Passage to Newark
Blind Confidential has taken its longest break since we started writing it in the winter of 2006. Over the past month, I have found myself in a number of great cities far from home ranging from New York, the capital of the world, to New Delhi, the capital of the world’s largest democracy. Then, on May 1, I started a new and very interesting research job with City University of New York (CUNY) which has taken me back into a more structured way to spend my days and, as I’ve tried to learn a whole lot about our subject matter in a couple of weeks, Blind Confidential didn’t hit a point high enough on my priority stack so as to motivate me to do any actual writing. Finally, I’m struggling again with pain in my shoulders and hands resulting from the injuries suffered from “screen reader syndrome” so I have to dictate anything longer than a couple of sentences which makes writing far less fun than I usually find it.
My travels within the US fall into the fairly pedestrian so I won’t write much about them. I will say that the X-Dog did tremendously well while in New York. I felt a bit of apprehension bringing him there as I thought the noise and general chaos of Manhattan might cause him a lot of anxiety but, to the contrary, he strutted around like he owned the town. I’m now fairly convinced that the X-Guy has seriously metro sexual tendencies and that he, from his puppy raisers’ home in Texas to the guide dog school in Florida to our home in St. Petersburg had always secretly dreamed of going to New York where he could find other super hip dogs like himself and strut around enjoying the multicultural sounds and smells of the world’s greatest metropolis.
Xcelerator did not come with me to New Delhi. Instead, the terrific people at Southeastern Guide Dog School, from whence the X-Dude came, let him stay with them in their kennels. The greeting he gave me after we parted for ten days felt tremendous. I cannot quite describe the pure sense of unconditional acceptance that I felt as he did his “Snoopy dance” and proceeded to run back and forth through my legs in celebration of our reunion. The X-Guide didn’t care where I had been, he was ecstatic that we were back together and that was all that mattered. My special thanks go out to the great folks at Southeastern for caring for my big guy while I went to Asia and Sue to Boston.
The trip to India started out well enough. I went to Tampa/St. Petersburg International airport for the first leg of my trip, passed through security without a problem, got a sandwich and waited for my flight on Continental to Newark, the first leg of my journey. My flight boarded on time, I kissed Sue good bye, got on the plane and did my best to make myself comfortable. Our jet taxied out to the holding area and there we sat. After two hours of just sitting, I called Continental on my mobile phone and the customer service person told me that I had, indeed, missed my connecting non-stop flight to New Delhi. After another hour of sitting on the tarmac, our flight took off for Newark, New Jersey. Continental never offered us the opportunity to deplane so we could stay in Florida; once aboard, we had no choice but to go to lovely New Jersey.
Upon arriving in Newark, I picked up my carry-on bag and walked to the front of the plane. When I reached the exit, the Continental people told me that I had to ride in a wheelchair as that was the only way they could accommodate guiding me. “But there’s nothing wrong with my damned feet!” I protested to deaf ears who, in their most patronizing manner, responded by telling me to be calm and sit down. I asked for a valium, they didn’t accommodate my request.
In my wheelchair, a Continental employee brought me to their customer service room where they informed me that I would be spending the next 24 hours in Newark, New Jersey at the airport Howard Johnson’s. They gave me coupons for three meals, negotiable at any of the airport’s restaurants or at the hotel and then had my guide, a student from Kenya with terrific English skills and a very friendly demeanor, wheel me to the hotel shuttle bus without my luggage as that had already passed customs and could not be retrieved. Thus, I found myself without a toothbrush or change of clothing awaiting a bus to a hotel in Newark while I was supposed to be on my way to India.
When the shuttle bus arrived, I unfolded my cane and to really pile it on, the bungee cord that holds the aluminum stick together snapped and the two center pieces fell to the street. As the people around me helped me aboard the bus and handed me the parts to my cane, I sat down onto a nice, young African American woman who had boarded ahead of me. “I’m so sorry,” I said.
“No problem,” she said as she slid over to the seat beside her, “Sit right down.”
The woman and I started chatting. “So, what can a blind person traveling alone without a cane do for 24 hours in Newark, New Jersey?” I asked.
“All I can tell you is to keep your valuables close to you and stay off the streets or a little white guy like you will get eaten alive,” she said with a laugh.
So, after checking in, I found myself alone with a cane I duct taped together in a hotel room in Newark with absolutely no place to go for roughly 24 hours. My flight to New Delhi, a non-stop scheduled for 8:40 pm the following night would not board until 8 pm and the nice people at the Newark Ho Jo told me that I had to check out by 2 pm. To recap, I found myself in Newark, New Jersey, compliments of Continental airlines with a handful of food coupons that could only be spent at restaurants I could not find on my own – at least I had Wi Fi in the room and room service could bring me a $30 bacon cheeseburger. I spent the night calling people on Skype (I had to tell the people meeting me at Indira Gandhi Airport that I would be a day late), eating my burger and watching CNN rehash the Virginia Tech shootings over and over. At least the Don Imus story had faded.
The following morning, I awoke to the sound of my cell phone ringing. I fumbled with it and said, “Hello?” I heard my father’s voice on the other end asking, “Chris?”
“Yes, it’s me.”
“I just got off of the phone with the person in charge of disability issues at Continental. She’s going to call your cell phone in about fifteen minutes.”
Still somewhat asleep, “What?”
My dad repeated what he had said and then explained, “She said that everything you experienced was entirely against their official procedures.”
Waking, “I would hope so…”
“She’s arranged for you to spend the time after leaving your hotel in the first class lounge and Continental will provide you with someone to help you find food and such. She said you could call room service while in the hotel and that Continental will pay for it.”
A little while later, a very apologetic woman from Continental called me. She explained that they would have someone come gather me at 2 pm, the hotel check out time, and bring me to the airport. This didn’t happen, I waited for a while and then took the bus back. I found a Continental person at the airport and explained what the woman had told me. A guy named Joe from Continental came to greet me. He apologized for forgetting to pick me up and promised that everything would go smoothly after that and it sort of did.
Sitting around an airport, even in the first class lounge, for six hours is generally unpleasant. My afternoon in Newark was no exception. The people from Continental did provide me with as many plastic wrapped slices of cheese and plastic wrapped crackers to accompany them and as many glasses of diet Sprite as I could handle. They did get me to the plane on time and, fifteen hours after take off, they put me back into a wheelchair in New Delhi where I met my friends and, when I returned to the airport to come home, they clearly had the “Super Pain in the Ass” flag on my record as they bent over backward to provide me with the most polite and obsequious service I’ve ever received (through an extra security check for which I was flagged that required they go through all of my luggage by hand and, probably to satisfy someone who put me on some list, very politely confiscated my spare AAA batteries and cleared me for travel) albeit in a wheelchair the entire time. I still don’t understand the fixation Continental has with wheeled mobility but I definitely do not have the energy to investigate.
The flight to New Delhi was perhaps the most crowded I’ve ever experienced. Fortunately, I sat in an aisle seat as the Continental triple-seven sat 12 across and had the least personal space I’ve ever experienced on a long haul flight. I’m fairly certain that it must be the cheapest flight from the US to India as it was loaded with students, young people and families. My Bose Quiet Comfort, noise reduction headphones paid off once again and, accompanied by a couple of Ambien, I slept for the majority of the flight. The only odd point of the 15 hours in the air came when Monsi, a lovely young Indian banker seated by the window fell into my lap while trying to go to the bathroom without waking me. I will never complain about lovely young women falling into my lap.
Thanks to all of you who have written to tell me that you missed BC. I’m glad to be writing again. The next installment will be about the time I spent in India this time which was the most interesting of my trips to the subcontinent as I was able to explore a number of historical sites and go to museums and such that I had never seen before. I also tried out some very new foods and beverages and had a wonderful time visiting old friends and their families.