"And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you …"
Excurses: 1: noun: a sally or digression; 2 verb: to digress, ramble; to journey or pass through, to make an excursion
People coming through: they do; through here; through there; everywhere. They come through everywhere. It doesn't matter how hard you try to keep them out – it really doesn't; they come through anyway – people do.
We should probably put up a sign; something like "Beware," or "Caution – People Coming Through." But, even with a warning, they're still surprised. People are surprised that people come through.
"Really! I mean, there must be somebody," he said.
"No. Nobody," she said. "Well, I guess somebody brings it; but, nobody's here to take your order."
"So, you just use that?" he asked, pointing.
"Yup," she answered. "You do it right here on this computer."
"Yup. So, you want what? Chardonnay?"
"Just a sec. There's the menu … the food … no; how do you …? Oh here. Got it… Large?"
"What else?" he said.
"Okay. Let's see … I just … Chardonnay – one glass – large – okay. I ordered. I think."
"I guess we'll see," he said.
"Okay. Now, I'm gonna get the same. Large, I mean. But, red … oh! They have Malbec!"
"Must be your lucky day."
"Yeah," she said. "Did it. So, I guess we'll see what happens."
"So," he said, slowly. "If I was here alone … I couldn't order, right?"
"No;" she said. "all on the computer; touch screen. It's not accessible. If you're blind you can't use it. So…"
"So," he said. "I'm stuck. A blind person, I mean, if a blind person comes in here alone – well, can't order a drink or anything, right?"
"Well, isn't that great. All this high techy-techy and only one kind of person can use this shit."
"I know," she said.
"And," he said, "I guess they think that this is quite the state-of-the-art kind of bar."
"It's totally bizarre," she said.
"No people!" he said. "Just technology. No people! The way of the present, the future. No people!"
"I know," she laughed. "No people! The way of the present to the future."
"We'll have to drink to that – if we actually get our wine. You think a person will bring it? Or some high-tech robot?"
"We'll see," she said.
"If an actual, living, breathing human being, you know, if someone brings the wine – I'm gonna ask them – how does a blind person order something if they're on their own?"
"Good question," she said.
From somewhere on his left, he heard "Chardonnay – large?"
"Right there," she said, pointing to the table in front of him.
"Right here," he echoed.
"And, large Malbec for you?"
"Yes," she said.
"Excuse me, what if …"
"What if I came in here alone," he said, holding his white stick so that the server could see it. "How would I order anything?"
"I'm sorry. What are you asking me?"
"How would a blind person order anything in here? I mean, we can't use the computer. You have to be sighted."
"I didn't design this," and, in the same huff she used to speak these words, she was off.
"Whoa," he said. "Caution. People coming through."
"Wow!" she said. "They sure did – came right through all that high tech."
"Sure did," he said.
"Good way to start a trip," she said, sarcastically. "Get to the airport; smooth sailing right through check in, security, and then – let's relax at a bar before our flight, we figure. But, no. There's people in check in, in security; but, in the bar? Somewhere to relax? Nope. No people."
"Then," he said, "beware – people coming through."
They picked up their glasses of wine, said "Cheers!", wishing each other a good trip, and wondered where people would come through… next.
Excurse 1– coming through what?
Ironically, people come through an environment of their own making. People lurk somewhere in the design of the computerized airport bar with its immovable metal chairs and touch pad computer screens, which are as attached and secured as the chairs; all tightly fitted together as if each patron is in their own individualized pod. If you are svelte and agile enough to snake through this tightly planned environment, and sit in your pod, a sense of people coming through seems rather distant. If you don't fit, you may be struck with a strange sense that someone must be behind all this impervious inhospitality. Fit or no fit, the layout of the bar suggests that there are people behind the bar's design and installation, people behind the service and the cleaning; people behind the ownership, management, and profit.
What comes through then? What would a blind person do? Instead of answering this question, the server offers only her own sense of distance: "I didn't design this." This response serves to situate server and patron as somewhat alien to the environment since their connection is not to be found in the design. The server may fit in as server but not as a person with the capacity to answer the question, "What would a blind person do?" People come through, travel through their outsider status; through not-being-at-one-with-the-environment, an environment that, ironically, turns a profit from those who are at one with it and even those who are not; a blind/sighted couple who are at one with the environment just enough to contribute to the person-less economy. People are coming through the possibility of being different from what is expected. Warning: we create our life as it creates us but we do not attend to our creation. Such alienation may lead not only to mystification but also to unintended consequences, namely, people coming through in ways very distinct from the explicit aims of the environment.
Traveling blind, even with a sighted guide to mediate an environment that profits mostly from the hyper-able, means traveling into the possibility of being less than a full-participant, yet more than was anticipated. What's coming through, then?
Warning: unexpected people coming through.
One Blind, One Sighted
They always travelled this way when they travelled together, one blind, one sighted – always. This time was no different. This time, they begin their journey – from Canada to the UK – from Toronto to Manchester.
Travelling together meant more than one of them did not see while the other did. True as this is, the two seem to almost blend in to one another when travelling. They were two; two different people; one blind, one sighted. But this two-ness mysteriously seemed to slip behind an emerging oneness. Rather than travelling together – one blind, one sighted – they appeared as though they were travelling blind. And, this even though their travels together always began one blind, one sighted. A sense of oneness came into view when they travelled. But, not just any oneness; it was the oneness of blindness travelling together – that was the oneness that appeared when they travelled – one blind, one sighted.
"Come this way," the woman working at the airport had said, "She'll help you at that counter, just over there." They walked right by the long lines of people waiting to check in. The looks of suspicion they had received from the people waiting in these lines changed to looks of a light going on, of it-all-makes-sense, when they saw the white stick, and the two white people. This look soon splintered into other looks; looks of pity, of relief, of annoyance and, in some, even of envy. They weren't envying him his blindness. They were envying her; so lucky to be travelling with a great reason to head to the front of the line. The same, "just move to the top of the line", in baggage drop off and through security as well. "Just through there, through that gate right there," the uniformed worker said to her when they reached the long line-ups at the security gate. The same looks from the people in line at security as at check-in – first suspicion, then the rest.
No waiting in line; she wasn't permitted, travelling sighted, to line up, when she was with him, travelling blind, together. Not just he, but they – they needed to get through without the inconvenience and frustration of waiting. Their twoness – one blind, one sighted – blurred and then faded only to be replaced by an emerging and finally crystal-clear image – the oneness of travelling blind together.
Excurse 2: Oneness and Manyness
One blind, one sighted and yet the blind and sighted traveling pair seem to move together as one; and a distinctive one at that. In the face of sighted others, the oneness of traveling blind together is also one of the things that people are coming through. But in what way?
Traveling blind is not only found between the blind person and their sighted guide (or whatever guide the blind person may use). Consider this – sighted people see those who do not line up or those who are invited to jump the queue. Many people also see the signs of blindness; the white stick, and then they see the reason. "Oh, they are jumping the queue because he is blind." And since there is nothing that secures a tie between vision and reason more than myth and fancy, they see even more. Focused on blindness as a good reason to jump the queue, the sighted travelers' gaze splinters into a million pieces– pieces that carry curiosity, displeasure, envy – a bunch of blindnesses bubble up and dissipate quickly, in the wink of an eye. Blind poet Lynn Manning describes this as a kind of magic: "I whip out my folded cane / and change from Black Man to 'blind man'/ with a flick of my wrist," The stereotypes reverberate through him and interpretations are piled on interpretations. Of this, Manning says, "My final form is never of my choosing; / I only wield the wand; / You are the magician." And yet, traveling blind suggests that there is another magic at play; it is the magic of interpretation that not only melds the two travelers, one blind, one sighted, into one; but also blends many others into blindness, into traveling blind. Those glances that see blindness as the good reason to jump a queue, may also, if they look hard enough, see that it is their selves doing this seeing and finding this good reason; they may even see their neighbor's expression of indifference, exasperation, or of envy. For a split second they may see themselves as giving meaning to blindness; they may have that disquieting sense that blindness is not simply in the two traveling blind together, but is folded into the many sighted others noticing blindness in the situation of its appearance. This is the magic released by those moments where people come to wonder about their own perceptions; and this is the magic that may slacken those ties that bind us to an all-embracing synthesis without which there would be no blind or sighted world.
Thus, blindness is not the only reason that a queue is jumped; it has something to do with sight. This suggests something mysterious about the eye – the sighted gaze is not quite as firm as it may appear (Michalko, The Mystery 152). People do not just see blindness coming through, they move with it, against it, through it, since seeing blindness is already caught in the world that precedes this perception. There are, of course, queues, security, and workers moving blindness along, but in this movement, there are also fellow travelers whose own sense of blindness moves into this movement. The social order of the airport is splintered, not merely with traveling blind, but with the multiple interpretations of blindness carried, like baggage, by sighted others.
With their imaginations of blindness in tow, sighted people might sometimes get in the way of traveling blind – "Warning": sighted people coming through. This imagined blindness that sighted people see, is always there, and moves through the world in all of its situations and in all of its people. And sometimes, every once in a while, blind people come through. Traveling blind does hold the potential for a kind of traveling that allows for a oneness that might, just might, envelop and come through all of us who travel.
One Plus One Still Equals Two & One Goes into One… Twice
It is true that as they travel – one blind, one sighted – a certain oneness emerges – the oneness of blindness travelling together. And yet, in the mist of oneness, one that obscures nearly all twoness, shapes are visible – barely, somewhat blurry, difficult to put into focus – but, shapes nonetheless – two of them, one blind, one sighted, one, deficiency; the other, efficiency – two, travelling together as one.
"You're not returning? Just the one way, then? For two?"
"Right," she said. "One way."
"Right," the man behind the glass enclosed counter said. "The next train leaving, uh, here, from Victoria Station – it leaves for Huddersfield at 2:58 – not quite an hour."
"Great," he said.
"Great," she said, and "When does it arrive in Huddersfield?"
"That's the good thing," the man behind the glass said. "It's the fast train. Not quite thirty minutes and you're there."
"Good," he said.
"How much is it?" she said.
"For two," the man behind the glass said, consulting some sort of a schedule. "Is he partially sighted?"
"No," she said. "Total."
"Total!" the man behind the glass said. "Right. Hang on."
"What's going on?" he asked, turning toward her.
"I don't know. He just went somewhere; maybe we're going to get a deal."
"You never know," she said. "Your white stick works magic, sometimes."
"Exploiting the blind again, eh?" he said, laughing.
"Absolutely," she said, laughing too.
"There you go," the man, once more seated behind the glass, said. "Sixteen quid." Exploitative or not, he had given the two of them a reduced fare.
And so, there they were, travelling blind, from Victoria Station in Manchester to Huddersfield. This time, though, there was no sign of the oneness of travelling blind together; this usually crystal-clear image broke up in the way that the pixels making up a crystal-clear television image can distort and dissolve to reveal a broken image. Ask her, if he is partially sighted; she's the efficient one. The image revealed in the train station that afternoon was the image of deficiency and efficiency, travelling blind … together.
"Deficiency" is a character that often, too often, accompanies blindness on its travels. It, and blindness too, travel blind together even though blind people rarely, if ever, ask it to accompany them. More often than not, deficiency is an uninvited travelling companion; like everyone else, blind people have a multitude of travelling companions and aspects of this "baggage" are welcomed – but deficiency? This is baggage that blindness seeks to jettison. Despite this, though, deficiency sticks like glue to blindness as it makes its way through the world.
With deficiency as a travelling companion comes its opposite. And, this is the case whether blindness travels alone or not. Either way, efficiency will assume the role of "travel guide." And, who better to play this role than the efficiency called "sight"?
Everywhere blindness goes; sight goes.
Whenever blindness pauses, sight pauses.
Wherever blindness comes to a full stop, sight does as well.
Whatever blindness needs, special or not, sight is there to "help."
Whatever blindness wants to "see," sight is there to "look."
There is no need to talk to blind people; deficiency is never an efficient interlocutor. Talk to efficiency instead. "Will he have potatoes?" they ask her (Titchkosky 221). Sight always accompanies blindness on its travels. Talk to it. It is an efficient interlocutor. It knows.
Traveling Blind… Together
It is not always easy to recognize all those who travel blind, together. There is, of course, one blind, one sighted; sight is always a travelling companion to blindness and it comes in many forms; sometimes sight travels in the guise of someone who sees, a guide who the blind person knows; at other times, it travels in the guise of someone, even a stranger, coming to the "assistance" of a blind traveler; and, at all times, sight accompanies the blind traveler in the guise of itself, as the ubiquitous figure of reality as see-able. The "real" of sight always accompanies the "distortion" of blindness – travelling blind … together.
I should really see if he needs help. He looks okay, though; he looks like he knows what he's doing. I wonder if this is one of those sets of lights that beeps and stuff to let someone like him know when it's green. Funny – how many times have I crossed this intersection? Never noticed any beeping before. Funny.
Yeah. He's got the curb. Man, he keeps moving that white stick – not a lot, but it's always moving. I guess he's trying to make sure. Okay; he's got the curb; as soon as that light turns he'll be ready to go.
How's he gonna know?
Shit! I missed it. It's green – damn! Yellow … now red. I missed the whole cycle.
And, so did he!
Alright. Next time … I'll go up to him. I'll just move in a little closer to him. As soon as it's green, I'm telling him, and then I'm telling him I can help him across.
And, he was thinking.
Curb. Got it. Good thing there's all those bumps in the sidewalk. It's blended but, I got it. I got the curb. 1
Blended here … straight; go straight; I'll make it, if I go straight. Okay. Lights. Are there lights here? I'll just keep my stick on the curb; make sure I don't lose it. I'm gonna wait a minute … see if the traffic flow will tell me. Don't pay attention to the people. Brits never seem to obey traffic lights anyways. Listen to the traffic …
There. Stopping on my left. And – across there, on my right, too. Yup. Lights. Green now. Okay … easy. Wait this cycle out. Great. Got it. Next cycle … I'm gonna cross.
Hmm? Someone on my right? Coming closer? There must be room; I don't want to move and lose the curb. Come on, light – change! At least I've got it all figured out. I'll be able to tell when it's green … just like the sighties.
And so it goes; travelling; new realities; new routes; figure it out; what does sight see from here — from the curb, where I'm standing? Figure it out.
Once again, travelling blind … together, and so it goes on.
Understanding Coming Through
It is crystal clear, (isn't it?), that sight knows; seeing is not only believing, it is also knowing. Sight also engenders pleasure. It gives those who see the pleasure of remarkable sights, and sight takes pleasure in the pleasure it gives. Sight moves some of us through the world in the certainty of knowledge. It moves us, too, in its sensuous security; we feel secure as we move through the world in the sensuous certainty of knowing the places in which we move and this makes us feel safe. Moving through the world with a "sensual finality" steeped in the security of a safe journey is what makes "sight-seeing" a favorite pastime of those who see (Michalko, The Mystery 152).
What is not so clear and not so certain, however, is what sight understands. Moving through the world immersed in the certainty of sight and sights permits a particular kind of knowing. But, this certainty does not necessarily provoke us to understand this way of knowing.
What do we see when we look and what do we hope to see? What are we looking for when we look? What provokes us to look at this rather than at that? What generates a certain thematic of focus when we look? And finally – do we see ourselves looking when we look?
With or without these questions, we do look and we do see and in the infinite plenitude of sights lurks the sight of travelling blind and – what a sight it is. What, then, do we see when we look at travelling blind? And, what do we hope to see? At first glance – we see travelers. Sometimes we see one – a blind person moving through the world with a white stick or guide dog, and sometimes, we see two – a blind person and a sighted one. But we see much more and this is where understanding enters the scene.
There they are in so-called plain sight for anyone to see – one blind, one sighted – travelling blind, together.
As plain as this sight is, however, it takes more than eyes to see it. After all, eyes, whether they see or not, don't see on their own. What looks and what sees is a person, people, a collective, a culture, a context. What looks and sees is understanding; without understanding, no looking and no seeing.
Here, we are not speaking of the kind of understanding that comes to an understanding when it seeks to understand. Instead, we are speaking of the kind of understanding that Hannah Arendt speaks of, namely, a politics of understanding. This sort of understanding, Arendt (308) tells us, is "un-ending." It doesn't bear finality nor is it satisfied with the proclamation of what it understands. Instead, it is a kind of understanding that continuously moves through the world of looking and seeing, of perceiving and perception, of knowing without the imagined artifice of the certainty of knowledge. And, it is a kind of understanding, Arendt says, that reconciles itself to a world with which it will never be at one (308).
This version of understanding provides us with the opportunity to imagine the kaleidoscopic cacophony of contexts we invoke as a way to reconcile ourselves with what we see when we look. That which we see when we look takes on a self-evident form only when we "look away" from the context that makes a sight self-evident. How that sight emerges from the mist of context is something best left alone particularly in those instances in which we need to end understanding in order to go on. Understanding the meaning of an appearance is clear only insofar as we make it so by interpreting it through the context in which it appeared. Even though it may be the case that the context of an appearance may not be known, we know it appeared and we will invent a context for its appearance.
Observing travelling blind is akin to reading; it has a particular grammar even though the rules of this grammar are multitudinous in character. Still, these rules are limited insofar as they represent a "reasonable" set of contexts we bring to bear when we observe travelling blind, contexts that yield a multitude of interpretations resembling familiar pathways of understanding.
See someone with a white stick, see blindness.
See someone with a white stick moving on a city street or in an airport, see travelling blind.
See someone with a white stick holding the arm of a sighted person, see travelling blind … together.
It all makes sense; it is all familiar, too familiar; observations of travelling blind move down familiar pathways, going this way and that, almost travelling together with travelling blind … together.
Of course he needs help getting through the airport, blind like that. That's why he is traveling with her. So, no need to talk to him – talk to her – she can see – no need for awkwardness – bonus. Better to help her; she's already helping him. That's better – help her help him – bonus. We could just help him, though – it would be a little awkward, but we have the protocols; we have disability awareness training; we could do it. Don't need to though; she's helping him… thank god.
"Okay, you're good. Just come right this way."
"So, I didn't beep?"
"Nope," the security worker said, laughing. "You're clear; your stuff will be coming on the conveyor belt in a minute. Just wait over …"
"Here, I got him," said another security worker.
"Okay," he said, as the second worker took his hand and led him away from the screening tunnel.
"Wait here; I'll be back in a sec."
He reached out to find something, a ledge, a wall, a counter – to lean on. Not quick enough, the worker was back.
"Right here," the worker said enthusiastically. "Just get in the wheelchair and …"
"Hey Rod," she said as she passed through the screening tunnel. "I'm right here."
"You're travelling with her?" asked the security worker.
"Yup," he said.
"So …" the worker said slowly.
"So," he interrupted. "Won't be needing that wheelchair – 'course, never needed it in the first place."
Travelling blind; wanting to do that, needing to do that – very understandable. Still, very tedious and even dangerous – this travelling blind. Couldn't do it, myself; but, you gotta admire them. Takes lots of courage, but you know, they like to be independent. The bad thing is, though, you don't know how to help them; you know, they can get angry at you and say they don't need any help. And then, you might offend them. Ah – hard to know what to do. Still … it's understandable, totally understandable. Can't see anything – that's hard – totally understandable. Wouldn't want to be that way … myself. Got to admire them, though – travelling blind, like that.
- Arendt, Hannah. "Understanding and Politics (The Difficulties of Understanding)." Arendt: Essays in Understanding 1930-1954, Harcourt Brace & Co., 1994, pp. 307-327.
- Cohen, Leonard. "Suzanne." Songs of Leonard Cohen. Columbia Records, 1967.
- Manning, Lynn. "The Magic Wand" International Journal of Inclusive Education, vol. 13, no. 7, 14 Dec. 2009, p. 785. Taylor & Francis, https://doi.org/10.1080/13603110903046069
- Michalko, Rod. The Mystery of the Eye and the Shadow of Blindness. U of Toronto P, 1998. https://doi.org/10.3138/9781442681781
- ---. Things are Different Here: And Other Stories. Insomniac Press, 2017.
- Titchkosky, Tanya. Disability, Self, and Society. U of Toronto P, 2003.
For an extended version of traveling blind in this way, see Rod Michalko's Things are Different Here (54-73).
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