Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Stone Mountain Photos

I've uploaded to my Flickr page some of the photos from our June 14th trip to Stone Mountain.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Words Of Wisdom

Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find
all the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it.

Jalal ad-Din Rumi

Sunday, June 28, 2009

What Would Cheney Do?

This Bizarro comic was in yesterday's Lexington-Herald and I almost choked with laughter when I saw it while I was eating breakfast.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cindy's Atlanta Weekend Visit Part III

Note: Part I can be found here.

Note: Part II can be found here.

Since we didn't get back to the hotel room from The Jersey Boys performance until nearly midnight, Cindy and I slept in the next day. There's nothing like snuggling with your baby on a quiet Sunday morning.

After a nice late breakfast, we drove about 30 minutes to visit Stone Mountain. When I first arrived in Atlanta in April and told Cindy I could see Stone Mountain from my office window, she said she's always wanted to go see it. So we did.

Stone Mountain is the largest single piece of exposed above-ground granite in the world. In other words, it's like a big zit on the face of the earth. I don't mean that negatively, just using it as an analogy.

Here's the obligatory tourist souvenir photo.

Overall, I was not that impressed with Giant Granite Park. The admission price is reasonable enough, but the food, drink and gift shop prices almost rival those of the Mouse House. In other words, too much. And if you're going to advertise a "Hot Fudge Sundae" don't give me vanilla ice cream with Hershey's chocolate syrup. Chocolate syrup is a long way from hot fudge.

We started out by taking the Sky Trolley cable car up to the top of the mountain, which was better than walking up (yes, there is one side of the mountain you can hike from the bottom to the top or vice versa, more on that later), but not by much. Each car holds 80 people, however when 80 people are crammed inside (and I DO mean crammed) only the people who are fortunate enough to be on the windowed outer edges of the car can actually see anything more than their fellow sardine-member's body.

The top of the mountain was fun. As one of my friends remarked after seeing the Twitpic I sent from my cellphone, "You look like you're on the lunar surface." Well, maybe, but I don't recall seeing a snack and gift shop on the surface of the moon, however this hunk of rock had both. We spent about 30 minutes, I think, just walking around taking pictures and waiting to see if some of the annoying children might roll off the edge.

They didn't.

The trip back down in the cable car was a bit more exciting than the trip up since we got in early and were able to position ourselves at the front of the car as it descended. It was almost like a rollercoaster ride without the track. And I kept scaring the two little girls in front of us by saying things to Cindy like, "Does that cable look frayed to you?" and "What was that bump? Did you feel that bump?"

But the absolute highlight of the visit to the Big Rock Candy Mountain...ummm wait, that's another trip. Anyway the most exciting part of the visit was riding the "Scenic Railroad Ride" on a real train!

My first hint of disappointment came when the train pulled up and I observed an engine that looked more like an AMTRAK train. Since the train ride was attached to what was designed as an old western town (but was really just a cover to overcharge for various food and merchandise products) I was expecting an old "steam-powered with a black smokestack engine" type. The AMTRAK-looking engine was just so out of place, especially since it was pulling old-fashioned open-air passenger cars. The clash of times/cultures was sending my mind into a logic-conflict of epic proportions.

As we seated ourselves and the train began to roll, an audio tape began playing over the speakers. The scenario was that a mother and her young son were on the train and the young son was unimpressed (I know how he felt) with the ride until the friendly old conductor came to collect tickets and began telling the boy how train robbers used to stop the trains and steal from the passengers. Cindy and I both thought this meant that there would be some actors who would be dressed as robbers on horseback as we slowly rounded a bend in the track that rings the base of the mountain. In fact, through the trees (trees were the major portion of the "Scenic" part of the ride) I saw people and told Cindy, "I just saw what I think will be the robbers through the trees and bushes. They'll come out and board the train when we come around this bend."

Instead we rounded the bend and saw that what I had observed were actually people walking down from the mountain (remember them?), not robbers.

But "scenic" meant more than trees and bushes. There were graffiti-covered concrete steps standing alone on the side of the tracks, a dilapidated mobile home with an industrial-sized dumpster full of trash next to it, and an abandoned "town" which consisted of fake-front businesses with one real structure that looked like a 10-ton weight had fallen on it, causing the roof to buckle in and the window and door frames to be bent out of shape. Or maybe it was caused by a group of passengers who were as ticked off as I was.

Very disappointing. If it weren't for the fact that I was enjoying being with Cindy, I might have thrown myself under the wheels of the train to put an end to the "excitement."

I could recommend a visit to Stone Mountain Park, but only to people I don't like. The rest of you, please don't waste your time.

I'll get the best photos I took uploaded to Flickr in the next day or so.

To be continued...

Friday, June 26, 2009

iPhone, Baby!!

Just got back to the hotel after picking up my brand new 32GB iPhone 3G S. Fair warning, I may not be seen here for a few days. Too much playing and learning to do.

I love my new toy!!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

South Carolina Governor Jokes

Do you ever wonder about this? We have, what, 5 late night comedians; O'Brien, Letterman, Ferguson, Fallon and Kimmel, right? Do you ever wonder how they never seem to duplicate each other when it comes to making a joke about a current event?

For instance, the Mark Sanford Argentina Affair was big news yesterday and last night all 5 had jokes about it in their stand-up routines. I was reading an online list that printed out each comedian's jokes about it and they were all pretty funny. But what was amazing to me was that none of them told the same joke or really even got close to telling the same joke. Is that really possible? Do these guys call each other up before their shows and go over who has what? Does Letterman say, "Look, I'm senior guy so Ferguson you drop that joke that is almost like mine and come up with something different." or do each of their writing teams confer with the other to make sure none of their bosses sounds like he may have ripped off one of the others? Or are they all so different that they're able to all come up with different takes on a given subject?

Here's what each had to say last night:

Conan O'Brien:
"Today the governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, who's the head of the Republican Governors Association, held a press conference to reveal he had an affair with a woman from Argentina. ... People were shocked because Republicans traditionally don't do well with Hispanic women."

David Letterman: "Anybody here from South Carolina? ... Their governor down there, Mark Sanford...disappears. ... He's gone for four days. The first time he said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. ... Okay, I'm just dumb enough to believe that. Then he says, 'No, no, no, forget the Appalachian Trail. I was in South America.' Now, I'm not sure I'm with him. Today he said he woke up in Las Vegas, hung over with a tiger and a baby."

David Letterman:
"But now it turns out that he was in Argentina with another woman. A married guy, got a family, he's in Argentina with another woman. And here's what I want to know -- why can't he be like our former governor and use a local escort service? What's the problem?"

Craig Ferguson: "Did you hear about Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina? ... He mysteriously disappeared last week and nobody knew where he was." Today, Sanford "admitted to having an affair in Argentina. I'm like, great, now we're outsourcing mistresses."

Jimmy Fallon:
"Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina -- this just keeps getting weirder. He was missing for five days. He finally showed up. He claimed that he was just hiking in the Appalachian Mountains. Then just today, he revealed that he was not hiking in the Appalachian Mountains, he was in Argentina the entire time -- in Argentina, where he was having an extramarital affair. Wow! It all seems insane until you realize who his mistress is -- Carmen Sandiego."

Jimmy Kimmel: "Needless to say, this not great news for the Republican Party. So many prominent Republicans have been caught in these types of situations lately: Mark Sanford; Larry Craig; David Vitter; John Ensign from Nevada. And you want to know why this is happening? The gays. That's right. They've destroyed the institution of marriage and now this is what we get."

Granted, O'Brien's and Letterman's stuff was funnier (to me) but all had various points of view to poke fun at. Is that accidental?

I'm not sure what the answer is, but I am sure that I wish I could hear Jay Leno's take on the whole Mark Sanford debacle.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Photos From Pittypat's Porch

Below are some photos from our dinner at Pittypat's Porch.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Best-selling Author Becomes KY State Employee

Most people think that being a best-selling author means you never have financial worries again. Unfortunately that is just not the case for most authors. Unless you're a big name or you have multiple best-selling books, you're going to find that the advance runs out and the royalties are not going to be enough to keep you financially afloat.

Such is the case with Will Lavender who, even though he has had a best-selling book, finds that he needs the financial security of a steady paycheck and so has joined the ranks of state employees here in Kentucky. It's one of those reasons I think I'll stick with seeking magazine, web and short story work instead of a full-blown novel. The work is more financially lucrative AND steady if you work it like a job. And it's not nearly as long between paydays like it can be with book writing

By the way, I truly hope Mr. Lavender captures the lightning in a bottle again with the book he is working on in his off hours. I'm not sure what his writing is like, but I know his attitude is one that I admire.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The End Of An Error

The Friday I went to pick up Cindy at the Atlanta airport I had parked in the MARTA station and was walking to the train when I passed a car with this sticker on its back window. I burst out laughing and caused some poor woman who was getting into her car to jump in surprise.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cindy's Atlanta Weekend Visit Part II

Note: Part I can be found here.

We left the hotel at 5pm in order to meet four co-workers of mine who were attending the performance with us, for a nice pre-event dinner at Pittypat’s Porch, a renown eatery about a mile from The Fox Theatre. Fans of "Gone With The Wind" will recognize the name of Aunt Pittypat as a character from the book and movie who would only prepare her best recipes when Scarlett came to visit in Atlanta. The menu is Southern-style cuisine and so is the service. Both were excellent and we spent about an hour and a half eating, talking and visiting. Cindy and I had our first ever Mint Julep. It was good, but too sweet for our tastes.

After dinner we drove to the theater through suddenly backed up streets, found a parking space and made it inside about 5 minutes before the curtain went up on an absolutely fantastic show you MAY have heard of...The Jersey Boys.

The Jersey Boys, winner of the Tony Award in 2006 as Best Musical, is the story of how Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, four blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the New Jersey tracks, came to be, using more than thirty of their musical hits to frame the history of this amazing group. Unless you're already an expert on matters pertaining to them, I can guarantee you're going to learn something, probably several somethings, about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.

From the opening chords of the French version of "Oh What A Night" to the final note of "Who Loves You?" at the end of the performance, this production is more than just an excuse to showcase the group's musical history. Their personal history is presented as well in a true storyline that will leave you laughing, singing, quiet with reflection and stunned at the tragedy, before bringing you back to laughing and singing at their personal and professional triumphs as the play concludes.

As great as the music is, this would not be the smash hit it is without the guys who portray the group. Matt Bailey is the handsome, sometimes lawbreaker Tommy DeVito; Steve Gouveia is the quiet, little-bit-odd Nick Massi; Josh Franklin is the quiet songwriting genius Bob Gaudio (who also wrote this play); and finally the spectacular Leo Bwarie is the almost four octave range voice of the signature sound of the group, Frankie Valli.

It is Bwarie's stand-out performance that makes this show as great as it is. He captures the early innocence and naivete of Valli in his youth, shows both the heart of gold and sometimes feet of clay that Valli possessed, and made the role come alive with his singing and dancing, even eliciting a collective "Ooooohhh" from the ladies in the audience and an "Owwww" from the men when he did a perfect standing split.

But it does, after all, come down and back to the music. For most of us, it was the music of our youth and the feelings of nostalgia are hard to deny. I was 7 years old and a big fan of rock and roll in 1962 when their first charted hit "Sherry" was released, followed by "Big Girls Don't Cry", "Walk Like A Man" and "Candy Girl." In 1964 they released "Dawn", "Ronnie", "Save It for Me", and "Bye, Bye, Baby." Over the next few years hits like "Let's Hang On!", "Working My Way Back to You", "Opus 17 (Don't You Worry 'bout Me)", "I've Got You Under My Skin", "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and "C'mon Marianne" were all top 40 songs for the group, so you can see how their music would have suffused my life as I was growing up. The play features all those songs and more.

Suffice it to say we were "dancing" in our seats. The music, especially if you grew up with it but even if you didn't, is infectious in every way. You sing along, you hum, you clap, you wiggle your butt in your seat. You could be a contestant on "Name That Tune" and be the person who names the song in one note, because as soon as you hear that first note you KNOW what song is coming. It was pretty incredible to see 5,000 people on their feet clapping, swaying and singing along to the chorus of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You"

I love you, baby,
And if it's quite alright,
I need you, baby,
To warm a lonely night.
I love you, baby.
Trust in me when I say:
Oh, pretty baby,
Don't bring me down, I pray.
Oh, pretty baby, now that I found you, stay
And let me love you, baby.
Let me love you.

This is a play I would gladly pay again to see, and I don't say that about many such shows.

The Fox Theatre is a beautiful venue. The decor is stunning, the acoustics are vibrant and the seats, ah the seats are SO comfortable. Even my wide-load posterior fit without the usual need to squeeze. This theater began it's life 80 years ago as the headquarters for the 5,000 member Shriners organization before becoming a movie house in the 1940's through the 1960's.

It was in danger of being destroyed in the 1970's when Atlanta's downtown growth was exploding. But a preservation group prevailed, restoration was undergone and today, in addition to being designated a National Historic Landmark, The Fox Theatre is one hell of a venue for live performances like "The Jersey Boys."

I bought the play CD, the original group "Very Best Of" CD, the original group live performance DVD and a T-shirt for Cindy. After saying our goodbyes to my co-workers, Cindy and I got in the car, popped in the original group CD and sang songs all the way back to the hotel.

Indeed, "Oh What A Night!"

If you have the opportunity to see "The Jersey Boys" I strongly urge you to do so. You won't be disappointed.

To be continued...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Knowledge And Wisdom

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it into a fruit salad!

By the way, Science says a tomato is a fruit, but the Supreme Court ruled it was a vegetable. In what current Republicans would term an "empathetic" ruling, the 1893 Supreme Court ruled that the fruit was instead a vegetable based on its usage. Talk about activist judges!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cindy's Atlanta Weekend Visit Part I

Cindy came to visit me in Atlanta last Friday, arriving around 6pm at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. (She has her own horror story to tell of her flight on Spirit Airlines, but I can sum it up in two words, "Never again!") We took the MARTA train back down to the Dunwoody Station near my hotel and had dinner at The Cheesecake Factory located on the outside of The Perimeter Mall. The food was absolutely delicious and there was so much we could only eat half of it. The other half we had boxed up and took it back to the mini-refrigerate in my hotel room.

Saturday morning we enjoyed the hot breakfast buffet of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, breakfast potatoes, french toast and fruit that the hotel provides for free to Diamond VIP members, then headed over to Target to buy some new shirts for yours truly. Chromatic coordination is so much easier when I have Cindy there to help me make color choices, lol. Then it was back to the hotel to wait for a 10am delivery of some loan/construction papers that were being overnighted to us so we could sign the papers, have them notarized and overnighted back to the bank in North Carolina.

That's when the notary nightmare began.

Our person at the bank in NC had said, "Just go to any of our branches on Saturday morning and they'll notarize the papers for you." Famous last words. When we entered the local branch near the hotel we were told that their only person who is a notary was, "...not working because Saturday is not a business day." My thinking is if you're open for business it's a business day, but apparently that is not their thinking. Similar visits to The UPS Store and Fed-Ex Kinko's yielded similar responses which had us sensing a trend.

We returned to the hotel room to warm up our leftovers and do an Internet search for notaries in the area. Not much luck other than finding a mobile notary who advertised 24/7 service...for a hefty fee. We decided to hold off on that until the last minute while we checked with the hotel (no), local check-cashing services (no) and calling some co-workers in the area to ask if they knew anyone who might be a notary (left messages).

Then we decided to take a nap since we knew we'd be up late that night going to The Jersey Boys performance at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta.

To be continued...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

This Hotel's Internet Connection...

...is spottier than a leopard with measles.

I don't have time to play with it all night.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Back In The Bluegrass State

I arrived back in Kentucky late this afternoon. The last time I flew in to Lexington (in February) it was snowy, icy and cold. Today it was warm and rainy. Obviously my very presence has served to improve the weather conditions.

Tomorrow I begin 12 hour days, 6 days a week with a 45-minute drive to and from the office tacked on to that so posting may be sparse but I will try my best to have an entry up each day.

I'm thinking about getting the new iPhone that comes out Friday (32MB with video camera and all the usual cool Apple stuff and developer apps) and dumping my BlackBerry Curve. Any thoughts?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Unique Facebook

Yeah, I missed posting anything yesterday. Cindy and I were busy all day and completely worn out by last night. I'll post about our weekend together (with photos) plus the nightmare that was going on in the background later in the week because I don't have much time tonight either. I'm packing to fly to Lexington, KY tomorrow afternoon. I will be there for the foreseeable future.

But, I wanted to make sure everyone knew my Facebook personalized link http://www.facebook.com/thewordofjeff. Friend and follow me if you haven't already.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Who Loves You?

We just got back to the hotel from the Fox Theatre in Atlanta where we were witness (along with almost 5,000 others at this sold out show) to one of the most awesome stage performances in the form of The Jersey Boys.

I'm worn out from singing along, tapping my feet and clapping until my hands and arms were sore, so I'll leave this tonight and try to write a better review later.

Damn! it was good!!!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Oh What A Night!

Tonight, at approximately 6pm, Cindy will arrive via airplane here in Atlanta to spend the weekend with me. This is the first time in the 2 years that I have been traveling around the country for my employer that we have done this, but Atlanta is a short, relatively inexpensive flight from Orlando. And since it appears I may not be going home after this deployment, we thought we should see each other before I go somewhere farther away.

I have a weekend of fun planned for us to enjoy together, not the least of which is the Saturday night performance of "The Jersey Boys" at the Fox Theater in downtown Atlanta. Oh What A Night, indeed!

Can't wait to see you, babe!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Atlanta Braves Baseball Game

Last Friday after work, five co-workers and myself got on the MARTA train and rode down to Turner Field to watch the Atlanta Braves take to the field against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Even though the braves lost, we had a great time...along with peanuts and cracker jack.

Photos are up on my Flickr page.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Live Life To Its Fullest

In the past week, two people I know have suffered strokes. One, thankfully, is at home recuperating and one, sadly, died yesterday morning. The damage was too extensive for him to recover.

Live life to its fullest, you never know when it will end.

Rest In Peace Marcos.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Atlantic Station

Back when my boss and I went to Dialogue in the Dark, we also walked around a bit of what is known as Atlantic Station, a live, work and shop concept that is similar to and familiar to Disney fans of Celebration, Florida.

Cindy is flying up this Friday night to spend the weekend with me and one of the things I have planned for us is to visit Atlantic Station on Sunday afternoon.

Pictures of my last visit are up on Flickr.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Middle Manager Class - Day 1

Today was the first day of a 4-day Middle Manager Course offered by my employer. I have actually been a middle manager with them since 2005 and more recently in my new department and position, but this was the first time I have been able to take the class on a deployment. It actually comes at a great time since I'll be taking the position-specific advanced course for my department next month in Maryland, the same place I was in January of 2008 for the basic course.

This particular course is more of a generic management course within the ranks of my employer, rather than a position-specific course, but it IS one that is necessary in these "New" days for our required credentialing, if you want to advance.

Today was more of a review of some basic tenets used by my employer and I discovered that I was more fortunate than most in that I have worked within 2 very different departments during my almost 5 years with them, and I have gathered a lot of information about the other departments in that time. This was, in fact, one of the things our class of 24 discussed; how you feel, many times, like you are only seeing a part of, rather than, the whole picture. That can be frustrating when you are trying to satisfy both the people you manage and the upper management you answer to on a daily basis.

We had 3 instructors today. One I felt was great, one was so-so and the third was very lacking, in my opinion. Afterward, in discussions with some fellow classmates, I discovered that opinion was held by others as well.

We have one participant who looks and talks like a young George Bush. He seems like a nice enough guy, but it is still a little scary to be near him. And I have already found it amusing to watch the others and imagine what their particular management philosophy will be, judging by their in-class behavior and participation. I assume they are making similar observations and judgments about me.

I've been told by one person who took the course previously that the next 3 days will be rough. I've also been told by another that it will not and that I will look back on it as one of the best courses I have ever taken. I'll let you know at the end who I agree with, lol.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Nothing Day

I slept in, showered, went out to lunch, came back to the hotel and spent the day reading, writing and napping. What a sloth I am. But it felt good to have a nothing day.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Writer's Totem?

A few weeks back I ran across a blog or RSS feed that mentioned having a "Writer's Totem", a creature that would represent your writing (spiritually, I suppose) much as some people believe that they have a personal totem that represents their totality in life.

I'm probably on shaky ground here because I do not possess a great deal (if any) faith in this type of thing, so if I get something wrong (including my conclusion above) feel free to chime in. A few years ago a mutual friend of ours who DOES have a great deal of faith in these things, upon Cindy's request, told her what he saw as my personal totem. We had a good laugh and I promptly forgot about it (that lack of faith and belief thing, you know).

Then, when I read this piece about a writer's totem it brought that incident back to mind except I couldn't remember WHAT animal he said was my personal totem. I thought if I did research on the subject it would be interesting to see if my personal totem and my writer's totem matched, were similar or complete opposites. So I called Cindy and asked and she reminded me that I was a bear (how apropos!). I did a very small amount of research on writer's totems this afternoon, but could not really come up with much.

So, I'm just throwing this out there for anyone who may be familiar with the term and/or have some knowledge to share, please leave a comment with links or your information.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Congratulations Mikey!

Here's a big shout out to my 7-year old grandson, Mikey, who won awards for reading and math at his school's Awards Ceremony earlier this week. Grandma and Granddad are VERY proud of you and all that you have accomplished!

I haven't received photos of the event from his mommy yet (hint, hint), so here's a picture of Mikey I took during our visit to Disney's Hollywood Studios this past April.

Love you Mikey!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Twittering The Atlanta Braves

Yesterday I twittered that I got tickets to the Atlanta Braves' home game Friday night against the Milwaukee Brewers and a few minutes later both the Braves and the Brewers were following me on Twitter.

I hate to tell the Brewers, but I'm a Braves fan, lol.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Fried Green Tomatoes

Back when the movie with this title came out, I had no idea this was a dish that was considered a delicacy in the south. And I'm FROM the south, lol.

Even after discovering what they were, again, thanks to the movie, I still have never had the opportunity to taste them during any dining experience.

Until today.

Yesterday someone told us that Kacey's, a southern-cuisine buffet-style restaurant here in Tucker, GA served Fried Green Tomatoes. I was in Kacey's for lunch this past Saturday with a group of co-workers, but none of us remembered seeing them on the buffet line, so today one of my other bosses and I went to lunch at Kacey's and sure enough, there they were. I added 3 of them to my plate of turkey and dressing before sitting down at our table.

Years ago, when I was in Oklahoma City, I had my first taste of Fried Pickles, and they were good.

A couple of weeks ago I had my first taste of Fried Green Beans here in Atlanta, and they were good.

Today I had my first taste of Fried Green Tomatoes, and they were great! I had to exercise some serious self-discipline to keep myself from going back to the buffet line for more. As my dad used to say when he tasted something he liked, "That'll make your tongue slap your brain silly."

Yes they will.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dialogue In The Dark

No, this is NOT about "pillow talk", but rather the name of an awareness-raising experience that takes the form of "exhibitions" around the world. The only venue in the U.S. is located right here in Atlanta and this past Saturday I had the opportunity to take part in the experience with my co-worker, Sue.

Do you remember when you were a child and you first found out that there were people in the world who were blind and could not see? Was your first reaction like mine; to close your eyes for as long as possible and try to navigate around without being able to see so you could try to experience what it felt like to be sightless? And the first time you bumped into something or fell, your eyes would fly open to see what had happened? This experience is similar, except your eyes are already open because this hour-long participatory adventure takes place in a completely darkened environment. I mean absolutely pitch-black-can't-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face blackness.

And it is, pardon the pun, eye-opening.

Groups are usually limited to 8-10 people. Our group consisted of 10. Before entering, we were asked to place any light-emitting device such as a cellphone or wristwatch into a personal locker, along with anything loose such as glasses, pens, jewelry, etc that we would not want to lose in the darkness. (When we emerged at the end, Sue had lost a pair of magnifying glasses she used for reading that she hung on her blouse and an earring; fortunately neither was an expensive item) Then each person is given a red-tipped white cane and taught how to "sweep" the area in front of your feet for obstructions.

We were then led into a darkened ante-room where the only light came from individually lighted cubes that we sat upon while we listened to instructions. Our guide would be a blind or visually-impaired individual (literally, the blind leading the blind). We were informed that the entire experience is monitored by staff members using infra-red video cameras throughout the area, and were told what the experience would consist of and what behavior was expected of us (no one removes their clothes or uses the darkness to get "frisky") and if anyone became so uncomfortable that they could not continue they would be guided out by a staff member.

I'm assuming all of the above and more has happened or they wouldn't be bringing it up. We were also told to look at the people on each side of us and apologize now because we would most likely be bumping into someone during the experience.

As this was happening, the lights in the cubes became more and more dim until the room was completely dark. At that point our guide entered the room and asked us to stand and walk toward a rail that we had seen in the middle of the room and grasp it with our free hand (the other one was using the cane to sweep the floor in front of us). Once there she told us to walk toward the sound of her voice and we began our experience.

Over the next hour or so, with the voice of our guide directing us, we walked through a park, complete with grass under our feet, birds singing, trees rustling in the breeze and a small stream with a bridge we had to cross; entered a store and identified items by feel and produce by feel and smell; crossed a busy city street at the sound of a chirping crosswalk light while cars whizzed by so fast you could feel the wind as they passed and their horns sounded and people talked and walked by you. We took a boat ride and felt the spray of water on our faces and heard the sounds of seagulls as they flew around us, then finished up in a cafe where we ordered drinks, paid for them, received our change and then sat as a group (still in complete darkness) in a large circular booth and asked questions of our guide for about 15 minutes.

It is difficult to explain in words how completely enveloped in the experience you become. Everything is sensory input from touch, smell, hearing and taste and the removal of sight forces those remaining senses to become heightened and sharpened. Being inexperienced, you sometimes make a mistake (is that a small apple or a regular-sized plum?) or get lost (I swore I was at a dead-end at one point, but after feeling my way along a wall discovered a door I had missed) and even feel some natural trepidation in unfamiliar surroundings.

The empathy for those who are blind or visually-impaired that you gain and feel is absolutely priceless. Simply closing your eyes to try and have the same experience is completely inadequate. Being plunged into absolute and total darkness while in an unfamiliar or even familiar environment gives you just a small idea of what life is like everyday for those who are sightless. And it is interesting that we may learn to see by not being able to see. I know my eyes have been opened to what a life without sight might be like.

My grandfather used to say to me, "Never judge a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes." That mile may be the best thing you will ever do to gain an insight into another person's life.

If you ever get the chance to take part in the "Dialogue In The Dark" experience I would wholeheartedly encourage you to do so.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Happy Birthday, Princess

Happy Birthday to my daughter. You captured my heart on the day you were born and you have never let it go.

Love Forever,
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