The Blind Leading The Sighted

I was traveling for work the other week, as we so often do. But I had some extra time in between my appointments, and I’m a little different. So, I decided that I would take public transportation everywhere — just figure it out as I went. If there was a location I couldn’t reach by public transportation and walking, I would use Uber. It was going to be a great adventure.

This was my first time in Denver. My flight landed and I bumbled my way to the train depo, which would take me to Union Station (is that what it is called in Denver?). I met a great gal on the train who told me how to transition trains to get closest to my destination, the Denver Federal Center. We had a fun chat, then went our separate ways.

Unions Station is a great place, a social and commuting hub. With time on my hands, I grabbed a bagel, coffee, and a table where I could sit down and work. But who can avoid at least a little people watching? So, at some point I glanced up and noticed this blind guy forging his way through the congestion. He had it nailed. He must go through there regularly to make it look that easy. Now, I’m only averagely-abled. I can’t help but think how intimidating I would find the basic actions he has to do every day.

When the time neared to catch the other local commuter rail, I packed up and started my next journey. Now, this area isn’t easy for a novice. You leave the station, cross a plaza, locate some stairs down into a tunnel, walk a long way through a bus depot tunnel, find a stair up…You get what I’m describing. It isn’t close or obvious.

When I reached the far end, I found the escalator up. However, just before I got there I recognized the blind fellow from earlier. Now, as an averagely-abled person, he looked a little bit in trouble. Yeah, I stopped to watch. You know that instinct that makes you want to help? At the same time, we are taught socially to not treat someone able as if they are not competent? I was stuck in that head space.

He left the wall he was using as a guide and turned toward the escalator bank. Down escalator, up escalator, with stairs sandwiched in between. He first located the down escalator. His technique was rather cool. He used his cane to test if the escalator was the up or the down side. Fortunately, there was a gap in the people on it. But there was a large crowd riding down toward him, and he wasn’t getting the signal he needed to decide it was the down side. The look of horror on the approaching people’s faces! They didn’t know what to do. They were trying to decide how to handle things when they got to the bottom, if he was still standing there blocking their path. No one made a sound to let him know they were coming.

Like I said, there was a convenient gap. He determined it was down bound and proceeded over to his right, locating the grand central stair. As he approached the up bound side escalator, but was still in the nook of the stair, I spoke up. “Hi, could I possible be of any help?” I asked. “No” he said, as he came around and stepped onto the escalator just behind me.

As we rode up, I told him that we had passed each other about 20 minutes ago. Somehow seeing him again drove me to offer a hand even though it was politically incorrect and he was perfectly able to take care of himself. So I had offered him a hand, in my own awkward way.

As we reached the top he said, “You know, I could use some help. This next section is always tricky and I struggle with it.” “OK,” I said, “but you have to tell me how to help. I don’t know the protocols.”

At the top, he gave me instructions on how to assist a blind person, and off we went.

Here is where it gets funny, if you couldn’t already relate to and laugh at the awkwardness of not knowing what to do in situations that are outside your normal experience.

While chatting and walking I told him, “I will guide, but you have to tell me where to get on the train. I’ve never been here before.” He starts chuckling and smiling. We walk, I wait to see what is so funny. He says, “This is great. The blind leading the sighted!” (Bwaahahaaha!) I joined the laughter.

He finds it tricky to cross this plaza with these huge interspersed monoliths — probably considered art. Or they may be holding up an overhead, I didn’t pay attention because we were laughing. He’s giving me physical descriptions and a generalized direction of where to find the handicap boarding ramp. My train comes first. He waits on the ramp. We part ways likely never to meet again.

This experience made me smile all day long and stuck with me since then. There has to be me a moral or a life-lesson here. This is what it was for me.

I need to continue to live outside the box. Be comfortable being constantly uncomfortable. It is where everything “new” happens. Looking at something differently or behaving different than “normal” results in a whole different set of circumstances, experiences, or ideas. Also, as long as we are willing to swallow the discomfort or the irony of a situation, again, things in life, our trajectory in the world, happen differently and we can experience new, exciting, invigoration, or joyful.

I want to give thanks to that guy I met in Denver, Dave, I think his name was. I will always remember that situation and smile.