Last night I attended a block party in the neighborhood where I grew up. Many of the families I once knew were gone and new ones lived in their homes. I was glad I could still recognize a few faces.
And I mean that literally. With my vision loss, it’s almost always difficult to know who is who nowadays.
I had “visions” of me introducing myself in a perky voice to some newcomer only to find out it was someone I’d known since childhood!
So, yeah, it was tricky.
But not as tricky as the first block party I inadvertently “attended” five years ago in the city during my mobility training!
I wore sleepshades–you know the black things you wear over your eyes on airplanes to get some shut-eye–completely covering my eyes.
Yes, I was learning to navigate my cane with my instructor, Bob and we hit the unexpected.
That block party, too, took place in July.
And let me tell you, a block party in the heart of a city is nothing to sneeze at.
Especially when you didn’t know what you were coming up against.
Imagine the scene …
As I made my way forward on the sidewalk, the space I had to maneuver seemed to shrink. What odd steel objects did my cane keep hitting?
“Explore them, Amy,” Bob suggested when I asked him.
In order to “explore” them, I had to slide my cane up the sides of the obstacles as far as I could—knee and waist-high in some cases—and reach out as far as necessary to make logical guesses.
“They all seem to form different shapes. I can’t identify them.”
“They’re flat lines and curves….” Bob sounded puzzled for a second then snapped his fingers. “That’s right. Downtown Erie is having a block party this weekend,” he recalled. “Let me check it out.”
I could hear the methodical tapping of his cane exploring the same types of obstacles I came up against. “These must be tables and chairs set up on the sidewalk. That’s what we are coming across. Yes, today we’ll have to fight the crowds.”
“Oh? Oh! A block party!”
Lucky for me I had my sleepshades. Everyone would have seen the panic in my eyes.
I held my cane close. How could I possibly make my way through the congested sidewalk? “Should we postpone our lesson for a more ‘normal’ day?”
“You’re okay. People will move when they see you. If not, you’ll find them with your cane. Just challenge yourself. Keep going.”
We moved ahead in silence as I slowly battled my way through the maze of tables, chairs and grills.
I got in the habit of apologizing when I ran into people—or objects. “Oh, sorry!” I realized too late as I apologized to a pole.
The smells tantalized me.
I got a whiff of some kind of barbecue sauce … hickory? Smells just like Dad’s chicken used to cooking on the grill. Just a few feet ahead a sudden wave of heat hit me and I heard a crackle and sizzle. What was that? A couple of hot drops landed on my right arm. Grease. I jerked, speeded up and far away from what I guessed was the vat of French fries cooking.
Next came the sweet onions wafting in my direction. And some kind of meat. Hamburgers? Steak? Must be burgers because … wasn’t that dill pickles? Or, maybe … relish? So then, maybe hot dogs…my stomach growled.
The tip of my cane slapped against something metal. What in the world? A stroller? Oh my. I hope I didn’t hit a baby with my cane. “Pardon me.” I gulped and tapped away.
Suddenly, I pitched forward. I felt a hand reach out to steady me. Before I could thank whoever helped me, he or she disappeared.
Now the smells had changed. I recognized coffee beans. Then I almost tripped over what felt like an electrical cord. I caught myself as I crashed into some sheet … metal. “Careful, lady,” came the gruff voice. “Watch where you’re going. There are a bunch of coffee pots—oh you can’t see….”
Suddenly, I couldn’t move. I boxed myself into a corner and got tangled up in the legs of whatever blocked the passage. I longed for a giant hand to lift me out and place me on the path again. Where is the way through? A-m-y, focus! People must be staring. “Uh…uh…Bob!”
“I’m here. You’re doing great. Go ahead. I’m right behind you.”
“No way, I’m stuck. There’re like some cords and chairs and something big.” The more trapped I felt, the squeakier my voice became. “Everywhere I turn, I’m just stuck. Why aren’t they helping me? Why doesn’t someone move something so I can get out?”
“I don’t think anyone is there, or they would have.” Bob’s steady voice calmed me. I half-hoped that he would change places with me and take the lead. Obviously, I wasn’t doing a good job on my own. Instead, he began to instruct me. “Can you reach out and touch the chair? You’ll have to move it yourself if it’s light. If not, turn around and inch yourself backward until you find space to move again.”
Geez. He certainly doesn’t mollycoddle me. He just believes I’ll rise to the occasion.
Finding that I couldn’t move the chair—which by now seemed wider and more like a table—I backed up, crossed over some kind of hose in the grass and timidly tapped the round ball of my cane around some bags and boxes before shifting forward.
Once I could move, I could breathe freely again and the claustrophobia receded. My breath came in quick, rasping pants.
Maybe I was hyperventilating.
“Bob?” pant! pant! “Are you there? Bob. Where are we?” pant! “BOB!”
“I’m right beside you. Amy, are you all right?”
I trembled for a few seconds. “Yes, I’m fine.”
“Good,” he said matter-of-factly. “Now is the time to ask someone where we are.”
“All right.” I took a deep breath and brightened. “Let’s ask. Maybe we’ll get a free hotdog!”
That experience taught me to navigate through crowds. I remembered taking driver’s training in the winter of my senior year of high school and navigating through and around snowdrifts. Different obstacles, same feeling of triumph!
I needed to use all my senses, build on my skills, stay alert and keep my sense of humor!
You’ve read “Block Party Blind.” Have you ever found yourself in such a vulnerable position? Have you been in an unfamiliar neighborhood and didn’t know how to get around? What did you do? Have you been the one to help someone else find their way?
Looking forward to your comments!
© July 3, 2014.