On the Road with Barry – Chicago

Day 1

This was a crazy one, just getting to this day. Long story short, my scheduled trip to western Illinois got cancelled really late. Like three days before I flew out late. I called the lovely ladies on Leader Dog’s client services team and within a day’s time, they had me connected with a gentleman whom had just been approved for services the day before! I gotta tell you, those ladies (Melissa, Laura, Paola, Shadelle, Julianna, Allison, Deena, and Lori) are just great. If any of you reading this need something, need to know something, or need to get something done, call client services. Most of us at Leader Dog walk down paths already paved by client services. This trip, and the fact that it even occurred, is proof of that.

So, I’m in Chicago this week. River Forest, to be exact.  This means I flew into O’Hare, which, if my memory is correct, I’ve never flown into as a destination. I’ve connected here several times, but never here to stay for a while. I like O’Hare. It’s bright, the terminals are tall, wide, and well-lit, and the bathrooms are clean.  The automated faucets, soap and paper towel dispensers all worked without too much random waving. The rental car facility is off campus, but with a few timely requests for information, I was able to find that without much trouble. With the help of GPS, I found my hotel, with a stop at Aldi for snacks on the way. Don’t you just love Aldi? If you don’t have one in your area, I’m sorry. Aldi is like a discount grocery, sort of, with really good stuff.  Not much name-brand stuff, but good. I get things like nuts and jerky there. Also hummus. Really good hummus. In places I go, if there’s an Aldi close, my first night’s meal is almost always some hummus and a charcuterie helping.

Day 2

Man walking toward camera on a sidewalk with a white cane. He's wearing an orange coat and black winter hat.

I’m in Oakbrook. Mark, my client for the week, is in River Forest, which is just a 15-minute drive from the hotel. This all happened so fast, I got a hotel as close to the town as I could, without time to research actual addresses. In Chicago, that could have meant that I was 15 minutes away from a city limit, not his house. It could have been a lot further away, but I lucked out. Mark lives with his wife, Kathy, in a nice neighborhood adjacent to the city where he grew up, so he’s really familiar with the layout of the streets and where everything connects to everything else. He had some initial white cane training from the Chicago Lighthouse several years ago and has been getting around on his own since then. We met at his home and made a plan from there. He’s got good sidewalks in the neighborhood, which is a blessing, and we decided to expand to areas outside his normal walking area. We went to a place called Submarine Tender for lunch and had a really great gyro. Back home via another route, with a mix of light-controlled and stop sign-controlled intersections. Mark is learning how to determine how to evaluate traffic patterns to determine the safest time to cross each one. It’s not hard to do, but it takes patience and really focusing on what you’re hearing. We made it back home where Kathy had a fire burning. I may never leave…

Day 3

Man walking with white cane on a sidewalk. He is wearing an orange coat and a black winter hat

Snow and rain this morning, so we delayed the start of our work, but we got a lot done today. We went down the main street in River Forest, Madison Street, past a lot of places Mark and Kathy frequent. We found Shanahan’s on Madison, where Dianne runs the bar and grill. Mark has known Dianne for over 30 years, and they exchanged the witty banter that you can only expect from 30-year friends. Dianne is from New Zealand originally and still has that wonderful accent.  During our conversation over a lovely bowl of gumbo (perfect for a cold and gray Chicago day), Dianne informed me that there are no natural predators in New Zealand. “Nothing but what the damned English brought over themselves…” according to Dianne.  It came up as we were discussing the latest shark attack, and how, when Dianne goes home, she won’t go swimming in the ocean unless the shark nets are in place. I don’t believe that I’d go swimming in the open water anywhere down there, shark nets or not. I’m not a big fan of the open water. I much prefer a shower over a bath, even.  I don’t think anything with teeth can get me through the shower head…

Anyway, after lunch we made a tour of Mark’s old neighborhood, past the Lutheran church where he was confirmed as a child, the school from which he graduated, and another school where his father’s name rests on the cornerstone. Mark is doing really well, and his pace is increasing.  If he wants a dog in the future, one of the things he’ll have to do is speed up a bit, but not too much. Pace is one of the unspoken indicators of more confidence in cane travel.  I rarely have to ask anyone to speed up, but one of the natural results of consistency in training and increased confidence, is an increased pace.

Day 4

Man crossing a street in a crosswalk with a white cane. He is wearing an orange coat and a black winter hat.

We walked over to Frankie’s Deli on Lake Street, by far the busiest street on which we’ve walked so far. Mark is really cruising along, and after a couple of slices of Frankie’s pizza, we take off on Lake to locate the grocery store and the bocce court Mark and Kathy patronize on a regular basis. After completing a street crossing in which he veered away from the parallel street a bit, Mark was swinging his cane in an appropriate manner in which to find the sidewalk. While swinging, he hit the pole that held the stop sign and broke his cane tip.  Literally broke it off the stem. It’s a hook tip, which means it has a long stem that has a small hook on the end that attaches to the elastic that holds the cane together. The tension keeps the tip in place as well. I don’t remember how long roller ball tips have been around, but it’s been quite a while. I have never seen this happen in all the miles I’ve seen travelled by people with whom I am working. Another unfortunate first occurred today, evident almost immediately after I noticed the broken cane tip.  I ALWAYS have a spare tip in my pocket or bag, just in case, but not today. I tried to dig out the stem with a pocket knife I found on the street yesterday. A decent knife, but it has a broken tip, which is probably why it ended up on the street instead of some self-respecting person’s pocket. Anyway, having my knife handy today didn’t help because the stem was broken off too far up the shaft of the cane. Mark decided he would use his cane without the tip for the remainder of the trip, but after about 20 minutes of metal scraping on cement, I decided I’d had enough. Mark was fine with it, but I was about to lose my religion. So we went the rest of our trip using guide technique, a technique in which the person who is blind holds on to the arm of a person guiding him. It’s actually a good preparation for dog guide travel as he loses a lot of the tactual information being given to him by the cane.

Day 5

Two men standing in a clear glass box overlooking downtown Chicago

I’ll mess it up if I try to get into too much detail, but Mark worked for years as the main account executive for Johnson Controls which, among many other things, made sure the Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower) run. The elevators and the maintenance thereof, the fire suppression systems, the security, etc. We went into downtown Chicago today to do some big city travel and do get a bit of a behind the scenes tour of the tower. Morris, a long-time friend and co-worker of Mark’s met us in the lobby and we had lunch before seeing the sights. The sights included peeking through a cracked-open door of the security office to see some of the monitors in which the security systems are monitored. When Mark and Morris started working at the tower there were around 40 security cameras on the entire property. Now it houses over 800! Yikes!

Another part of our tour included a trip to the observation deck, 103 floors above Chicago. On the west side, there’s an attraction called The Ledge, which is a 1.5-inch-thick ledge of glass that extends out from the building face for approximately a mile.  Well, probably about only 3 or 4 feet, but it felt like a mile to me. I could not be convinced to walk out on it, although Mark and Morris did with no hesitation. I finally got my toes on it, only long enough to take a quick photo, then right back off. Goodness gracious, that took my breath (and almost my lunch) away. My manager, Erica, and I visited Toronto a long time ago for Leader and, among many other attractions, we visited the CN Tower.  It also has an observation deck, a portion of which is plexiglass or Saran Wrap or whatever, on which I also could not walk. All this despite photos all around of baby elephants standing on the same area. It would be my luck to step on the very place damaged by the baby elephants and would plunge to my demise.

I had dinner tonight with some long-time friends, Jeff and Kim, who live in nearby Downer’s Grove. Jeff and I played rugby together in south Texas in another life. Jeff took me to my first Cubs game at Wrigley, I was honored to be the best man in their wedding, and they still call me “Bubba.” Jeff called me that the first time he met me and it stuck.  I’ve always called him “Heinz” after a character in a movie who I think Jeff looks like. John Turturo’s character in “5 Corners” (a movie suggested to me a long time ago by my cousin Bobby Gene) looked a lot like a young Jeff. Anyway, dinner at Gibson’s, one of the best steaks I’ve ever had, and some great company rounded out a very interesting day.

Day 6

Man with a white cane standing in a lobby

My last day in Chicago-land was spent trying out a new tip for Mark and doing some Juno work. The new tip (for him) is the favorite of my colleague, Brad, who is a big proponent of the flex tip. So much so, that his likeness on the Christmas decorations at the O&M office depicts him holding a flex tip.  Anyway, as I stated before, Mark broke his tip and I didn’t have any more roller balls with me. We switched to Flexie and gave it a try. It worked good enough for Mark, who plans on ordering some more roller ball tips for himself. After the tip tryout, we did Juno work for the rest of the time. Juno, for those of you who may not know, is the process of walking with a person who is blind or visually impaired and using an empty dog harness. This is done to simulate dog guide travel and to help determine a potential user’s pace and pull, as well as their ability to keep up with their surroundings while traveling without a cane. One of the major difference between dog and cane as a travel choice is that the you get from Point A to Point B faster. Not because you’re necessarily walking any faster (maybe a little) but because you’re stopping less. So orientation is key, and Mark did very well here.

Mark and his wife Kathy are off to Cancun tomorrow. I’m off to Michigan. No offense to Michigan, but Cancun sounds nice about now. I stopped at my favorite Chicago-land pizza, Lou Malnati’s. Deep dish with that great sausage and lovely, crispy crust is just heaven to me. I bore down and ate two whole pieces and saved the rest for dinner tonight. It was just as good room temperature as it was fresh out of the oven, I assure you.

I’m off tomorrow for Michigan for an on-campus class. I really love to travel, but it’s always good to go to Leader Dog for a class, and to be around so many people working toward one goal. It’s refreshing to me.

I’ll be on campus again in early January, and in Northern California after that. I hope you all have a wonderful start to the new year.

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