Ali and Joe.
The Blind dating the blind guest post my 23-year-old pal Ali wrote for us Sunday got a great response from you Safe & Sound blog readers, so we’re rewarding you with another guest post by Ali. In today’s post, she describes Sunday’s date with her boyfriend Joe at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase.
by Alicia Krage
Beth and I started arranging to meet at Chicago’s jazz showcase for a Sunday show, and when I told her my boyfriend Joe is the one who got me started listening to jazz, she suggested I ask him to come, too.
I barely got the question out before he very enthusiastically agreed to tag along. Our next step was to work together on train times and coordinate schedules — something we are now very good at after a year of practice and visits back and forth between his dorm at Northern Illinois University (NIU) and my house in the suburbs.
The plan was for Joe to get on the train at Elburn, and I would join him at my train station. After the two of us chose a date that would work for us, I used VoiceOver, the speech synthesizer on my iPhone, to email Beth and confirm the date would work for her and her husband Mike to meet us at the train station in Chicago.
On the day we’d be heading off to jazz showcase, I could barely contain myself. I probably didn’t even need the morning cup of coffee —that’s how excited I was. Joe and I had been texting each other (he uses VoiceOver, too) all morning about how excited we were and counting the hours until we were on the train. In the midst of all that excited chatter was also some planning. We had agreed that once he was on the train, Joe would inform the conductor that there was a passenger getting on later who was also blind, and we’d like to sit together. All went well there.
Next was actually finding each other. Even though Joe had informed the conductor to help me find him, I texted Joe from home to make sure I knew where he was seated just in case something went wrong.
My dad drove me the five minutes from our house to the station and waited with me until the train arrived. My dad always makes sure to lead me to a conductor when I get on a train — that way I can let the conductor know where I’m getting off and that I’ll need help.
This time was different, though. Before we got off the train, I wanted to be able to find Joe and sit with him for the ride to Chicago. After spotting a conductor, Dad told him I was meeting up with another blind passenger. The conductor took over and my dad said goodbye. “Have fun!” he added — he is always encouraging and enthusiastic about my independent travel.
Then the journey began. The conductor led me through maybe four or five cars before we reached the very front, where Joe was seated. The automatic doors between cars made me anxious sometimes. I felt like I needed to rush so the door wouldn’t close on me — not so easy to do while navigating the step up and down into each car as well. We made it, though. We found Joe.
After greeting each other and getting situated, Joe and I never stopped talking. He asked me all kinds of questions about Beth: when we met, where we met, what she spoke about, how long it took to write her book, how often she goes to the Jazz Showcase. It was great to have someone to ride the train with and just talk to.
What wasn’t great was that the stops weren’t being announced out loud. If you’re blind, and you want to travel independently, you learn to be resourceful. I used a GPS app on my phone to track our progress. Time flew amongst all the excited chatter, and before I knew it, we were at the Ogilvie train station in Chicago.
A conductor helped us off the train, we met up with Beth and Mike and we left the train station by creating a train of our own: Mike held out his elbow to guide Beth while Beth held out her elbow to guide Joe while Joe held out his elbow to guide me. Joe and I were used to “the blind leading the blind.” This was normal for us, but a first for Mike and Beth.
We took a cab to Jazz Showcase, and we used our new found guiding skills to navigate inside and snake our way to our seats. As excited as I was, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d never been to a jazz club before —I’d just started to get into jazz music this past year after Joe took me to one of the NIU jazz concert events.
I must say, I was very pleasantly surprised. The band was outstanding, and before the event was over I knew I wanted to go back to Jazz Showcase again sometime.
We had dinner afterwards at Hackney’s Tavern. Beth had used her talking computer to email me the menu ahead of time, and I had gone over it with Joe. I had already chosen what I wanted ahead of time, which helped a lot. It was a fun dinner filled with laughter and questions from Beth about college life, and fun stories about how Joe and I met and how we started dating.
Mike and Beth went with us back to the train station, and after I bought my train ticket and requested assistance on the train, we all said goodbye. An agent guided Joe and me to a seating area, where we proceeded to wait for a good 45 minutes (I thought it best to get there early). She returned for us once the train had arrived and almost put us in the first car. We told her we couldn’t hear the stops called out when we were on the first car during our trip into the city, so we were placed in the second car in the front instead.
I’d be getting off the train long before Joe would reach his destination, and all the way to my stop Joe’s excitement was at an ultimate high. He couldn’t stop talking about how exciting the whole day had been. He loved the food, he loved the concert, he loved the city, and he loved the company.
His energy was contagious, and I smiled right along with him and happily agreed, responding with, “We need to come to Chicago more often!”