dinner at a place near the capital called The Millworks. It used to be a lumber mill and now houses not only the restaurant but also multiple artists’ galleries. Neat place, with really good food. Lukas talked me into trying chicken wings that were made entirely out of cauliflower.  While they didn’t taste like chicken, they also didn’t taste like cauliflower so I guess that’s a win? I’m not sure if there’s a shortage of chicken wings or a surplus of cauliflower, but I’ll stick to real chicken. For now.

After dinner, we went on an excursion to explore a couple of very interesting intersections and/or traffic situations that Lukas will be teaching about tomorrow. Things like floating bus islands and elevated pedestrian crosswalks. All kinds of things that traffic engineers are employing to help everyone share the road more safely. I remain dubious about most of their methods so far…

Day 6

Sandy walking with her white cane in hand and a coffee cup in the otherSandy and I have a shorter day as she is bringing Ralph home from the hospital this afternoon and she’s getting a ride out there after lunch. She has a lot of questions about her next steps because she’s really interested in applying for a guide dog after this. So, she (and anyone else who goes through either the on-campus or in-home training) has to practice for a minimum of 30 days before reapplying. She also has to send in another video of herself using her newly learned skills.

If she were on campus, the Lovely Ladies of Client Services would have had a sit-down discussion about all these things, plus she would have been a part of a graduation ceremony with some great food from Leader’s fantastic kitchen. But, being on the road, she gets a lapel pin from me and a slice of pizza from JoJo’s, her favorite pizza place. It was good pizza but not like food from Leader’s kitchen. If you haven’t had the luxury of being fed by Elizabeth and her staff, well, you just haven’t lived. Just phenomenal stuff.

After I leave Sandy I drive around Mechanicsburg a bit just to see a little more of town in the daylight. I came across a shopping center with a Primanti Brothers restaurant and am overjoyed! If you read my blog from Pittsburgh last summer, I ate at Primanti Brothers probably 5 out of 6 nights. This place is so good. You may have already guessed what I had for dinner tonight. I fill up on Primanti’s, catch up on my paperwork, pack and get an early night’s sleep.

Day 7

I get up, have “breakfast” at the hotel and get an early start because I want to hit Gettysburg one more time. Yes. I’m going again. It’s on my way to the airport and I’m sure there’s some part I haven’t seen yet.

I was right, too. There’s a fantastic visitor’s center with a bookstore! If Aunt Shirley and I were here together we might never leave. My brother as well. Or Leader’s President and CEO, Melissa. She’s a book lover, as well. Anyway, I’m proud to see that my favorite author for this time period, Shelby Foote, is well-represented here. SO MANY other books to choose from, though. Miraculously though, I make it out without any additional books and take one last lap around the battlefield. Yes, I saw things I hadn’t seen before, so I’m completely justified even though I don’t need to be. I was going to go anyway.

On July 4, 1863, the day after the last action, the Army of Northern Virginia retreated to Virginia under the cover of a rainstorm and the Army of the Potomac let them, making President Lincoln pretty upset, but that’s for another blog. It begins to rain as I leave Gettysburg as well. I find it kinda fitting.

One thing to look forward to is that I used some of my points with the lesser airline to get a seat with a little more legroom. I got this plus a full can of ginger ale instead of the usual Dixie Cup full, two snacks, and the coup de gras: no one sitting beside me. Boom! I finished Iron Claw, my wrestling movie, without having to fight anyone for the armrest and got to stretch out a bit.

The weather in Houston is not as pleasant as it has been in Pennsylvania all week. I’ll rue wearing this hoodie the moment I step outside into Texas again.

I’m headed to Wisconsin next trip. Going to see a client present at a conference and possibly catch a couple of baseball games. I gotta stop living like this: going from high to high to high. I won’t know how to handle “normal” life.