I am legally blind.
This Friday just passed I decided it would be a really great idea to take my dog, Putz, for an actual walk. We had been practicing the correct position for the heel command by walking around two parking lots for other buildings that sit just below the high-rise in which I live. This had been a very safe place for me to stroll and to provide Putz with a little refresher course in good citizenship. But, I figured it must surely have become quite boring for a dog. Both of us needed to see just a bit of our world.
I pride myself in having a good sense of direction. I also assumed that all residential areas would be laid out in blocks. If I walked down the hill from my high-rise and hooked a left, the street would take me to a bus stop. Right across the road from this there is a sidewalk in a residential area; I could follow it to the end and walk around the block. Nice. I had walked around this block last year.
However, my husband had told me that if I crossed the road, hooked another left, and continued down the sidewalk I would come to a second block that was even nicer. I trusted Bruce. Having learned the hard way, while we were still dating, he acquired a pretty good knowledge about the limits of my vision when he allowed me to drive his brand new custom Cougar, for about ten glorious minutes.
I thought it would be interesting to walk around an unfamiliar block. After all, how can you get lost walking around a block? Even someone with the poorest sense of direction could accomplish that. Although Putz isn’t trained as a homing pigeon, I still felt safe with him along and more willing to take a few risks.
Putz is gorgeous. He has a super glossy black coat and the whitest teeth I’ve ever seen in any dog’s mouth. His body is sleek without an ounce of excess fat. I felt I should be wearing appropriate attire to accompany him, so I chose an elegant Caftan – navy blue with gold accents and a gold crocheted cotton newsboy hat with the brim turned to the side. I also wore a lightweight beautifully patterned gold Pashmina shawl that had been made for me by a Belly Dancer. If my grandmother were alive to witness this she would have said, as she often did, “Well, don’t you think you’re just la de da?”
I kept my eyes peeled for the sidewalk that should have appeared to my right, after passing the one that would have concluded my route down from the familiar block of residential homes. I walked and walked. Until I reached the main highway. Something was very wrong. Ahead cars was flying up and down a main road. I saw no sidewalks in any direction. All I could see was a large lake of ugly fine black gravel in what appeared to be a large piece of prime property for some enterprise.
Hugely disappointed Putz and I turned around to backtrack and I kept another close look out, now for a sidewalk to my left. I found one. It didn’t look quite right. It went up a very steep hill and the homes were pretty ramshackle. I couldn’t imagine that Bruce would direct me to such a street, but I was there and still believed that all residential areas were laid out in nice neat easy to follow blocks. The steep hill was both impressive and daunting. When peered at from a more positive attitude, it was just what I needed. I want to lose weight and here was a challenge.
I determined to climb the hill without bending my back, just using my legs, hoping that when I reached the top my thighs would no longer be rubbing together. Up and up I climbed. None of the streets to my right gave any impression that they would take me around the block. I turned up a few of them and walked quite a distance before deciding that this particular sidewalk could possibly take me to the end of the earth, where I could fall off into outer space. Then I would hang another left and walk, still hoping to find a street that might lead me to where I needed to be.
As I walked these streets, I usually came to another steep hill. I bloody wasn’t going up another one! I would hang another left instead and keep my traitorous eyes still searching for a sidewalk that could possibly take me back to the highway where my journey began.
I had not only myself to consider but Putz too. It wasn’t really hot outside but the pads of his feet weren’t yet toughened by walking on concrete. Since I hadn’t planned on such a pilgrimage, I carried no daypack with water and his collapsible bowl. I was becoming dog-tired; how was poor Putz fairing?
At every place where I found some shade that wasn’t part of someone’s lawn I would hunker down with Putz and give him a break. I would have preferred to keep traveling. My feet were becoming terribly blistered. They had not been appropriately outfitted for such a long walk. I was wearing a pair of clogs; mules would better describe them because that is how I felt. They hurt so much worse after one of these breaks.
I don’t have to tell you, but I will anyway. I had no idea where I was. I couldn’t even see well enough to read the street signs, which would have made me feel a little better, although they would have meant nothing to me geographically speaking. I would’ve liked to have been able to say, “Well, Putz, we are heading up Washington Ave.”
Still, my beloved Service Dog and I carried on gamely, albeit slower and slower. I was certain of one thing. My sense of direction told me that we had traveled so far to the left that for me to find the bus stop at the bottom of the hill to my high-rise I would need to turn right. My goal was to try and orient myself so I could make a certain judgment about the direction.
At the next street I made the determined right turn. I intended to follow it until the street reached the end. It had to stop somewhere. It did. At a four lane highway with a McDonald’s on the corner across the road. There was a huge fancy sign that read, “Lincoln Plaza.” Good Gawd, I had heard people speak of Lincoln Plaza. It is located downtown. I live uptown. For sure, I needed to turn right.
Putz and I plodded on until we came to Market Square. That is the center of downtown. Obviously, we had walked nearly out of the downtown area. We passed banks and businesses; there were no residential streets. We began to pass factories with high smokestacks. I scanned the horizon. My apartment building is called _____Hill because it sits proudly on top of a hill overlooking the city. The skyline provoked me into a frustrated vexation. I was now exhausted. Shamelessly, I staggered up the street and still the only structures on the horizon were the damned smoke stacks. (Yes, I can cuss when necessary.)
Common sense, if I could claim any at this point and my sense of direction now told me it was necessary to start walking laterally to the left. I crossed the median of the four lane highway, praying that God would forgive me for cussing and keep Putz and I safe from oncoming traffic. Long ago I ascertained that, if you’re legally blind, the best way to cross a highway without a stoplight is to check and double check that there are no blurs of movement bearing down on you and then close your eyes and run like hell. Technically, hell isn’t a curse word.
I decided to continue walking laterally, across parking lots and simply around any obstacle. I hoped that wouldn’t necessitate climbing a fence. Eventually, I arrived at a convenience store. I was hoping it would be a Turkey Hill because about twenty-five minutes away from the ____ Hill high-rise there is one of those convenience store franchises to which many of the young people in my area had plodded out a bee-line path, in case they were in need of some such merchandise as a Turkey Hill might offer.
The convenience store that I stumbled upon looked a bit squalid. But, it still felt right to continue my lateral walk. If you could say I was walking. By now I had a noticeable limp and Putz was lagging behind with his tongue hanging out. Mine was nearly hanging out and my knees were shaking. With every step I took I thought I would not be able to take another. I wished for some passing motorist to notice that there appeared to be something wrong with Putz and I. If someone stopped to offer help, I intended to ask them to dial 911 and give my location to the police. I no longer had an ounce of pride left. Clearly no one was paying me the slightest attention.
Eventually I found myself walking toward the parking lot of another convenience store. I promised a Higher Being, Oh, please God let it be Turkey Hill. I swear to never cuss again and I’ll do a penance of forty-five minutes of skipping rope to the old drum rhythm of “Wipe Out.”
It was Turkey Hill. I dragged my poor body into the store with Putz at my heels and, scarcely able to speak, I asked the wonderful man working the counter if he would, please, dial 911 because I was hopelessly lost. He promised to help me. Putz and I went outside where I found the type of plastic shelving that looks like bleachers; stores use them to display some of their goods. This one held bags and bags of potatoes, but right at the very end of the bottom shelf there was a space just big enough for my butt. I figured, if it could hold bags of potatoes, it could hold me. It felt like an exalted chair of state.
Stretched out on the sidewalk, Putz made himself comfy. He survived better than I did. While I was breathing heavy and trembling all over, he still wanted to, at least, greet passersby with a sniff. The delightfully kind man working in Turkey Hill brought me a lovely, generous cup of iced tea and a pail of water for Putz. I suppose I must have looked in pretty bad shape. He called the Paramedics.
When they pulled up and hopped out of the ambulance, I nearly died of humiliation, but I was too weary to even do that. Apparently it never before happened that a lady, along with her service dog, collapsed on the streets because the friendly, concerned EMT personnel had to call their higher ups for permission to transport Putz. Since he is a Service/Working dog permission was given and Putz and I had our first and, hopefully, our last ride in an ambulance.
One of the Paramedics looked familiar to me and me to him. We never did figure that one out, but, when upon first seeing me, he said, “Didn’t I pick you up down on Market Square one other time in similar circumstances?” I almost screeched, “NOOOOO, that couldn’t have been me. This is the first time I’ve left the parking lot.” I decided not to clarify this with the information that I had, last year, walked around the block at the bottom of ______Hill.
“How long have you lived in _____ Hill Apartments?” he asked.
“Almost two years.”
“Well, I wouldn’t let this experience keep you from another try at a walk.”
Easy for him to say. It took us a good twenty minutes to arrive at _____ Hills. Those residents from below the high-rise who walk to Turkey Hill have their path trodden through some lilliputian wooded areas and then up and over some fences. The EMT explained that between Turkey Hill and ______ Hill there are quite a lot of obstacles, which made for the lengthy ride. He asked where I had been. When I told him of my meanderings through the streets and my eventual arrival at McDonald’s on Lincoln Plaza, his eyes popped and he told me that just from Lincoln Plaza to Turkey Hill was probably one and a half miles.
I dared to petition God for just one more favor. Please, let the Paramedics drop me off at the sidewalk on the right side of the high-rise. That is where Putz likes to poop. I hadn’t allowed him to do his business during our walk. I knew he had to poop. They did, and he did.
I hadn’t the energy or the endurance for the blisters to walk around the back of the building and throw Putz’s poop into the outside dumpster. Shamelessly, I entered the building and rode the elevator with four other people up to my ___ floor apartment. I knew I couldn’t pass off the lump in the bag as a sandwich from Subway; it didn’t smell like meat and cheese. I merely said, “For just this once, I’m throwing my dog’s poop down the garbage shoot.
I don’t know if I should be embarrassed or proud for having tried to take this walk. I did tell my husband that the next time he suggested a route for me to take my daily constitutional I would make sure to hire a few Sherpa.