I did promise to write in more detail about the route with Meghan to the library the other day... I've sort of been putting it off because I'd rather just forget it; but I need to do it because I need to describe exactly what happens--for the sake of being ablt to analyze it as well as describe to people what the experience of traveling is like for me. I have tried to capture this before on routes that did not go so well... It's time to do it again.
Starting out from home, things went well all along 8th Street. Meghan ran the first street, but she often does because it's truly an alley with a name. One of my frustrations with Anderson is that there are so many alleys and a block is not always the same distance. I went along, marking off the names of streets we crossed along the way. I don't know if this is the result of damage to my short-term memory from seizures or migraines (although doctors say these things don't cause damage) or meds; but I am finding it very difficult to keep track of where I am as I move along. I am 34 years old. People often tell me that this is "age-related." I am not old enough to experience this kind of "age-related" problem. Blind people in their 50s travel quite capably and don't lose track of their location...
We turned south at Main, and once again, I began to tick off my street crossings. Cars were driving down 9th and 10th. This is good. Meghan stopped to relieve herself on some grass and then continued along. No big deal. But it took an awfully long time to get to the next corner, and I didn't recognize the post or the tree we had gone under. I thought I recognized the computer store--it was rather close to the road. But it could be possible that we had gone too far and Meg had been running curbs.
I decided that the best course of action would be to turn around and go all the way back to 8th Street, which I would recognize by the busy traffic. At that point, I would turn around and walk back through the four blocks again and hopefully identify all the streets...
I turned around and attempted to align myself to cross the empty street again. Two police cars were rushing down Main Street, sirens screaming. For a moment, I worried that they might stop and ask if I was all right. I tried to appear fine. I covered my ears: there was no way I could orient myself with that noise echoing through the area off every building in sight or sound.
On the way back, I happened to see a sign out of the corner of my eye as Meghan walked me off a tiny curb. Putting two and two together, I suspected that she had run a curb, and I waited for the one on the other side. It was a very blended curb, but I felt it because I was paying attention; and I saw the bus station garage looming on the left. The thought occurred to me, not for the first time that day, that my supposedly useless vision was truly saving me.
I got a lucky break. Some ladies were coming out of the post office, so I asked them about my location. They confirmed that I was, indeed, approaching 10th Street. One of them asked where I was trying to go. Negative emotions welled up inside me. I didn't want to tell her! I just wanted my question answered! If I told her, she would offer me a ride, and my accomplishment would be taken from me. Even though Meg had foiled the perfect trip already by running the 11th Street curb, I thought that I could still recover and make the trip successfully; and doing this was extremely important to me. I NEEDED to be capable of navigating independently. Otherwise, what was the point of learning the route? What was the point of having a dog at all if I constantly needed help?
I told the lady that my story was complicated and that I had lost count of streets, decided to go back to 8th Street because I could hear the traffic, and now I would turn around and resume my way. I did not reveal my destination. She said, "Ok," and got in her car and left.
Meghan ran 11th Street again, but I was prepared for it this time and watched for the street sign. After passing it, I decided that she needed something to get her back in line. I stopped, made her sit for a moment and down, and then we continued on our way. I began watching for the computer store. We crossed some driveways, and I became afraid that perhaps she had run 12th Street without my knowledge. Soon we went under the tree that I didn't recognize, but I also saw the building that I thought was the computer store. We crossed the street, and there was that pole I didn't remember seeing before. I decided to cross Main and see if I located the library on the other side. It wouldn't take more than a few feet to figure out whether the building was the wrong one.
The Main crossing went very badly. Meghan veered into the street and walked alongside the curb on 12th Street. I was not really surprised. I had discovered by this time that I was mildly disoriented, perceiving that my body was facing slightly to the right when this was not true. Meg's veer could have been my fault. I had spent most of the route concentrating deeply to correct for the disorientation inside my mind, and I would not be at all surprised to learn that I gave her a mixed signal at that corner after being in the heat so long and having such a time with the route.
I made her get up on the curb and cross the grass--probably not the best thing to do, but at the time the most practical solution I could find--and at that point I could see that we were, indeed, at the library. She was not enthused about it. I made her walk up on the sidewalk and gave her the "inside" command very confidently. She dawdled badly, and I gave her a high-collar correction. Once she saw the automatic door opening, she recognized it and wagged profusely. I praised her to the hills, and she totally ignored me.
Inside, she reluctantly followed my directions to the desk, where I picked up my books on hold. Getting back out was a nightmare! I think that she was probably hot and the AC felt good; but I was ready to get home after all this.
Outside, she dawdled again. Once she got moving, her street crossings were acceptable with the exception of 11th Street (which she ran) and 9th Street (which she veered to the left on). At 8th Street, we became supremely lost on the courthouse terrace, and I had no idea how to troubleshoot the situation at all and called a neighbor to come and retrieve me.
I was not happy about calling my neighbor. As I said above, completing the route was extremely important to me. Getting lost at this point in the route was truly an embarrassing thing because walking home from the library has never been a problem. Perhaps if I go out and explore the area and understand what happened, I will then understand why it happened and I will be able to stop beating myself up... If it's another example of my left-veering tendency, which seems to have been evident that day, then it makes perfect sense. I was right-side disoriented, and I was also carrying books which weighted down my right side... So I would be attempting to avoid veering to the right, which means that I could overcompensate to the left... The solution would be finding a way to get Meg to force me back to the right--and in some ways Meg doesn't have that much initiative. She does exactly what I want her to do, and I think that perhaps she was very confused at points in that route and that may have been why she was dawdling.
i told my neighbor that I was afraid she would ask me why I didn't just ask for a ride in the first place and that getting out and about with Meg is important, not just the fact of getting to the library. Fortunately, she understood and just graciously took me home and said to call if I needed anything.
My parents are concerned about my ability to travel independently. They know that I can--I did all the time in my past and never got lost. I don't think that the problem is Meghan, although it can be easy to blame the dog. We talked about various options, including running me and Meg through the route so many times that she just never does it wrong and teaching me every square inch of landscape. Neither option is practical, and all of us know this. It doesn't solve the underlying problems, and the fact is that I don't want to and really can't be limited to the kind of travel options that would provide me. I am trying to gain more independence and integration into the community. I am self-employed, and I live a lifestyle that requires a bit of travel in order to work. So I need some other option to enable me to move freely.
I'm looking into the potential benefit of GPS systems for helping me remain oriented. Lukas Franck sent me the article from the February, 2006, Braille Monitor comparing the Trekker, PAC Mate, and BrailleNote. At first glance, the Braillenote looke like the most advantageous for me; but I'd like to get my hands on one and see what it can do before I start trying to advocate for VR to get it for me. The fact that I do travel makes nationwide mapping valuable to me. However, the most crucial feature is the ability to track my movement and points of interest that are near me as I'm walking or driving. I still have a bit of research to do, and it's difficult to do it just by reading.