Recently I was reminded that my blindness puts me at risk and that my guide dog can goof.
I decided to meet my husband at the corner of Morewood and Forbes where he'd arrive on the airport bus. I'd made the trek down Forbes Avenue from my home in Squirrel Hill many times, and after a week of living solo, I was high on independence.
When I set out with Flossie, the weather stank, raining heavily. I heard no other pedestrian footsteps.
At the corner of Wightman and Forbes, I turned west. Flossie whined, because any time I turned that way I walked to Craig Street or Morewood. It's a 30- to 40-minute walk, not including the return trip, usually made at night, when she'd rather be in her cozy crate.
Though daylight now, it was pouring. I carried an umbrella that didn't shield her. She shook and sprayed me while we waited, in revenge.
"Flossie, forward," I said after the first car moved on Forbes. Flossie obeyed, but just as I was beginning to judge that enough time had elapsed for her to have reached the opposite curb, I knew I was still in the street. Yikes!
Scenario 1: She had veered into Forbes, so I should give right commands. I listened for the cars. None.
Scenario 2: She had veered right into Wightman ...
"Beep! Beeeep!" A car whizzed past on my left. I knew from the sound it wasn't grinding up Wightman Hill, so neither was I. Forbes, I concluded.
"Right," I screamed, "Oh God, right, Flossie!"
Just as I neared the sidewalk, someone grabbed my elbow. "You're in the street," a man called. He jerked me forward. I was grateful, but still trying to process everything.
Looking back now, I realized that vision isn't just the dominant sense. It's the most efficient. Hearing and touch suffice as substitutes, but they're slower in sorting through information. One glance, should I have been granted a temporary peek, would have told me exactly what had happened -- and what to do. But having to rely on hearing and touch, I had to absorb, then analyze all the stimuli coming my way.
"What were you doing?" the man continued, his tone suggesting that I should be home where I belonged. "A car almost hit you!"
Shame. My failings exposed. Conflict. I felt grateful, but lousy, too.
"Where do you want to go?"
"Murray," I said, but, of course, I meant Murdoch. I wasn't thinking clearly. Embarrassment did that to me.
The man pushed me in some direction across some street. "I have to go," he said. "I have a bus full of people."
Oh, no. A bus driver. He'd pulled over to rescue me. What a good, amazing guy!
"OK, Murray is that way."
"I wanted Murdoch," I said.
"My passengers ... I ..."
"What's the street on my right," I called as he rushed away.
"And the street in front of me?"
"Forbes." And then I heard him say, "Sorry, everybody."
Oh, no. How many people had witnessed my complete incompetence? What kind of representative of the blind was I? I wanted to yell to the passengers, "I never do this! I'm generally adept, even graceful. I've just pulled off a week without my husband ..." But the bus roared off, behind schedule no doubt.
Then it hit me. I was more worried about appearance than danger. And what about the danger I could have caused if a car had swerved to avoid me? Sometime I'll have to talk to a psychologist about my focus on the lesser of two problems.
For now, I pulled a U-turn, crossing Wightman, Forbes, then Wightman again. Flossie and I dripped and slogged and proceeded west. At each intersection she shook to rid herself of the rain. I did some mental shaking, to rid myself of the angst.
The bus driver had been a good guy. I'd scared him silly, and he'd left his post to help. His duty was to his passengers, but he reacted to what seemed like a higher responsibility -- rescuing the bewildered blind.
Some friends with disabilities claim that "people are hell." They disable us more than our impairments do. That hasn't been my experience.
At a disability task force meeting recently, a woman asked what we needed. "More audible traffic signals," another blind person answered. Others said more education of the public to dispel myths, fears.
Sure, the bus driver shouldn't have pushed, but he let me take his arm. And who cares about proper technique in a crisis? He didn't have time. And I'll take rescue over method any day.
Flossie and I met up with Bob, and I told him of the bus driver's kindness.
Here's to an unnamed man behind the wheel of a 61 A, B or C. Many, many thanks.
Sally Hobart Alexander writes books, teaches writing at Chatham University and lives in Squirrel Hill (email@example.com).