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On the Road with Barry: Tennessee

Day 1

Knoxville mural

So, I flew with the airline that shall not be named and I couldn’t help but wonder when the ugliness was going to start. Surely, there was weather somewhere, or the flight crew would be delayed because someone hadn’t had enough sleep, or something.  I acted as if my flight would be delayed, without any extraneous information otherwise. So much so that I was actually surprised when they called for my flight to board. The rental car was waiting for me, and my room was ready even though I checked in a couple of hours early. Thankfully, the ugliness never began. My travel day went as smoothly as any travel day I’ve ever had.

My client this week is a professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She teaches, and research in the field of cardiovascular study. She started losing her vision when she was very young, and it has gotten progressively worse. Her VR counselor suggested Leader Dog for O&M services because they don’t have anyone local to perform these services. I’ll be meeting her on campus tomorrow and we’ll get started.

Day 2

My father was born and raised in Arkansas and raised his two sons to root for the Razorbacks. I have followed them for as long as I can remember and have taught my son to do the same. Long story short, all this Tennessee Volunteers orange is a little hard to take. It’s literally everywhere. The Holiday Inn at which I’m staying is affectionately known as the Vol-iday Inn. UGH. Even with all that in mind, the ladies at the UT parking office were extremely nice, and extremely helpful in assisting me in parking on campus for the week. They even gave me a souvenir Volunteers orange parking pen. Oh boy.

I met Phoebe, my client, in front of her building, and we made a plan to walk into downtown Knoxville. She wants to be more comfortable with her travel skills, especially in areas in which she’s unfamiliar. Her physical cane skills are adequate, as she’s had around eight hours of training, but she wants to become more oriented to areas outside her “normal” circles. Eight miles later (no. Seriously. Literally eight miles later) she got “tired,” and we’d visited most of the places in town she had mentioned at the beginning of the day.

Day 3

Woman walking on wooded trailPhoebe likes to hike for fun and exercise but doesn’t feel comfortable on the more technical trails. She often will stay on the more level, less technical trails, which she feels her family would like to attempt. Knoxville just happens to be home to a great place called Ijam’s Nature Center that is chock-full of trails and Mead’s Quarry, which is an old marble quarry that’s been flooded and now used for canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding and the like. Phoebe knew of a trail around the quarry that she hadn’t felt comfortable on in the past and we went for it. (Quick sidebar: Knoxville is not flat.) Phoebe did great on some pretty steep, rocky ups and downs. I’m not sure how impressed the cardiology researcher was with the coughing and wheezing she heard behind her on some of the more challenging parts…

After hiking, Phoebe wanted to check out a part of UT’s campus with which she was not familiar. The Agriculture campus is close enough to be considered on the same campus, but it is geographically separated from the main campus. Phoebe likes to garden and the library on this section of campus has a seed catalogue from which you can check out seeds. Funny idea to “check out” seeds. It’s not like you can bring them back… kinda like the Hotel California, in a way… but I digress. Nine miles later (no. Seriously. Literally nine miles later), Phoebe “got tired.”

Day 4

Woman walking with white cane in a crowdKnoxville hosted the World’s Fair back in 1982. I bet you didn’t know that. I didn’t either until I studied up for this trip. There’s a great park downtown that has been really well maintained since then and houses an amphitheater on the water, some great water features, the Sun Sphere (think the Space Needle in Seattle or the Tower of the Americas in San Antonio, both also constructed for World’s Fairs, by the way), and the world’s largest Rubik’s Cube.  Knoxville also has a great Farmer’s Market on Market Square, a great open pedestrian-friendly area in downtown, ringed by restaurants and shops, and which brings in a huge variety of vendors on Saturdays. Phoebe wanted some crowd work, and we got it. It was like someone kicked an anthill: People everywhere. So, what do people with canes do in big crowds like that?  One good thing to do is to slow down and choke down on the cane. This technique still protects you and identifies you as someone who doesn’t see as well as others. It doesn’t give you as much reaction time, but in a big crowd, you’re not moving as fast anyway. Having a cane in a crowd like that really is a benefit because the crowd tends to part like the Red Sea, as long as people are paying attention.

world's largest Rubik's cubeAfter the market, Phoebe wanted to find a bakery she’d been wanting to try, and a new deli that had just opened up. She plotted the course to the bakery into her I-phone’s map program and we set out. GPS is like horseshoes and hand grenades: Getting close matters. Civilian GPS is only accurate up to 30 feet, and sometimes you’re lucky if you get that close. And sometimes, it doesn’t update as fast as it should. The best thing GPS does for you is to get you close, then use your common sense and other information like landmarks and clues that will help you get to the actual location. All that to say, we made a bit of a roundabout trip to the bakery, but she found it and got some great looking cookies for her husband. We then found the deli. She had Banh mi, and I had a pastrami sandwich on some of the best bread I’d ever had.

We went to the afore-mentioned World’s Fair Park to see the sights. Six and a half miles later (no. Seriously. Six and half miles later.) Phoebe “got tired.” I think I’m wearing her down…

Day 5

Storms in the area. Tornado watches. I don’t know what county I’m in. Honestly, who looks up the county you’re traveling to? These bad weather announcements always tell you what counties are going to be affected, which is very helpful IF you know your county. Turns out, Knoxville was OK, we just got a lot of rain. Phoebe and I were going to go on another challenging hike and her husband was going to come along. We decided that the rain was going to make the hike a little too challenging, at least today, and made another plan. Phoebe loves to shop at Trader Joe’s and other smaller shops like it, and at Costco. Her husband decided that Trader Joe’s and Costco were not the adventure he’d been planning on.

Shopping and traveling in stores with a cane is mostly like crowd work anywhere, but there’s the added angst over possibly knocking things over in the store, especially on endcaps where displays protrude from the end of the aisles.  A slowed pace along with a shortened up cane can reduce a lot of this worry, but it also takes practice and, sometimes, knocking things over. This didn’t happen today, though. Phoebe also found a great deal at Costco on a set of bowls, so we’ll call that a win-win.

Day 6

Statue of dog wearing an orange and white jacket with the word Tennessee on the sideOn our last training day, we chose to go back into downtown Knoxville and do some Juno work. Juno, I’m told, is the Greek god of travel, and it’s the term we use for taking someone on a dog walk without the dog. (Juno may be the Greek word for “gullible” as well. I’m not really sure.) Regardless, Phoebe got a good idea what it would be like to travel with a dog this morning. The biggest differences between cane travel and guide dog travel are 1. Much less tactile information 2. Faster travel from point A to point B. 1. The cane is an obstacle detector while the dog is an obstacle avoider. The tactile information you get through the cane, you sometimes lose when traveling with a dog. That sign pole that’s in the middle of the sidewalk that you hit with your cane every time you walk past it, you move around with the dog. 2. You get from point A to point B faster not necessarily because you walk faster, but because you stop less. So, Phoebe is very interested in a getting a guide dog after O&M training and the training she received this week will help her be more successful with a dog.

I fly out in the morning, with the airline that shall not be named. Really bad weather in the area last night, so I hope no issues with pilot fatigue, or cancelled flights, or UFO’s will delay my flight to Texas. Well, if a UFO delayed my flight to Texas, I’d take that as an excuse. I would actually welcome a flight delay specifically caused by a UFO. As long as I get to see it myself. I’m OK with that. I’ll let you know how that goes…

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