Writing Homework Series: Just a Quick Walk

I recently took a class on creative nonfiction writing and decided to post these quick, short weekly assignments in a series here. Assignment #1 was just a stream of consciousness assignment where you pick a mundane thing and write as much detail as you can about it in 20 minutes. I did spell check these and fix typos but did nothing else to edit them.

My guide dog, a yellow Labrador, in harness and leash seen as I work with her from above. She is finding a curb here.

Today I walked with my husband to a client’s house to look for a better route that wasn’t marred with construction. It was about 1.5 miles away. After leaving him off there, I walked with my guide dog back home. I decided to see if I could get through going the shortest way, which was a ton of construction in weeks past, and my blind husband has been both treated wonderfully by workers on this weekly walk and has been yelled at. I decided to be brave and see if I could get through. 

My guide dog and I walked down the “stroad” which is the worst kind of street. Its loud, windy, stinky and busy with cars. The sidewalk was fine, but it smelled of tar and gasoline and the wind was cold today. At least it was not raining. As we walked, I get all kinds of information from my guide dog, Marra. If there is someone walking behind us, I can feel her looking back. The harness handle I hold on to will bend to the left a bit as she strains to see what is coming. If a dog or something incredibly interesting is up ahead, she has a bit more spring in her step and she has her head held high, which makes the harness handle rise a bit. If she is looking at me to get her next instruction to try to tell me something is in the way, I can feel the harness handle tilt up and to the right towards me. 

Marra loves to find things, so she knows what I am looking for when I tell her to find a button. Of course the beg button on the crosswalk is 50 miles from the place where I need to line myself up from traffic and cross. This means I cannot stand near it with my hand on it and wait for the button to vibrate to tell me when the “walk sign” is lit up. I will have to wing it a bit and use what hearing I have. I listen to traffic patterns and am careful not to mistake a left turn car for a parallel car that indicates when I can go. I always give Marra the command to go forward at street crossings, but she is allowed to over ride me. Mostly, when I cross streets, I use The Force. Where I just go out when all the indications say I should go, light, traffic patterns, guide dog approval, and will the cars to stop for me with a death stare. I imagine waving my hand. “You WILL let the blind lady cross the street.” By the way, SFU, you know where drivers are so polite and kind and always wait for me? Vancouver, BC, Canada. That is why I like to go there and stay at the YWCA 2 blocks down the street from the skytrain. Lots of safe, free, accessible travel. 

 When we crossed onto the block where the previous offending construction had been, we walked briskly for a bit and then I could feel some apprehension in my dog. Something was up. The questions was…could I get around it? All of the sudden she stops. I put a foot in front of me and there is a barricade. I tell her to “find the way” and she takes me over to the curb and steps me off to my right. I think we will just hug the left and walk into the street for a bit to get past this. This street is moderately busy, much better than the stroad I just turned off from. If construction is going on, cars should slow down and watch out. I could hear them passing slowly to my right, one at a time.

But it was a no go. A hand from nowhere grabbed me. I said “please stop and listen to me so we can work this out.” I tell that I am blind but also don’t hear well. I say that I know there is construction, but I can walk around it. If they want, they can let me grab their elbow and I can follow them. I can smell this guy, I am 95% sure he is a construction dude that just want’s me quickly out of the way. I’m hoping we can make this quick and painless and he won’t freak out. I show him how to say yes or no to me with his fist in my palm. I say, can you walk me through it? A rough, gloved fist shakes no in my hand. Ugh. I know they are letting cars through, why are pedestrians less important than cars? “Do I have to turn around?” His gloved hand, wadding into a tight fist, indicates, Yes. I can tell he is relatively friendly and not too freaked out by me. If I just turn around, I won’t face more crap that might ruin my day like if he were to call the police on me or something. 

I give Marra the instructions to turn around and we go back down to the stroad intersection. I could walk all the way back the way I came, but I am on the North side of the stroad now, so I could walk up a street straight to my house. It is a quiet street, but I have never found it from this direction before and neither has Marra. I get out my braille display and turn on Blind square on my phone. My husband can listen to blind square as he walks. But with a braille display, you have to be more deliberate. I have to stop at each corner and wait for it to sort of sync and read the information while I am stopped. The display can hang from a leather pack that I can read while I walk, but I am not that coordinated. I always. Have to stop to read it. I only need to find where to turn and then I am good. 

I walk and stop at each corner. This is the one thing guide dogs always do, they stop at corners. When she stops and I can feel the curb slant down and get bumpy. I go to the braille display. It tells me I am at 54thstreet. I need to get to 60th. I walk and walk and walk some more. I can tell Marra is slowing down a bit. She is 9 now, and she will probably retire in one more year or so. So now, our walks often end up at a very slow pace. As we walk with the loud cars to our right, I can feel every step she takes, steady on the flat pavement. She takes two steps to my one, and every two steps I feel indicates a safe place to land my next footfall. Finally, I stop at the next intersection and blindsquare reports 60th street. I turn left to the north and it’s all smooth sailing from there.