Monday, March 22, 2010
And there was much rejoicing when I made it across the street!
(image from Wikimedia Commons)
I thought it would never happen. After weeks of standing on street corners with my eyes closed, listening to the sounds of traffic stopping and going at intersections, feeling the sound curve around my head and crash against buildings, I finally walked across an intersection under blindfold.
My class met at Guerrero and 22nd in San Francisco's Mission district for our first street crossing lesson at a traffic controlled intersection. I kept both my blindfold and my low vision simulators (glasses covered in cheesecloth) in my pocket, ready for anything. My class partner and I went to our assigned intersection and practiced listening to the traffic under blindfold until we could determine the "now" moment. The light would change and the traffic on Guerrero would surge, creating a distinct roar of cars in motion. After taking a moment to listen for right turners and red light runners, we would step forward to cross the street, our cane arcing back and forth as we attempted to keep a straight line of travel to the destination corner. My partner had no trouble hearing the different sounds cars make as they travel forward through the intersection or turn in front of him. He has an incredible ability to differentiate sound and correct his own alignment by mere millimeters.
I am not so lucky.
When it was my turn to be the student and his to teach me, I covered my eyes with the blindfold and was immediately drowned in a roar of noise. Engine sounds swirled around me once again and I could only hear the right turners when they'd already passed me and traveled several car lengths down the street. How would I ever make it across the road safely?
I was determined, though, and I knew my class partner wouldn't let me get run over. And I realized that the traffic signals helped me determine the right time to cross. Unlike stop signs, the traffic flow had a definite pattern. With a little logic I could easily tell which direction traffic was flowing. I needed to pinpoint when my near parallel traffic traveled through the intersection, so I only had to sort out specifically how that group of cars sounded when the light changed. I still couldn't hear if someone was turning right, but again, I knew my class partner would grab me if a car was turning in front of me. Plus our instructor was observing and giving us both feedback. Between the two of them, I wouldn't die.
Here we go, I thought. I took a deep breath, listened for my cue, and started across the street. The sound roared around me as usual, but I knew logically it was moving forward because the light had changed to let traffic flow down Guerrero. I crossed 23rd street as fast as I could, my cane tapping back and forth, then swinging side to side as I found the curb, cleared, and stepped out of the street.
I did it!
Both my partner and our teacher cheered. I was grinning so big my cheeks pressed against my blindfold. I did it. I really did it.
I did it once more with the traffic heading toward me on my near parallel. This was actually easier for me to hear because the roar was coming at me instead of behind me, except that I had to wait a while when there were loud motorcycles blocking any other sound. I like motorcycles, but while waiting to cross the street I really wished every Harley in town would get their frickin muffler fixed!
By the end of the day, I was exhausted, my brain and my senses on overload. But I also felt very proud of myself. I was able to keep my anxiety low and stay focused on the sound cues I needed. And my cane skills didn't fall apart.
Wow. Maybe I'll be able to cross a busy stop-sign controlled intersection someday. But first, I have to cross 19th Avenue: all six lanes of traffic crammed, people-get-hit-by cars-traveling-at-40-miles-per-hour-weekly, 19th Avenue. That's what our class will be doing next week.