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On the Road with Barry – North Richland Hills, TX

Day 1 – 3

The week started a little earlier than normal as I was on the road by Wednesday to attend a camp at the request of a former co-worker, Tricia. She’s been in blind rehab for as long as I have, which is a long time, but still seems the same age as when I met her in the late ‘90s. How does she do that?

This camp is for jr. high and high school-age kids and their parents, which is really great, Tricia and her cohorts have been putting on camps since God was a boy. So, I got the chance to speak about mobility options and Leader Dog to a great group of young people and some very interested parents.

Very much like Teen O&M on campus, it’s always a good deal to have parents invested in their kids’ independence AND see part of how that gets accomplished. My main message to the parents was to back up and shut up as much as you can. This is also the first piece of advice I learned from my very first client. If you want your kids, clients, etc. to be truly independent you’ve got to back up, shut up and trust them to get things done.

The camp was in Leuders, TX, and is a great little spot in north-ish central Texas. The kids got to fish, shoot paintball guns, play Goal Ball, ride tandem bikes and cook. Anyway, thanks, Tricia! I’ll see y’all next year.

Day 4

Judy walking on a sidewalk with her white cane. The other part of my Texas trip will be spent in North Richland Hills, TX, working with Judy. Judy is a retired physical education teacher and former Leader Dog handler. She worked with her dog for 10 years, which is a great working life for a dog, and is planning on applying for another one after some O&M brush-up.

As I drive toward her house, I notice that the local elementary school is having a field day. This is the time of year when school is almost out. School being out, or even almost out, was my favorite subject at every level of education I attended.

Judy and I make a plan and spend the rest of the morning route-scouting. This is helpful to me as Judy knows her area very well, but I don’t. After a brief lunch, we hit the streets near her home, which are under construction, and worked on some lighted intersection analysis.

The hotels, although I use the same chain as often as possible, are all starting to look the same. My room this time, however, seems different. Larger maybe? A different shape? They did have bacon on the menu this morning. That’s always a plus. And a Texas-shaped waffle iron, which I don’t plan on using unless the bacon disappears throughout the week, as it is prone to do.

Day 5

Judy near the train station with her white cane.

I think they use bacon as a lure for weak-minded people like me. Like Pavlov’s dog, I dutifully check the meat bin every morning only to walk away disappointed, once again, by sausage links or patties. Again, the boiled egg comes through for me as I don’t know of a way to make a fully formed egg out of powder.

Field day number two for the kids in Smithfield Elementary. It’s shaping up to be a good week! Judy lives on this fairly busy street adjacent to a stop on the TX Rail, a commuter train that travels between Dallas and Fort Worth and allows you to connect with other trains throughout the region. This is a train that would open a lot of travel possibilities for Judy and it’s one of her goals to learn how to access it.

The train station itself has a large parking lot and keeps that section of Smithfield pretty busy. There are sidewalks in front of Judy’s home, but they do not connect to the sidewalk by the train station. There’s also no shoulder for pedestrians, making it perilous and even unsafe for someone, blind or not, to walk in the street. She can travel safely in all other directions, but no number of detours will lead her to the train station on a sidewalk or a walkable shoulder.

All that to say, Judy is committed to getting a ride to the train station to access the train. She’s got a great social network upon whom she can lean on for this assistance, so it’s not out of our training options.

We spent a major amount of time this morning on the route to the Walgreens at which she shops. It’s not a particularly difficult route, but like 10 of 12 spies reported to the Israelites about the Promised Land, there are giants in the land. This giant in particular, actually IS a giant; a 12-lane boulevard followed by a 7-lane boulevard. Yes, you read that right: 12 lanes. Uphill. Both ways. As an experienced traveler Judy understands traffic patterns and how intersections work, but 12 is daunting for everyone. I’ll admit that it’s a little intimidating just to look at. But, like eating an elephant we’ll attack this one bite at a time.

There are accessible pedestrian signals (APS) here, which make the task a little easier. Locating them consistently, hearing them from the corner and interpreting the information they provide is, and always will be, the biggest issue for most people with visual impairments. Often, these devices are present but not placed in an optimum position to be as handy as they should be. All that aside, we used all available information, got across both daunting streets and figured out h

ow to get to the front door of Walgreens.

Judy, being a seasoned P.E. instructor, understands the benefits of practice. We went over the route to the door three times before she agreed to go back to the train station. I could hear my P.E. teacher, Mrs. Brunner, telling me to “take another lap”, over and over again.

In the afternoon, we began to figure out the train; including navigating the parking lot, using the automated ticket booth, interpreting the schedule, accessing the platforms, finding the doors when the train arrived, locating a seat upon entry, getting off at the correct stop and getting back on. We also got our tickets to Grapevine where we are meeting a friend for lunch tomorrow. We do all the recon we can on the train itself and around Grapevine station. There are a lot of things to consider when traveling by train and while I can’t say we covered them all, we hit a lot of them.

Day 6

Judy holding her white cane at a train station waiting for a train to arrive.

Sleeping well after yesterday wasn’t an issue. The Texas sun peaking earlier in the year or I’m feeling it more and more as I age, but I was hot and sweaty at the end of the day yesterday. Good thing we had finished the day on the train and that it was air-conditioned. It’s a nice train; clean, quiet, cool. It would be easy to fall asleep with the aforementioned comforts, rhythmic rocking and gentle rolling of the train itself. I fell asleep on an Amtrack train one time on the East Coast a long time ago, but that’s a story I’ll tell you another time…

Three field days in a row for Smithfield Elementary! Woo Hoo! Judy and I start the day with a repeat of the route to Walgreens. She did better today than yesterday, which I fully expected. Then we worked at the train station again. We worked on accessing the platform from the parking lot, which is an evil place, and finding the ticket booth. It does have braille on it and has a headphone jack for those who want to do their business in private, but the O&M instructor on this particular lesson didn’t plan well on time to get Judy familiar enough to access this on her own. She will be able to figure it out and I fully expect her to.

Anyway, we got our tickets and got on the right train in time to meet our mutual friend and fellow O&M instructor, Steffani, for lunch. Steffani is a former student of mine (and you didn’t hear this from me but also one of my personal favorites) who is now working for the Texas Workforce Commission. Among other things, the Texas Workforce Commission is responsible for state-sanctioned blind rehabilitation in Texas. Steffani has clients from DFW to Abilene, and the Oklahoma line all the way to… I can’t remember. A long way south, I know. An enormous area. She has also had the pleasure of working with Judy.

We met at a BBQ place Steffani suggested and arrived in enough time to let Steffani see Judy cross a street independently. Indications of a good teacher and good student, I was just along for the ride. We had a good lunch, and it was great catching up with Steffani. She made me smile more than once (much more) as a student and today she picked up right where she left off. With full stomachs, we headed our separate ways, Steffani to parts unknown and Judy and I back on the train headed west.

We had learned from Steffani that there SHOULD be assistance for those who need it on the first and last car. Being new train riders, we have had a few questions about how to know on which platform to wait for east or westbound trains, and on what side of the platform the train would arrive. Simple, we’ll ask the porter, right? Well, no porter could be found, and if Judy were on the train by herself, she would have had to ask a fellow rider. Not that that’s a bad thing. In fact, asking good questions is a highly developed skill that every person with a visual impairment should learn. Today, she had me to rely on and we made our way off the train and back to her house.

Day 7

Field day number four! Also, day number three of the no-bacon breakfast. The highs and lows of life, huh? Judy requested to do the Walgreens route again and she killed it. We did it twice, then she suggested that we head over to Southlake to an outdoor shopping area. This is a challenging environment to travel in crowded sidewalks, irregular traffic patterns, unmarked crosswalks, etc., but Judy did very well. She’s feeling a lot more comfortable and confident with her cane and her travel shows it.

We went into several shops, including the Tecova shop. This is a boot brand, but they sell clothes and other leather goods as well. Is there any better aroma than a boot shop? Maybe the tack room at Leader smells this good but it’s hard to beat how a good boot store smells. I found my next pair of boots at Tecova: goat skin, chocolate milk brown and almost chocolate milk smooth. I just need to take on another full-time job to afford them, but I’m convinced that they may be worth it.

Judy did great. I got tired of the crowd and we searched for some lunch. The big city traffic forced us back to Judy’s on a quite roundabout route. Our main goals were accomplished for the day, we called it and promised to do better tomorrow.

I had dinner tonight with my cousin Shelly at a place called Babe’s in North Richland Hills. It’s a fun place that serves family style. We ate and solved most of the world’s problems. I grew up with just one brother, but my six cousins are like brothers and sisters to me. As youngsters, we were always together. We had lunch at Grammy’s house so many times after Sunday service, it felt weird when we went to our own homes.

Day 8

The field day streak stopped at four. The bacon-less breakfast is going strong at four. School’s out for summer and my nitrate levels have reached an all-time low. Oh, well. Judy and I head to a new location where they’re building a Starbucks, among other things. No 12-lane street to cross on the way for over-priced coffee, and the APSs at the intersection are arranged in a more accessible manner.

So, we worked on this route and Judy did well, but she made some mistakes in crossing. If you’ve read this blog before, you know I’ve talked about the fact that everyone veers sometimes when they cross. Everyone. Knowing why you veer is important, but sometimes unknowable. The more important skill is knowing what to do when you veer. How to solve problems is what independent travel is all about. Another really important aspect of travel is not to expect perfection. Maybe you don’t cross every street straight, but did you get across? Are you broken, bruised or bleeding? If the answer to those questions is: yes, no, no, no, then you’re doing OK. I’d love for everyone to cross the street straight every time, but even if you’re lined up great, sometimes (a LOT of the time) the world isn’t straight. You’ve got to be able to figure things out when things don’t go as planned. The saying in prizefighting is that everyone’s got a plan until they get hit. Now what? OK, enough with the metaphors. If you’re struggling with the crossings, keep at it.

I’m headed to Jellico, Tennessee next trip. Jellico is right on the Kentucky border. If anyone knows good eatin’ in Northern Tennessee, please let me know. I bet I’ll find something to eat, but I’m always up for suggestions.