Friday, April 2, 2010
The chaotic roar of 19th Avenue
(image from San Francisco Sentinel)
After my triumph crossing 22nd street, I immediately had to prepare myself for the next street crossing challenge: 19th Avenue. 19th Avenue in San Francisco is a major, six lane artery that runs North-South along the West side of town, through Golden Gate park and along the Sunset District. It is the path of Hwy 1 as it cuts through The City, so there are a lot of cars on that road. Thousands of vehicles, all day and all night. And somehow, I had to get my blindfolded self across that crazy road.
But first, the class learned to walk beside 19th Avenue. We met at Rivera and 19th and took turns crossing Rivera, trying to sort out the cacophony of trucks and cars and buses that fly by at 40 mph. My class partner went first, so I practiced teaching. I was amazed once again by how easily he could line himself up for a straight line of travel listening to the parallel traffic. Then it was my turn to be the student. I put on my blindfold and stood at the corner of Taraval and 19th, concentrating hard to locate the sound cue I need to cross safely. As usual, the sound swirled and echoed all around me. I heard the Muni train clatter past, but it sounded like it was on top of me. A motorcycle roared by and I jumped. I flagged my class partner and said I couldn't do it, so he guided me across. On the other side of the street I traveled down the sidewalk along 19th Ave, but still felt dizzy with the sound. Half a block later, after jumping every time a loud car went by, I pulled off my blindfold and switched to the low vision simulator.
Even with a little vision, the noise was awful. My partner encouraged me to try crossing the last street with my blindfold, and I agreed. I knew I had to get across Rivera somehow, or I'd never make it across 19th. I took a deep breath, listened hard, trusted that my partner would keep me safe, and crossed Rivera. By the time I made it across the street, my heart was pounding and I wanted to cry, but I breathed deeply and forced myself to stay calm.
One thing my partner and I were able to verify is that I am indeed hearing the echoes of traffic. Because the traffic noise sounded like it was on my right (where the road was) and left (where the buildings were), it felt like I was walking smack down the middle of 19th Avenue (probably shouldn't use the word "smack" in that sentence). Logically, I knew I wasn't, so I didn't panic, but the sensory overload was exhausting. I had to concentrate with all my might just to walk a straight line.
How was I going to cross 19th Avenue if I couldn't even walk along it?