Hanni is hip. You all know that. But did you know she is so hip that she has a tattoo on her right ear? That’s how she rolls, dude.
Hanni the hip dog and I just spent three nights in New Orleans. Any of you who have spent three wild nights in New Orleans might assume that she got her tattoo while we were there.
And if you think her tattoo is a heart with the letters b-e-t-h inscribed inside, you’re wrong again. Hanni already had the tattoo — a series of letters and numbers – when I met her. The Seeing Eye uses tattoos to keep track of their dogs. The tattoos prove useful, too, in identifying Seeing Eye dogs who get separated from their blind companions.
Separated from Hanni? Yikes. That’s too awful to even consider. Let’s think about happier things. Like…New Orleans!
Our trip was colorful right from the start. After a two-hour delay at O’Hare – ugh! — we finally got seated. In the bulkhead. Between two guys flying home to Louisiana. From Africa! “Were you there with a church group or something?” I asked.
They both laughed. “We’re not missionaries,” the guy on my right –his name was Chris – said. “We’re mercenaries!”
They were mechanics. Caterpillar had sent them to Nairobi for a month to build boat engines. “We built ten engines in four weeks,” Timmy, the guy on my left, said. “That’s a lot — they’re BIG engines.”
After the usual array of questions about Hanni, they told me about their time in Africa, how hard it was to be away from their families, how cramped the living conditions had been. But it sure beat working on oil rigs at home, they said. That’s what they’d been doing before they got the job with Caterpillar. Chris had escaped the oil rig life relatively unscathed. Timmy hadn’t been as lucky. Two back surgeries, three knee surgeries and one operation on his elbow. Pain management classes had helped him survive, he said. Martial arts helped, too. Part of the reason he had accepted the Africa job? He was able to do more supervisory work there, it wasn’t as physical. “Plus it pays $500 a day,” he said. His voice sounded sheepish, admitting such a large sum. “I have two sons; I need to make as much money as I can. You know, while I am still able to work.”
Timmy took care of Hanni when I left to go to the bathroom – she can’t fit into that small space with me. Chris jumped up to take my backpack from the overhead bin any time I needed something from it. They both told me stories of duck hunting in Louisiana, their families back home, surviving the hurricanes.
Our flight to New Orleans, well, it flew by. When we landed, Chris jumped up to get my backpack. “You go ahead,” he said. “It’s been a long flight for Hanni.”
I urged them to go first. They’d left Nairobi 36 hours ago. They weren’t home yet – they still had a three hour drive – but they were done with airplanes now, they should get off.
They wouldn’t have it. So Hanni and I said our goodbyes, headed for the exit. As we passed through first class, a passenger took me aside and asked if I was okay.
Yeah,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. I asked him what he meant.
“Well, those men they sat you with,” he said. “They looked very rough.”
I’d look rough, too, if I’d just flown from Nairobi to London, London to Chicago, and Chicago to New Orleans. I hadn’t really thought much about what Timmy and Chris looked like, though. I was too busy listening. “Did they have tattoos?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” the first class man said. “All over. Are you sure you’re okay.”
The benefits of blindness are few, but they’re powerful. “I’m sure,” I assured him, a smile spreading across my face. I gave Hanni’s right ear a scratch before picking up her harness and heading to the jetway. “Hanni, forward!”