“Is your hand tired?” “You doing okay?” “Got writer’s cramp yet?”
Those are the questions I was getting last night at the Easter Seals national Convention. It wasn’t until Hanni and I got back to our hotel room that I realized why: I’d been signing books for two hours!
Here’s the deal: I work part-time for Easter Seals Headquarters in Chicago. I’m the “interactive Community Coordinator” there – a fancy-schmancey title that means I moderate the Easter Seals Autism Blog. You have Easter Seals to thank – or blame – for this blog I’ve started about my new book. It was at Easter Seals that I learned to use the blogging tools.
When Easter Seals found out Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound was coming out at the same time as their national convention this year, they arranged with my publisher to produce a special Easter Seals edition. The special edition has the same cover design as the regular book, but the inside book flap is different – it describes my connection with Easter Seals. The back of the special edition features the Easter Seals logo and explains “Vision 2010”: Easter Seals’ goal to serve 5 million people with disabilities annually by the year 2010.
I spoke at the Easter Seals President’s Council event last night — President’s Council members each give $1000 to Easter Seals annually. After my speech, each President’s Council member was given a copy of the special Easter Seals edition of “Hanni and Beth: Safe & sound” as a thank you gift. Members stood in line for me to sign and Braille my name into their books — Hanni’s paw print was rubber-stamped onto each copy, too.
It was such a happy occasion, it never occurred to me we’d been sitting there signing for two hours! Hanni noticed, though – by the end of the night her paw was in my hand, she was begging me to go home with her. Or in this case, to go back to the hotel room. And trust me, when we got there, we both slept very well. You know…safe & sound!
“Is your hand tired?” “You doing okay?” “Got writer’s cramp yet?”
More than 30 people gathered at the Madison Children’s Museum Friday night to hear me talk about “Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound.” A lot of the kids in the audience were Girl Scouts. By attending the presentation I did with Hanni these scouts not only made progress on their “Books” badge, but they got a headstart on their “Disability Awareness” badge, too!
The audience had tons of questions during the q and a part of my session, everything from “How does it feel to be blind?” to “How do you pick up the dog’s poop?”
My sister Marilee was with me at the event — she had flown in from orlando to chauffeur Hanni and me to Madison. We had a great time, as always, and Saturday morning came too soon. We had a quick breakfast, then took off for O’Hare Airport. I kissed Marilee goodbye there — she was spending the rest of the weekend with Flo. Flo’s our mom, and when I think of it, Flo was my Girl Scout leader.
I am typing to you from seat 18D on our flight to Washington, DC. Hanni is sleeping at my feet. Well, her head is at my feet — her bottom is tucked away under the seat in front of us It’s good she’s resting up — we have a busy few days ahead of us at the Easter Seals National Convention. Stay tuned…!
Just got back from Springfield, Illinois where Hanni and I gave a presentation at the Illinois Library Association Conference. My friend Jenny chauffeured me to Springfield and back. She works at The Book store in Glen Ellyn, IL. The Bookstore received a special advance order of “Hanni and Beth: Safe & sound” – Jenny carted a boxload along to sell after my presentation.
It was a 3+ hour drive, and we arrived in Springfield Tuesday night just in time to grab some snacks at the hotel bar. And guess what? Wine and beer is cheaper in Springfield than it is in Chicago. We had fun! Hanni enjoyed her time, too, snatching the kernels of popcorn that’d fall on the floor from time to time.
The next morning Jenny, Hanni and I visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum before heading back to the conference to give my talk. My session was called “More Than Meets the Eye: Teaching Children about Blindness” and librarians from all over the state were in the audience. I was especially happy to find out that some of the audience members were from the Library of Congress Talking Book Service.
I first found out about the National Library Service Talking Book program back in 1985, while I was in the hospital enduring surgeries the doctors hoped would save my eyesight.
A hospital social worker brought me a big plastic box one day—it was the size and weight of a Chicago phone book. Twenty years later, I still use that oversized tape recorder from the Library of Congress to listen to books.
All I have to do to get books on tape is email my Talking Book librarian to order them. The National Library Service tapes are mailed to me in special containers. When I finish listening I simply flip an address card on the container over and slip the whole thing into any normal mailbox to return it free of charge.
An essay I wrote earlier this year about the Talking Book Program won a contest in Woman’s Day magazine. The essay is featured on the American library Association’s “I Love Libraries” web site — you can check it out at www.ilovelibraries.org .
I am, and have always been, a huge fan of books and libraries, and it was a great feeling to be in Springfield surrounded by the people in Illinois who make the library system run as smoothly as it does.
Last Spring a cab driver refused to pick me up in front of the Hilton on Michigan Avenue. “I’m not taking her with that dog,” he said, then sped away.
The doorman took down the cab’s license number, then told me what it was. I got into the next cab and recorded the number onto my handheld tape recorder. Once I got to work I phoned the City of Chicago Department of Consumer Services to file a complaint.
Last Friday was our day in court.
Mike walked outside with Hanni and me Friday morning to hail a cab for us. I still can hardly believe what happened next. A cab slowed down, the driver looked past Mike and saw me standing there with Hanni. “No dog,” he said.
“It’s a Seeing Eye dog,” Mike explained. “A service dog.”
“No dog,” the driver said.
Mike was angry. “You’re going to court!” he shouted at the driver
“I don’t care,” the driver said, then sped away.
So my Seeing Eye dog and I were refused a cab ride on my way to testify against a cab driver who refused to give us a ride. Who needs fiction?
Mike took this driver’s license number down; I’ll be calling the city next week.
But for now, I needed to focus on the court case at hand. The cab driver I’d accused of refusing us at the Hilton had hired an attorney, and the attorney did everything he could to twist my story around. How far were you from the curb? How long did the cab sit there before it took off? You say the cab driver said he wouldn’t take you with the dog. Did the doorman and cab driver say anything after that? What did they say? You don’t know? How is it that you heard the cab driver say he wouldn’t take you with the dog, but then you couldn’t hear if they said anything to each other after that?
That last question was an easy one. “He was emphatic when he said he wouldn’t take me with the dog,” I said. “It was easy to hear him.”
The doorman testified by phone. I had to leave the room for that part, but I found out later that our stories didn’t jive. He told the court that it was a very busy day – I’d said the cab had time to sit there for 30 seconds before speeding away. The doorman couldn’t remember exactly what the cab driver looked like. “It was hard to see him through the partition,” he explained. That means it would have been hard for me to hear the cab driver through the partition, too – How could I have heard him say he wasn’t taking the dog.
And then it turned out this cab doesn’t have a partition at all. The cab driver’s attorney suggested the doorman got the wrong license number, it wasn’t this guy.
The only problem with that was that the cab driver had already given a statement that he didn’t see the dog when he’d refused me a ride. So he’d already admitted to not giving me a ride. But he said he’d been driving a cab since 1993, in those years he’d carried hundreds of Seeing Eye dogs and plenty of pet dogs in his cab. His ex-wife and her mother had a dog when they lived together. What kind of dog, he was asked. A German shepherd, he thought. He got along fine with that dog.
The doorman had testified that someone was standing right behind me that day with a lot of luggage. The attorney suggested the cab driver was so focused on the prospect of a big fare to the airport that he looked right past me.
In the end the judge ruled in our favor. “A hotel doorman looks at hundreds of cab drivers a day,” he said. The fact that the doorman wasn’t able to describe a cab driver who pulled up in front of the Hilton six months ago wasn’t enough to throw out the case. The judge said it was very nice to hear that the cab driver had picked up dogs before, but that didn’t really have much to do with what had happened in front of the Hilton Hotel in April.
The driver was found guilty of two charges. The first was for simply refusing to pick up a passenger of any sort. For that, he was fined $200. He was also found guilty of refusing to pick up a person with a service dog. For that he was fined $500 and had his license suspended for 29 days.
I did not do a dance of joy when this was over. Thing is, I really like cab drivers. They’re hard workers. I like chatting with them when I’m sitting in back. I tip them well. I feel a sort of bond with them – many of them are minorities, like me. Many of them are qualified for other jobs but have had to settle for something else. Like me. I know driving a cab was this guy’s livelihood. I didn’t like the idea of his license being suspended.
But I don’t like being refused a ride, either.
I don’t really want to go to court again, but I’m going to go ahead and file a complaint about the guy who didn’t pick Hanni and me up on the way to court Friday. I have a feeling cab drivers talk to each other a lot. If word gets out that drivers are getting their licenses suspended for refusing a service dog, well, maybe I won’t have to file complaints anymore.
Whatta wonderful Warsaw weekend! Weather was warm, we walked wherever we went. We witnessed where warriors waged war. We wandered where World War widows wept.
Wedding? Well, we waltzed, whirling wildly, wowing wedding-goers. Whew! Week-end, we were weary, worn-out, weak. Wonder why? Wodka.
Okay. Enough. But if you wondered how desperate I felt during that TEN HOUR FLIGHT from Warsaw to Chicago, now you know. I killed time dreaming up “w” words to describe the trip.
The flights back and forth were well worth it, though. Friends from all over Europe met up with us in Warsaw, most of them were people I’d met 20+ years ago through my job working with foreign students. I lost that job when I lost my sight – that was before the Americans with Disabilities Act. That career ended, but the more important thing– these friendships – have endured.
And the wedding, of course, was fabulous. The service took place at city hall, where a woman translated the Polish vows to German. The reception was at the Palac Kultury i Nauki, Palace of Culture and Science. The Palace was built by the Soviets in the 1950s as a “gift” to Polish society. A web site about the Palace says the decision to combine traditional Polish ornamentation with Soviet architecture inspired Warsawans to baptize the Palace as “an elephant in lacy underwear.” I didn’t hear anyone at the reception calling it that, but then again – I wouldn’t have understood their Polish!
And so, like I said in the “w” paragraph, Mike and I had a wonderful time. That “w” paragraph is entirely true, in fact. Oh, okay, except for one thing. Although we danced — a lot! — at the wedding, we didn’t waltz.
As for Hanni, she spent the week in a Chicago palace – with our friends Pat and Carol on Michigan Avenue. When Mike and I walked into their condo to pick Hanni up, the star of “Safe & Sound” did not bound up to cover me with kisses. She did come up to greet me, but then quickly retreated to her spot in her new living room to chew on her Nyla bone. She guided me home safely, but I wouldn’t use the word “overjoyed” to describe her work.
I’m not worried about this – who can blame her? In the end, I think Hanni enjoyed her vacation as much as Mike and I did!