Saturday, December 12, 2015

Fresh Ground Stories- A Change of Heart

I was lucky enough recently to tell another story on stage in Seattle.  I have learned so much from hearing people's true personal stories and have immensely enjoyed sharing some of my own.  

I hope you can relate to this story.   It's about keeping a secret.  

Keith Edgerton, Fresh Ground Stories- A Change of Heart

My TEDx Talk

I feel so grateful to have been a part of this event!  I hope you enjoy it!  

Keith Edgerton, TEDx Olympia

Monday, July 27, 2015

I was on NPR in Seattle!!!!

     I had an opportunity recently to speak at a conference in Ocean Shores.  I gave a talk on how to energize your staff about alternative forms of transportation.  It was a fun presentation to make and it lead to another opportunity to be interviewed by KUOW in seattle.  It was a great experience and I'm very happy with the end product!  Hope you enjoy it!  

Keith's interview on KUOW Seattle

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Fresh Ground Stories- Fish out of Water- Not Fitting in

    I have not posted much to my blog of late but it has been for very good reasons.  Life has been grand for me.  I had a wonderful spring season of coaching 7th/8th Grade Boys Lacrosse with (3) other coaches in Olympia.  I got chosen as 1 of the 12 people to speak at Olympia's first ever Ted Talks and I have been sharing stories in Seattle the last 2 months.  Paul Currington hosts Fresh Ground Stories at the Roy Street Coffee House and he offers an open mic to people who want to share true personal stories that match the theme of the show.  

I have been so happy writing recently and sharing stories.  Writing has been so fulfilling and something I never envisioned doing.  Life can be funny that way.  I hope you enjoy the first story I shared in Seattle on May 28, 2015!  

LINK: Keith Edgerton, Fresh Ground Stories-Fish out of Water- Not Fitting in 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Woman I can't forget

  It has happened to us all.  We have all met someone we won't ever forget but will never see again.  We made a connection.  They moved us.  It could be a relationship that lasted 5 seconds.  A smile.  A helping hand.  A person who asked you if everything is ok while you were visibly upset or noticeably lost.  The memory becomes etched in our brains.  When the memory is triggered by a current moment in our busy lives it slams us back to that experience.  We are able to see the person in vivid colors.  Maybe they are even back lit like a celestial being.  The memory can activate other senses too.  Maybe we remember the exact song that was playing when you met this person.  Maybe it was that song playing that jarred this memory to the front of your consciousness.  The smells of that moment, the feel of the weather on our skin or the ambient sounds can all be there.  All in our head.  We can lose ourselves in the memory.  We can be so engrossed in the memory that we lose touch with the current reality.  The memory of that person can bring up so many emotions.  Nostalgia combined with goosebumps.  Tears of joy.  Tears of yearning.  Or just a big smile.  Our brains our powerful muscles that work 24/7.  It can be a blessing or it can be overwhelming.  All these moments stored in our brain always seem ready to be recalled and we don't know when or even why it can happen sometimes.
     Thursday, June 26, 2014.  Berlin, Germany was the start of one of those moments for me.  I know this date because we were going to see Pearl Jam as a family that night in an outdoor amphitheater.  We had planned a lot of our trip based on what each family member wanted to see during our time in Europe, but it was also planned around seeing Pearl Jam in Berlin.
    Each morning my wife, Kiirsten and I would wake up before our kids and head out to find some coffee near our hotel.  On this morning we headed back towards the train station because we had scoped out some coffee shops after arriving the day before.  As we walked we would check out each coffee shop.  We tended to want what appeared to be a non chain coffe shop.  A cafe that had character or a coffee shop that looked family owned.  We were struggling to find such a coffee shop in this part of town.  We liked where our hotel was located because we were close to the concert venue but we were clearly located in the suburbs of Berlin and that meant chain restaurants.  We settled on a coffee shop called Steinecke.  It was more of a bakery than a coffee shop and clearly a franchise.  We walked in and were greeted by the woman working behind the counter with the word 'Morgan'.  After canvasing the curved glass display case we pointed at the pastries we wanted and ordered our coffee.  I gave up on looking for almond or soy milk to create my iced lattes and just stuck with 2 shots of espresso.  I had never done just shots of espresso and was really enjoying this change in beverage.  We paid for our order and were handed our pastries.  We found a table and figured they would bring our coffee out to us.  Its amazing how well you can communicate with people sometimes without using language.  You realize when traveling to foreign countries that you rely on standard customs of doing business in public.
     Europe is no different than America when it comes to seeing a guy with a cane.  People stare.  People jump out of the way.  People treat you like you are totally blind instead of visually impaired.  It can be hard sometimes to receive that kind of attention but I normally try to roll with it.  I know most people's reactions are out of love and compassion so I try and remind myself of that notion when I get tired of being treated as who has ebola.  I had seen a woman in the back part of the bakery take notice of me when we walked in but she did not help us.  Once we sat down and waited for our coffee I saw her move up to the front while the other ladies were working away.  This woman was the classic German woman.  She was probably 5'-7" and 5'-9" with a bleach blonde coif.  .  Her hair was big and feathered and wrapped around her head like she had a custom mold made to insert her head into each morning.  You could tell she wasn't a woman who made a fuss about how she looked but she definitely took care of her hair every day.  She had the build of a woman who worked at a bakery and liked what they sold.  She was far from petite but she was not large either.  She was solid and not a bit ashamed of it.  She ended up bringing us our coffee and gave each of us a smile like we were distant cousins.  I didn't think she had a phony bone in her body.  Her mediterranean blue eyes seemed to welcome us to Berlin.  Eyes can be an amazing tool.  Eyes can tell you how special someone thinks you are or they can warn you of impending doom.  This woman was warm and soft and genuine.  We smiled back and thanked her and she left us alone.  Our pastries were scrumptious and our coffee was hearty.  I had noticed my tiny espresso cup and saucer had a little meringue treat on the side which I happily ate.   We ended up being pleasantly surprised with our chain bakery experience and knew we would be back tomorrow for more yummy treats.
    The Pearl Jam concert was an epic experience with the kids.  It was their first real rock concert and Pearl Jam did not disappoint.  Eddie and the boys played for 3 hours and it was a warm night with happy Germans all around us.  We again rose the next morning before the kids and headed to our coffee shop.  It was another sunny day in Berlin and we were excited to get some java in us.  We walked through the open front door with Kiirsten leading me while my cane clicked from side to side.  Our lady from the day before quickly spotted us and moved up past the other women to make sure she waited on us.  After many smiles and finger pointing at the pastries we paid for our order and made our way to our seats.  We felt very welcome to be back and we eagerly awaited our coffee.  Our new friend brought out our coffee and this time my coffee looked different.  Today my espresso saucer had three meringue treats along with two shortbread cookies.  This woman apparently liked us.  This is the moment where it can feel great to have someone take a liking to you and also feel awkward.  I can cringe in these moments.  I think the awkwardness comes from not feeling worthy of her nice gesture.  The diametrically opposed feelings seem to fight one another.  Soak in the feeling that someone likes you or believe that you are not worthy.  Oh, the human condition.  It is rarely boring.  After eating all our pastries and all of the treats on our plate, our new favorite bakery woman quickly brought out more treats.  This woman was on it.  She knew the second our plates were clear.  After finishing the second round of treats I got up to bus our table and our friend all but jumped over the bakery counter to make sure I did not hit any chairs or tables while I navigated myself back to the bus bins.  Ah, ok, So now I got it.  I'm getting blind sympathy.  I have not reconciled how to handle this type of situation.  I want to be liked for who I am, not for what people perceive as a disability.  My visual impairment is a part of me but it does not define me.  I don't want to be a charity case.  I certainly don't want people to feel sorry for me.  I hope people can see more of me than my cane and lack of vision.  In situations like this I will normally choose the story that the person likes me beyond my visual impairment.  I make that choice because it makes me happy and for the fact that I will most likely never know what they really think.  I've learned as an adult we constantly get to choose how we interpret how life unfolds before us and so I like to choose the story that makes me feel good.
     Our adventures continued through Berlin with the kids.  Many miles walked and many trains ridden.  The weather was great and so were the sites.  The long rich and sometimes tragic history of Berlin was fascinating to all of us.  This was the point of the trip where I had reached my limit on walking on cobblestones with my cane.  Cobblestones were wonderful to look at but I was having a very difficult time avoiding my cane from getting stuck in the uneven stones.  My cane would get pinned in a cobblestone crevice and the handle of my cane would get jammed into my abdomen.  The type of cobblestones I was walking on would determine how many times I was stopped in my tracks.  Sometimes it could be every other step.  I had wounds all over my mid section and I was ready to break my cane into a million tiny pieces.  Kiirsten was struggling on how to help me and I felt her helplessness.  I knew she felt pain in witnessing my frustration.  I didn't want to bring down my family with my problems and that only added to the mess because how I felt was impossible to mask.  It was a hard spot in our trip.  Our emotions were close to the surface but we kept our composure in hopes we wouldn't negatively effect our kids European adventure.   We did our best to muscle through the day but we were far from relaxed and happy.  
      Kiirsten woke up before me on our last full day in Berlin and she headed out for coffee.  I was slow moving that morning and hoped to get out of my funk.  I showed up at our coffee shop and Kiirsten was well into her first cup of coffee.  Our favorite lady was there and ready to serve up some pastries and coffee.  Kiirsten and I did our best to put on a happy public face but it was tough.  I broke down over coffee.  I was so tired of navigating with my cane on cobblestones, tired of people staring at me and tired of making my way in unfamiliar cities.  It was good to get it out.  I had a good cry.  Kiirsten did too.  We aired it all out.  There is nothing like a good release from the tear ducts.  We started to wrap up and bus our table when our blonde bakery friend came over.  Kiirsten was still sitting and our friend smiled, tilted her head, grabbed Kiirsten's hand and leaned in for a kiss on the cheek.  This woman was much more than a bakery employee.  She cared.  She cared about people.  She knew Kiirsten was struggling.  She probably knew it the second Kiirsten entered the bakery that morning.  There are many people you can fool with a smile even though you are hurting inside and there are people who can always see inside of you.  Those kind of people can't be fooled.  This woman was one of them.  I bused our table and headed back to get Kiirsten.  The woman saw me and gave me a hug and a kiss.  She knew what was up and it felt good.  I smiled through puffy red eyes and thanked her as we shuffled out to greet the sunny day.
     We went on to enjoy the last day in Berlin even though we both still felt raw.  We weren't totally over it but we had expressed how we felt and now we could try and move on.  I starting relying on more help getting around from my daughters and Kiirsten to ease my adverse relationship with cobblestones.  I also felt Kiirsten and I getting back to being vulnerable with one another which felt wonderful.   Its easy to put up walls to keep our hearts safe but its not a fun way to live.
     Before we checked out of our hotel I wrote a letter to our bakery friend in English while the kids got ready.  I thanked her for all that she did and what she meant to me during our time in Berlin.  I popped into the bakery on our way to the train station to find her.  She was in the back of the bakery but I was able to catch her attention and she moved up to the front to meet me.  I handed her the note and thanked her.  She gave me a big smile, a hug and kiss.  She seemed very moved by my gesture even though she couldn't read a word of it.  I thanked her again and headed out.  I walked away with a smile on my face and a warmth inside my body.  Berlin was an amazing city with great history, the concert rocked,  and our bakery friend provided a special little moment in life.
     Our German Bakery women is someone who will pop into my mind every now and again.  I will get a smile on my face when I think of the affection she gave us when we were both struggling.  I will probably never see her again and that's fine.  Its comforting to know there are people in this big world who care.  People who want to help ease the way for others.  I'm thankful for what that woman gave us and I'm thankful to all of the wonderful people I have met during my travels through life.  In the end I want connection.  I want to know there are people who want to be loved and to give love.  To know this world has people on it that are more concerned about others than making more money or getting home faster in their car makes me happy.   The feeling of connection to others is unreplaceable for me.  To feel understood.  To know someone is looking out for you.  I know that's how I want to be remembered.


Sunday, February 8, 2015


     The end was near.  I was happy about that prospect and scared at the same time.  I was going to finish my year of mobility training with Penny Armstrong in Seattle.  She thought it would be a good idea to spend some time in a big city learning how to get around completely blind.  I lived in Seattle for four years so I was familiar with many places but there were also areas I had never been to before.  We devised a plan to start in the University District since I had spent a lot of time in that neighborhood.  Penny suggested we then take a bus down to Pike Place Market.  I had been to Pike Place many times but was much less familiar with that part of Seattle.
     I was pretty jacked up about this trip.  I had done well over my year of training in Olympia but I also had had some rough patches.  I didn't want to fail.  I didn't want to perform poorly.  I had a tendency to be really hard on myself.  How many people put on fully occluded glasses and try and get around?  I needed to give myself more slack at times but it was hard.  I want to be great at everything I do.  Who doesn't?  I'm always telling my daughters to go easier on themselves when learning something new but I had a hard time taking my own advice.  We were headed to the big city for what was to be my final exam.  I was nervous.  I wanted to knock this one out of the park.  Go out on top.
     The day finally arrived and we drove up to Seattle.  We found a spot to be dropped off by Penny's driver and she laid out the game plan.  She wanted me to take her to my 3 favorite restaurants in the U district.  The Cafe Allegro Coffee House, The Big Time Brewery and finally the Little Thai restaurant.  All three places were favorites of mine back in the mid 90's.  I put on the my 'blind' glasses and started out.  With my nerves at full attention and my heart thumping I navigated to our first detour.  Penny needed some cash, so she asked me to take her to her bank across the street.  Wait a minute, that was not on the itinerary.  But I can't say no to Penny, so I guided her over to the front door and into the lobby.  Penny and I chuckled as the Bank Teller gave me the opposite directions to navigate the velvet ropes that formed lines.  He would tell me to go left when he meant my right (his left).  I quickly figured it out and didn't correct him.  I followed his voice until I reached the counter.  I happily told him I was taking my friend to his bank so she could get money.  Not often a 'blind' person gets to say they led people with vision.  We thanked him for the help and he again led me out of the building with his vocal commands.
     We hit the street and I headed south to Cafe Allegro.  I could hear the cars at the street corners.  I could hear when buildings ended and the street opened up at corners.  I could hear when building had an awning above us to keep us dry on rainy days.  I could even hear when buildings had recessed entrances into their individual shops.  My cane guided me over surface changes and my ears helped give me a picture of my surroundings.  Most importantly my ears kept me safe.  I may not walk across a crosswalk straight all the time but I felt confident I would not get hit by a car because of my ears.  It was a fairly easy jaunt to the coffee house until we got close.  Cafe Allegro was actually in an alley and I knew Penny had her doubts I was taking her to the right location but I knew we were close just by the smell of coffee.  I heard some men go into a building but something was wrong.  I thought I was there but something didn't feel quite right.  I hesitated and thought for a second.  Unbeknownst to me the guys who were going in the building were holding the door for me.  A perk of being totally blind is not knowing when people are staring at you.  I moved forward towards the door not knowing they gave up on me.  While entering the doorway I realized it was not the correct entrance because it went one step down instead of up.  Too late!  My cane actually got closed in the door.  Uh oh!  I hoped the door didn't lock like many apartment buildings in cities.  I quickly turned the knob and it opened.  Whew.  Crisis averted.  I gathered myself and made a decision to move up the alley and try again.  This time I nailed it!  I opened the Cafe Allegro door and breathed in the pungent smell of coffee.  Finding a door handle, swing direction of the door or simply the door is hard when you are walking down a unfamiliar street or even somewhat familiar street.  What cues would you use to find the correct shop without vision?
     One down two to go.  We headed to what used to be my favorite brewery in the world, the Big Time Brewery.  Lots of great memories in that establishment and lots of great IPA's ingested too!  Along the way to the Big Time Penny felt the need to give me a heads up.  Penny was great at not giving me advice unless she thought my safety was in jeopardy.  Penny interrupted my gate to tell me people were camping on the sidewalk.   She described family size tents blocking most of the sidewalk ahead of us.  She even saw a sign on one of the tents asking people to keep it down because kids were sleeping.  A situation like this raises lots of questions but today was not the day for those questions to be contemplated.  I was focused on getting around this obstacle.  I had to navigate around the tents, street trees, parked cars and pedestrians.  I could not imagine what I would have done without Penny's heads up.  Trying to put a picture together in your mind with limited clues can be a real challenge.  In cases like this you would most likely have to ask for help.  I successfully made it around the campers even though my cane found its way into what felt like a bucket.  I really didn't want to know what was in the bucket.  I plugged along, crossed a street and followed my nose and ears to the Big Time.  I did pass it by one store but knew I missed it.  I stopped and retraced my steps and stopped us at the entrance.  I remembered the recessed tiled entrance and the unforgettable smell of hops.  Two down one to go!
     Final stop, Little Thai.  This place was close, just up the block and around the corner.  It would be easy to find the building but the restaurant was in the basement of a multi-story building.  We strolled up to the building and upon arrival I stopped to figure out where the stairs were located.  While contemplating my next move a man asked if he could help me.  "Sure", I responded and told him I was looking for the Little Thai.  He exclaimed happily that he knew right where it was and started to lead me there.  I had never been led by a stranger before and we were off to a bad start.  He was pushing me with his hand on my back.  I ask the man to stop and ask him if I can hold on to him instead.  He didn't resist my request and we are off to find the Little Thai.  He took me down the stairs and told me we were there.  I thanked him and he is gone.
     There is a science to being a Human Guide and it is simple.  The person being guided grabs the guide just above the elbow and walks a step behind the guide.  You also want your shoulders to matched up.  Probably the trickiest part of this endeavor is for the guide to remember he/she is twice as wide as normal.  Its not fun having a human guide walk you into a tree branch, a corner of a building or another person.  If those 3 elements are done correctly it works really well.  While being guided I can easily tell when the person changes direction or stops and I can also notice subtle changes in elevation because the guide's elbow will noticeably be higher or lower than me.
     Now I am standing near some doorways but something doesn't feel right.  I know the Little Thai entrance is inside a building and right now I'm standing outside the building even though I went down some stairs.  Penny can't help me here either because she is as confused as I am.  I go back up the stairs and try again.  While standing at the top of the stairs I hear a woman who was sweeping the sidewalk near us ask me if I needed help.  I tell her I'm looking for the Little Thai and she breaks the bad news to us the Little Thai is closed today.  "No problem", I warmly respond and go on to explain that we are training and just wanted to find the entrance.  Understanding the situation the woman offers to unlock the door that leads down to the restaurant.  I thank her and head down the stairs to entrance.  As we walk down the stairs, Penny notices the awesome salt water fish tank in the Little Thai.  Not only does that give me confirmation we are going the right way but it also gives me a full blown picture of the inside of the restaurant.  My 'blind' glasses may take away my vision but they cannot take away my memories.  I am a very visual person and I have a great memory.  If I never had vision my experience would be different.  Not worse, just different.  While walking around 'blind' in familiar places I get information from my surrounding through my cane, my ears, and my nose that help create a picture in my brain.  Even in unfamiliar areas I still get a picture in my head of what I am sensing.  The picture may not be accurate to what people with vision see but it is still a picture.  MRI images show activity in the Occipital Lobe of the brain in people who have been blind since birth.  With knowledge like that it makes me question what is really 'seeing'.
    First Phase of my final exam was in the books.  A couple of hiccups along the way but I felt good about what I accomplished in the big city.  I wouldn't say I was relaxed.  While navigating around 'blind' it feels like you are going for a hike on a trail that is 2 feet wide and has a 1000 foot cliff on one side.  You know as long as you stay on the trail you will be fine but your brain and body stay on high alert for the entire hike.  I've tried to relax during my training but was rarely successful.  Now we were ready to jump on a bus to Pike Place Market, but first I needed to eliminate some liquid.
      I knew there were public restrooms nearby at the University Bookstore so we headed that way.  I didn't know where the bathrooms were located in the building but found the entrance.  Entering the building a man asked me if he could help me.  I again accepted a strangers help.  My second of the day and my second ever.  He did a great job leading me upstairs through what felt like a labyrinth of turns and hallways to the public restrooms.  Once I got to the men's room door he said his goodbyes and I thanked him.  This was all new territory.  I had never used a public restroom with my 'blind' glasses on and today was not going to be the first.  I slid my glasses up on my head and took care of business.  Washed my hands and lowered the glasses back over my eyes.  A public bathroom sure seems like a tough spot to navigate blind.  Think about it.  Every bathroom is different in shape and size.  And I don't like germs.  Making wrong decisions in a public bathroom sure would seem to increase the exposure to lots and lots of nasty germs.  I pictured myself wiping my whole body and cane down in hand sanitizer if I ever had to navigate a public bathroom blind.
     I made my way out of the bathroom and out into the open.  I really had no idea where I was in the bookstore.  I really didn't pay attention to where I was going when the guy led me upstairs.  Uh oh, what am I going to do?  Finally a woman asked if she could help me and I told her I was looking for the exit out onto University Ave.  She took a different tack and stayed well in front of me so I decided to spice it up some and follow her voice.  Not really a bad way to go.  My cane would give me plenty of information of the terrain ahead of me and it was easy to follow someone's voice.  She got me close the the exit and I was on my own.  I thanked the woman for the help and suddenly I was back on the street.  Next up, the bus.
     I had to ask someone for help with the bus.  I didn't know what bus would take me down town and I didn't know where the bus stop was located.  A nice man outside the bookstore answered both my questions.  I misunderstood his directions to the bus stop and ended up going a bit too far down the street before crossing to the other side.  I didn't realize I made a mistake so when I approached what I thought was the bus stop I was in the wrong place.  I stopped and gathered myself and decided to head up the street a little more and that's when the yelling began.  "Sir, Sir, Sir please stop you are going to ruin all of my stuff", the woman shouted.   I quickly thought I was getting tangled in a homeless woman's belonging that she had put down on the street.  What else could it be?  She quickly explained that she was selling tiny fragile items and all of those items were laid out on a blanket on the sidewalk.  If she was not paying attention I would have destroyed a lot of her items with my cane and possibly my size 14 feet.  I told her I was trying to catch the bus downtown and she turned me around and walked me back down the street about 50 feet to the bus stop.  I had passed a group of ladies just minutes ago and wondered if they were waiting for the bus but did not ask because I thought I needed to go farther north.  Sometimes it makes sense to ask along the way.  Penny constantly worked with me to decipher all the information I was receiving while navigating blind instead of relying on one piece of information.  Vision is an asset that can quickly take variables out of the equation when problem solving.  If you can see you don't care if they place the cross walk button in a different spot on each street corner.  When you are blind it becomes a constant puzzle solving game.  I had a tendency to only focus on one piece of information in solving a navigating riddle and that would get me into trouble.
    I patiently waited for the bus and it finally arrived.  I waited my turn and asked the bus driver if this bus went to Pike Place Market.  The driver said yes and I asked if there were any open seats near the front.  The driver said a seat was available behind him and I found the vacant spot.  Listening on the bus with no vision is really fun, especially on full buses in a busy city.   So many conversations going on around you.  I have spent a lot of time on buses over the last 10 years and riding buses 'blind' was a highlight for me.  We slowly made our way downtown on the bus and entered the bus tunnel.  The bus tunnel ran under downtown Seattle so the bus stops really weren't streets but more locations.  I was getting nervous on which stop to get off and asked the driver if we were near Pike Place Market.  He said yes so Penny and I jumped off the bus.  Now which way?  I didn't know where we were since we were underground so Penny encouraged me to follow the sounds of people leaving the bus.  I took her advice and I made it to escalators.  There were several escalators to choose from to get me out of the building and I still didn't know which way to go.  I had to ask for help and a woman guided me up to the street.  Now which way?  Are you seeing a pattern here?  If it's a new place I better get used to asking for help.  If I lived in Seattle I would dial in my routes pretty quickly.  I could memorize where to go and listen for recognizable landmarks.  Penny saw me move around downtown Olympia fairly easily because I knew downtown by heart.
     I popped out onto the side walk and choose to walk down the hill because I knew the water was down hill from where we were after leaving the bus terminal.  Penny asked if I was sure after walking a 100 yards because the street numbers were getting bigger when they should have been getting smaller.  Another mistake by me.  Yes the street I was walking on went down hill but it was going to start going up hill after we crossed the street.  It wasn't a life threatening mistake and I would have figured it out when the street started to rise slowly.  We turned around and started heading towards the water.  There were a lot of people on the street and particularly a lot of people milling around just outside the bus station.  I swung my cane from side to side like I meant it and was ready to stop in an instant if need be.  I was walking with confidence and that usually meant people were going to get out of my way.  Look out!  Blind Man coming!  We crossed our first street and I started to freak out.  Not because crossing the street was hard but I heard construction up ahead.  This was not your normal construction work.  I had been involved with construction for over 20 years and I knew this sound.  Pile driving.  Each drive of the steel post cracked like the biggest cannon you could imagine.  I had no idea how I was going to handle this.  I try and take great care of my ears for obvious reasons and the decibel level coming from this pile driver was clearly enough to create instant permanent ear damage.  I was hoping we wouldn't make it close to the sound but that was like hoping it wouldn't ever rain in Seattle again.  It was going to happen.  As we approached the sound barrier breaking pile driver I covered my ears.  A blind person covering their ears is like a pilot covering their eyes.  Not only did I just take away my sense of hearing but I also lost the use of my cane.  Dead Man Walking.  The pile driver was so loud I didn't even want to take my hands off of my ears to raise my glasses.  I did it anyway.  Game Over.  Glasses up.  Even my rod deprived eyes needed a minute to adjust to the bright day light.  As I stood there I witnessed all the construction workers near me wearing ear protection.  I also saw how much of the sidewalk was closed off with caution tape and fencing.   Penny and I made our way past the construction site and several blocks away from the noise so we could chat.  Penny asked me what I would have done if I didn't have the option to raise my glasses and the answer was easy.  I would have turned around before the construction site, walked several blocks away and gone down to Pike Place Market on a parallel street.  That solution reflected much of what a visually impaired person life could be like traveling.  We can do everything a fully sighted person can, it normally just takes us longer.
     Penny and I agreed I had done a lot over the day and it was time to enjoy Pike Place Market and grab some lunch.  We were in an area that was mostly unfamiliar to me and full of natives and tourists.  She and I both knew I could learn to navigate around downtown Seattle if I had too, but that was a lesson for another time.  I came to Seattle to show off what I learned over the past year and Penny thought I had accomplished that goal.  I respected Penny as a teacher and a human and her approval of my mobility skills meant so much to me.  When she first met me I used an Identification cane to let people know they needed to get out of my way, but my cane provided no information.  One year later I was mostly taking Penny around parts of Seattle with my blind glasses on.  It felt great!
    Penny and I had a great lunch at the Pike Place Brewery and we talked about our last year together and what the future held for both of us.  Penny is a rare breed.  She is competent at her work, she is competent as a friend, she can be tough, she can be compassionate but most of all she cares about people.  She looks for the good in people, brings the good out in people and she conducts herself with class and grace.  Penny is the epitome of solidness.  I not only had a kick ass mobility teacher but I also got a kick ass friend for life out of this training.
        I don't like to say it's darkness when describing getting around at night or if I'm navigating with my fully occluded glasses on.  Darkness seems to have too many negative connotations for me.  Darkness can be seen as scary or evil.  I tend to think of spaces with no light as black.  Pitch Black.  I guess I don't get that saying either since I have about 60 million less Rods than people with fully functioning Retinas.  I don't have all the shades of gray most people see at night. In the absence of street lights or headlamps it is black to me.  No light.  Nada.  So I describe being blind at night or with my blind glasses on as seeing black.  Black is the absence of light.  But here is where it gets tricky.  Through all of my mobility training in the black I never once said my experience was bad.  My experience was different.  It was not less enjoyable.  I have a fond memories of traveling with no vision.  It was rich.  It was full.  It could even be amazing.  Life blind is still full of light for me.  I can be happy.  I can be fulfilled.  I can even have visual memories where all I see is black.  9 years ago my counselor Brian Kennedy pushed me to find out how awful life would be blind.  Brian encouraged me to interview people who went blind to see how their lives were going.  Through those interviews I found out their lives were full of joy.  Brian opened a door for me and I walked through that door and I never looked back.  I have chosen to go to those scary places inside of me that painted a future of doom and gloom.  I challenged those dark parts of me by uncovering what scared me most.  I interviewed blind people to learn about their lives, I learned to use a mobility cane 'blind', I've learned some echolocation and now I'm learning braille.  When I freak out about losing my hearing because I clearly need to have something to worry about and I took being worried about going blind off my list Brian reminds me of why I do that to myself.  I do it because I want a high quality life.  I don't want to be a person who is shackled to his living room couch.  I want to be independent.  I want to ride my bike, I want to travel, I want to play sports, I want to hike, I want to kayak and I want to surf.  I will always have some worry in life and I will do my best to not let the worry hold me hostage from doing what I want to do.  Life can be tough and life can be amazingly wonderful.  All of us have or will encounter major obstacles in our life time and the people who overcome those obstacles are my hero's.  They provide me inspiration on a daily basis.  I seek them out and I make sure to let them know how much they mean to me.  I get scared.  I get angry.  I get tired.  I get depressed and I can get overwhelmed.  I let myself be all of those emotions but I always come back to happy.  At my core or my true self is happy and fun.  I want to enjoy life and to have fun.  There are so many wonderful people in my life that help me get back to being my true self and I will always be grateful to all of you.  You have made my life beautiful and one I would never trade.  Thank you.  I love you all.
My amazing family- Kiirsten, Sierra, Acadia and Ian have brought so my joy, love and support to my life! Thank YOU!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Driving Blind


    During our rest day this year of Cycle Oregon, Kiirsten and I walked down the hill into the historic downtown of Madras.  We apprehensively opened the big wood door of the Rialto Tavern based on our buddy Dan Donahue's advice.  The place looked pretty scary from the outside.  No windows.  Big Ol' Wood door.  My mind quickly pictured a run down dirty dive filled with bikers who hated cyclists.  Especially cyclists in lycra.  I swung the heavy door open and we both were pleasantly surprised to find a big empty bar that was well lit.  We made our way over to the bar and saddled up next to Dan, who was working on a pint.  KK and I were both ready for a rest day beer and promptly ordered.  The bartender looked us over and then asked for our ID's.  Its always great to get carded when you are over 40 so I happily gave her my ID.  She handed mine back and quipped that she could refuse service to me.  I was shocked.  The barkeep could tell I was taken back.  She smiled and said my license had expired in July.  My initial hopes of being accused of a minor using a fake ID were quickly dashed.  I'm a rules follower and I hated having an expired drivers license.  Kinda funny a legally blind guy who hadn't driven in over 9 years was bummed to not have a valid drivers license. 
     If I had lived in Oregon I would have had my license taken away because of my vision 20 years ago.  If I had lived in Europe I would have never had an opportunity to drive with my eye disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa.  9 years ago when I became legally blind I went to turn in my drivers license and obtain a state ID card.  The DMV told me at the time that if I could pass the eye test the state couldn't legally revoke my driving privileges. Heck, they even said they had 'people like me' driving everyday and since I was disabled they would pay to have me retested and given a limited drivers license.   That made no sense to me.  I couldn't imagine what a limited drivers license would look like.  The hardest place for me to drive was in parking lots where people are usually randomly walking all over the place.  Where they gonna not let me drive in parking lots but everywhere else would be ok?  The DMV employee explained that WA state would allow me to drive to work and to go shopping.  He encouraged me to think about it before I chose to voluntarily turn in my license and maybe discuss further with my Doctor.  I left still thinking they were insane and followed up with my Doctor.  My Doctor's advice was the same as when he determined I was legally blind.  He asked me how I would know when it was time to stop driving.  My answer was the same.  I didn't want to end my driving career by killing or injuring someone.  I planned on living a lot longer and I didn't want the death or injury of someone hanging over me the rest of my life.  It was a devastating life change to stop driving but it was also easy to hand over my keys under the context of possibly killing someone while driving.  I continued to keep my drivers license on each renewal by mail (no eye test) and I also continued to not drive.
    After returning from Cycle Oregon I went to the DMV online to renew my license like I had done in the past and I was denied.  I found out I could only renew my license online once every 8 years.  This time I would have to go in to take an eye exam.  Since becoming legally blind I'd had no plans to ever drive again but there was something nice about having a drivers license.  Maybe I liked having it just in case of an emergency.  Or maybe in some way having a drivers license helped keep my eyes from dying.  Once we determine we have no use for something anymore, that something goes away.  I didn't want my eyes to go away.  I know this is a stretch but my brain is good at stretching out scenarios in many different ways.  Sometimes for healthy reasons and sometimes to add worry to my life.  
    After some thought I decided to find my letter from Dr. Weleber stating I became legally blind on Friday, March 11, 2005 and head into the DMW to obtain my State ID card.  And that thought was quickly followed by another thought.  a crazy thought.  I waited until my wife got home from coaching and I shared my idea with her.  What if I bust through the DMV door with my cane a swinging and ask for a renewal of my driver's license?  Surely they couldn't give a drivers license to a guy with an obvious visual impairment using a mobility cane. That would be insane!  But it could also make for a funny story if I some how pulled it off.  My wife flashed that twinkle in her eye and her devilish grin and said,"that would be awesome!".  That is all I needed to hear.  Decision made.  I would try and renew my license as a legally blind man with a cane.
     I was late to catch a bus from work on my lunch hour to renew my license so I grabbed my cane and headed out at a brisk pace.  I rounded the corner from my office with eyes focused down the long hallway and WHAM!  I totally nailed a mop bucket right in front of the elevators!  My foot literally landed directly in the mop bucket before I knocked it over.  With adrendalin pouring out of my ears and water pouring down the elevator shaft I quickly searched for a mop to stop the gushing water.  I didn't see a mop so I jogged down the hall looking for a mop in maintenance.  No mops!  Only Environmental Services (EVS) had mops.  Crap!  I jogged back to my office and called the power plant to make sure the elevators were not going to be ruined by the 5 gallons of water running down the shaft.  While Ed assured me the water would not damage the elevators I could now hear a EVS guy in the hallway going ballistic.  He was yelling up and down the hallway looking for the jerk who knocked over his bucket.  I quickly ended my phone call and headed out to the hallway to let the cleaner know I was the jerk who messed up his afternoon.  After he realized who did it, he felt terrible and made sure I was ok.  I was ok.  I had a wet pant leg and a shoe filled with dirty soapy mop water and I was late to catch my bus, but I was physically fine.  I saw the irony of the moment.  How couldn't I?  I was a legally blind man who just knocked over a bright yellow mop bucket in the middle of a hallway while I was headed to renew my driver's license.  How funny is that?
    I made it to the DMV office after traveling by bus and was ready for the show.  I headed through the glass door vestibule and into the large open room.  I saw a board that displayed numbers so I knew I had to get a ticket to keep my spot in line.  While searching for the ticket dispenser a staff member directed me back to the front counter.  I searched for a while longer with no luck and finally the same staffer told me to wait in line and he would check me in.  The man was clearly treating me as blind or visually impaired person.  When it was my turn, the employee asked me why I was there and I answered with a big smile,"I'm here to renew my license or get a state ID card".  He gave me a number and I found my way to an open seat with the use of my cane.  After a brief wait my number came up on the big screen and also echoed through the room on the overhead speakers.  As I made my way to the back of the room my cane saved me from walking into a row of chairs that I did not see.  I could feel the glares from the seated people waiting for the next available booth.  I'm sure some were even scratching their heads.  The employee at the booth asked me how she could help me and again I answered,"I'm here to renew my license or get a state ID card".  She didn't even flinch.  She asked me if I had any limitations that could effect or impair my driving like seizures, strokes, heart ailments or disabilities.  I told her I was legally blind and asked if that counted as a disability with a snarky grin on my face.  I gave her the background of doing this 9 years ago and passing the eye test.  She assured me that if I passed the eye test that I would receive a new license.  I promptly followed that statement with,"Well then, Let's Do This!".  I easily passed the eye test.  I read the letters with ease, found the red ball in the rectangle and even saw the flashing white light in my periphery.  My tiny island of vision in my periphery must have lined up nicely with the flashing white light.  So, that was it.  I was bonafide.  Legit.  Another driver ready to hit the road!  She sent me up to the front counter to get my picture taken.  I made my way up to the counter with my cane a swinging side to side and proudly had my picture taken WITH my cane.  I normally don't smile for my driver's license picture but I was giddy.  I couldn't wait to tell my friends and family about this one.
    Sometimes life can be funny while witnessing incompetence.  Better to laugh it off then get angry.  Why have someone else's incompetence ruin your day?  I could laugh at this because I know I'm not going to drive.  But what about the people out there who are legally blind and who ARE going to drive?  Now that is scary!  I was hit by a 84 yr old man while riding my bike home from work in 2008 who had 200 yards to see me.  No obstructions.  Sunny day.  He had no idea I existed until my helmet was touching his windshield.  Luckily I escaped with no major injuries but I did have a couple of Physical Therapy appointment and I missed out on a pack trip to my favorite place on the planet.  Ol' Elmer Fristoe clearly should not have been driving.  In my interactions with the State of Washington Department of Motor Vehicles it is clear to me that they want people on the road.  The DMV wants people to keep their independence.  It almost feels like the DMV is treating driving as a right rather than a privilege.  Washington State's protocol for obtaining a driver's license is criminal.  How can someone like me obtain a license?  How about asking me if I have a visually impairment?  How about requiring me to show a letter from a doctor that says I am visually fit to operate a motor vehicle?  My doctor would NEVER do that for me.
     After this experience I almost feel obligated to change the laws regarding how someone becomes approved to drive a vehicle in the state of Washington.  I am still a cyclist.  I am a pedestrian.  I am visually impaired.  I do not want people like me driving.  My question to you is how do I get the process changed?  Do I write a letter to the DMV?  Do I contact a news agency and share my story?  I would really appreciate your thoughts.  I hope this story made you chuckle and are thankful I'm not driving a 5 ton rig every day.  Thanks for reading and for the suggestions!