"It's been a hard day's night ---" The familiar lyrics rode the crest of the wave of sound washing over me as I opened the door to the hotel bar and I knew too well what the next hour or so would bring in terms of communication. Sigh. The event was my 40-year class reunion. I was here to find my party, eight guys, my remaining teammates from our senior year champion wrestling team. We'd start out in the bar and later move to the larger gathering.
Inside, weaving my way among the scattered tables, I moved from one island of sound to another, I figure my guys will grab me when I am spotted. Chances of me finding them in this environment are slim to none. The crowd is fluid; people standing, sitting, walking about, so the auditory stimuli are coming from every direction.
"Robby boy!" the booming, beer-soaked voice directed down upon the top of my head had to be Harley, the former heavyweight wrestler, sweeping me up into his, now, even weightier embrace. "Com'on, little --- we're over here in ---. Let's get you a --- one." I didn't need to have heard all he said, his firm grip and drink happy mood carried me along.
"Rob!" "Hey Bat Man how yaa ---" "Bat Ma --- oh invincible one!" A chorus of greetings met me at the table. (All of us had special nicknames back in the day. Bat Man had been mine but I'd not heard it spoken aloud for years. Harley had been Elephant Man.")
Seated next to Thomas (alias Spider Man), a friend I'd not seen in person for nearly 20 years, I asked, "So Tom, how's life?" Leaning forward, positioning my ear to be at the best angle to hear his responses.
"Hey Rob," Super Man's voice projected across the table. It was Jeff, the once team captain. "The lady wants to take your order." And thinking she was behind, between Tom and me (where I had felt something touch me), I voiced my order.
"Rob --- " Jeff yelled again, "she's over here! Ha, and I think she read your lips --- a draw, right?" I gave him a thumbs up.
Getting back to Tom, I said, "Whatever happened to that motorcycle you had?" Not getting an answer, leaning closer I could tell he was engaged to someone off to his right. Turning to my left to talk to John, the once smallest guy on the team, nicknamed Invisible Man, I found him laughing it up with people at his end of the table.
After a couple of rounds of drinks and several broken conversations with my former teammates, consensus came to move ourselves to the banquet room. We made a short stop at that room's cash bar; then, glass in hand, I started mixing and mingling prior to sitting down to dinner and speeches.
The music playing in the banquet room came from a string quartet and wasn't going to be a problem. The room was large, had high ceilings, a carpeted floor, and was set up with enough round tables to seat 1,000. Right off I ran into a former girlfriend; we hugged and got caught up.
Free again, I went on the prowl for other old friends. I used the location of the music as a point of reference, moving through the scattering of tables, listening for any voice I recognized or for someone to yell out my name. There were small groups standing and talking or already seated and visiting. I'd catch a word or phrase as I passed, even stopping a few times to insert myself into the group's space only to find that I didn't know them. People, people everywhere, and no one I know to be found anywhere. Not even finding my old wrestling buddies, I got more assertive, stopping the next person walking by. "Hi, could I ask if you have seen ---" and this guy answers, "May I get you another drink, sir? I'm one of the banquet staff."
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**1. I think that managing crowds of any size is a skill to have regardless of whether you are blind or sighted. even sighted people walk into crowds of people where most are strangers with familiar faces hidden somewhere in the crowd. The sighted use their eyes, and sometimes, listen for their name to be called from somewhere in the mix of people. We blind people, on the other hand, can only rely on sounds to guide us and a familiar voice shouting somewhere in the crowd of talking strangers. There are often times when John and I are in a crowd of people (in some business setting or at a town gathering) when I here somebody call one of our names but John doesn't hear it. It's not until I stop and turn around to see who's trying to get our attention that John realizes that somebody was flagging us down. Then, there are those other times when it's the reverse. It really depends. Make note that John's sighted and I'm blind. I personally hate being in large crowds, but I deal with it as best as I can. Of course, it can be easier to deal with when you"re with people you know and enjoy being around because the excitement of being with those people can take away the stress of being in crowds. As for hearing the person next to me, I'm never afraid to ask them to repeat what they said or practically put my head up to their mouth to hear.
**2. As a young man of seventy years I now avoid crowds at all cost! I use to tolerate them and make the most of a bad situation. I suppose the most interesting experience was when I attended a school reunion and listened for voices from the past. Hearing none, I turned to the gentlemen who had been sitting to my left for quite some time and I remarked that "I guess no one was there from the years I attended so he asked me my name, got up, walked to a lady who had been talking for quite a while, and asked if she could guess who was there? When he spoke my name she asked "Lindy, is that you sure enough? "Dogone, you were the meanest boy in school"!
Lin Gallagher Blind-X
**3. This type of scenario is why I hate crowds. I have usable vision but I have trouble identifying people from more than two feet away, which makes finding people in a crowd improbable. My question is, why would his friends, knowing that he is blind, want him to meet them in a noisy, crowded bar? Why didn't they have someone waiting for him at the entrance to the bar? And why did they just take off like that after they hit the cash bar in the banquet room? They could have at least told him where they would be sitting so he could find them when he wanted to sit down. And that whole "conversation" in the bar. It's hard enough to tell who is talking to who in a normal conversational setting, but he was trying to talk to his friends in a noisy environment, and (at least to me) it seemed like some of his group were not paying much attention to him. I know I would not have found that evening to be very pleasant.
**4. Crowds still baffle me. When I go to a crowded affair like a wedding I search out the people I know and don't stray far from our table while everyone else is busy making the rounds. Even at the weddings of my own children, I dutifully stopped at other tables to say hello and thank the people for coming. The truth is, I don't cope well in crowds. When I was fully sighted it was different, but that was then. I'm happier having a discussion with someone over a cup of coffee or a nice dinner either in my house or in a restaurant. I give you all the credit for venturing out to that reunion.
Judith NFB Writers' Division Mailing List
**5. A good scenario to contemplate. I'm sure few of we blind have not encountered such a mess. I refuse to get near loud music unless I can control the volume. Such a picture is perfectly normal for the sighted, and that's fair enough. For me, it is too frustrating to be allowed. If I'm not in the company of a sighted person who sticks with me, I simply will not go to such a situation. Besides, I view class reunions about like I view a root canal.
**6. Oh this just makes me cringe cause it happens pretty much every time I go out. It's terrible.
Sarah Jevnikar NFB NABS Mailing List
**7. I do very well in crowded places. I do have to admit I haven't tried Disneyland by myself yet. I'm not sure I want to only because as I get older I do prefer quieter places, perhaps for reflection rather than being stimulated by crowds. A man I admire and wanted to marry at one time called me a social butterfly. I once disappeared on him in a crowd and started making friends. Crowded bars are usually okay when I frequent them, church parties and birthday celebrations are where I get my crowds. My x fiance got jealous once because I was off making friends in a crowd and he was on stage doing whatever he was doing. He was blind I guess he didn't want me wandering away from him. In any case, that was that. If I'm looking for someone in a crowd and I cannot successfully locate them I will ask someone to scope out the crowd to find them. If there's no one to ask to find someone I usually go about my business saying hello to people and introducing myself until I find them. And then there are those times when I walk into a crowded place and just want to sit and daydream. Lately what I've been doing is going to the train station and talking to people I've never met before, sometimes on the patio or sitting by the tracks on the planter or the benches. It's not always crowded but it is a new environment and does take some assertiveness. And then there are times when I go into a crowded place and just sit and want to participate and don't. Two weeks ago I went to a completely new place, Santa Barbara, and found my way around town on the trolley and to a restaurant and back to the train station. If I needed help I asked for it and people were surprisingly gracious not stepping in to help if I didn't ask. It was nice. the only thing I didn't do was stroll down the main boulevard and go shopping partly because I didn't want to stray too far from the train station and miss the last train (it was a three hour trip back and I couldn't afford to be late for work) and I didn't really want to spend money. Next time I go there I'll do that. That whole area was pretty crowded. IN short, whatever mood I'm in is how I handle crowds. They're quite doable for me as a blind person.
Shelley J. Alongi NFB Writers' Division Mailing List
**8. I swear that situations like these cause my I.q. to drop fifty points. The din confuses and disorients me, so unfortunately, I avoid such occasions.
**9. I think this type of situation makes most of us not party animals unless we are in groups of other visually impaired people. There, it is easier because we have our own culture which allows us to enter conversations with everyone around us by making comments, interjecting freely and be comfortable with engaging those around us. Calling out to people we don't know isn't acceptable behavior out side this fellowship of the visually impaired. Sighted people must be in line of sight of the person they are talking too, looking at them directly to engage them before speaking. I notice this in staff meetings because I sometimes talk over someone else before I realize they are about to speak. It makes me hesitate to offer comments unless I am spoken too first. I don't want to seem rude or to monopolize discussions. So I am quieter than among visually impaired friends. I would rather interact with one or two friends in a quieter setting preferably one I know well, such as my own home. A maximum of say ten for games, swimming, food, talk and or music works when I am comfortable with them all and the environment. Large groups in unfamiliar surroundings is just too tough to be enjoyable. I tend to avoid office parties if they are held out of the office in restaurants or private homes I am unfamiliar with. I dislike going into social situations where I don't know anyone at all. When I was in high school and college, I did a lot of volunteer work, but those situations are easy because I was performing a function. Washing dishes at the USO, Manning a table or supervising children, I had a task to perform so didn't feel cut adrift among strangers. Loud music is disorienting. I doubt I would have even gone to the event you described.
DeAnna Quietwater Noriega MO
**10. That's the kind of gathering I really don't like. No matter how hard you try you can't get into a quality conversation. If you get with someone who wants to huddle with you and talk about great old times, people come and break in or the crowd is too loud to hear one another. This guy in the story, Rob is a superb circulator. He evidently is confident enough to move from table to table and from person to person. This is great, but will he ever go to a reunion again? I doubt it.
**11. Do I identify with this person's experience! I hate loud places! Perhaps that is one reason that I tend to not go out to bars and restaurants that have loud music. As I say to acquaintances who want me to accompany them to such a place, "I don't mind being blind, but I'd rather avoid being blind and deaf if I don't need to do so. Bat Man's experience with the server also sounds familiar. More than once, I either couldn't hear or understand the server, so would not reply or answer incorrectly.
His experience at his reunion was similar to our attendance at my wife's and my high school reunions. Unfortunately, I didn't recognize many of the voices of my fellow grads, especially since I hadn't heard them in almost forty years. Thank goodness that many of them would come up to me and say "Hi Doug, I'm ..." My wife, who is sighted, said that she didn't recognize many of those she went to school with, because they had changed physically. A common statement was that, if it weren't for the name tags that people were wearing, identity of the person would be difficult. I was surprised to learn that many of my fellow grads, who I had believed to be so confident and popular in high school, had actually felt rather insecure, feeling that I had been the one who was "together" and popular. That certainly isn't the way I remember it.
Doug Hall FL
**12. I enjoyed reading this, since it seems we're all in this kind of situation one time or another. I guess people probably go through stages, too, as far as where a social life leads them. I have every sympathy with anyone deciding to stay out of the clubbing scene, as sighted people are surely reading lips to be heard above the music. But, then, if you never go out, you miss several opportunities to connect with friends. I don't think there is one good answer for all situations. I imagine a little preliminary planning works for some: that is, plan to meet people, as a certain time or place, or get info about the layout of the land. For others, the best plan is to always go with a sighted person who can help; this works until you realize that people might be less likely to approach, seeing you with someone. So much of the "touch and go" (my phrase for that drifting around kind of conversation at parties) is visual. If you're short like me, you've experienced people talking over your head, having caught someone's attention elsewhere. But I'm continuously curious, and have asked lots of sighted people about these issues: finding friends in a crowd, hearing above a noisy background, difficulty in getting into conversations already begun - everyone says the same things and suggests that no one really has an easy time of it, sighted or otherwise. I think it's doubly difficult if you're in a multi-cultural setting with; a lot of different languages being spoken. (on the other hand, you can always use your ignorance of a language to explain a socially troublesome time). It seems then that maybe the best thought is to decide to be at ease with whatever happens, beginning with yourself. Anyone hoping for the perfect social venue, won't usually find it outside the friendly confines of his/her own home - and even that locale isn't gaffe-proof. Remember that book "Everything I learned I learned in Kindergarten"? I first became aware of just how much social stuff I was going to have to deal with when at an after game party. Introduced to someone I asked if he'd been at the game. He responded, loud enough to be heard over the noise, that, yes, he'd been in the game. I realized then and there I'd better get over being thin-skinned about things. The character in this story: until the end seems fairly well in touch with things as they are rather than what he wants them to be.
**13. As I have grown older, I'm now 73, there are several places I prefer to avoid. Forest fires, Tsunamis, tornadoes and crowded noisy bars. Unfortunately many group activities take place, partly or entirely in such torture chambers. When I was young and trolling for charming ladies, I put up with the confusion. Frankly, I've never found a satisfactory method of carrying on any conversation in such a boiler factory. So what I do is to grab a drink, bump into the first person who is not nimble enough to get out of my way, yell "How ya doin'?" and move on to the next person. When I reach the opposite side of the room I either sit down and gather enough strength to look for the door, or I find myself next to someone who is also wondering what they are doing here. If they seem friendly I suggest we get out of here and go to the lounge or restaurant.
My advice to anyone caring to listen, is this, if you enjoy the noise and excitement, hang out. If it is no fun, get out.
Carl Jarvis ACB-L listserv
**14. Mingling in a large crowd can be disconcerting sometimes. I tend to get quiet and shy around a bunch of people I don't know, or who I once knew years ago. My favorite is when they come up grab me and say, "You've gotten so big since the last time I saw you, you were such a tiny baby. You are doing so well for a blind girl." Embarrassing? That's an understatement. In crowds I feel more self conscious as a blind person because there are always people running here and there, and with all the noise it is sometimes difficult to navigate proficiently. I normally fear that I'll run into someone and spill something or something to that effect. Finding people you know can also be a problem if you haven't seen these people in a long time because sometimes voices change over time, or crowds can make it difficult to point out. One thing that struck me was that this particular individual seemed to have a hard time striking up conversations with people he knew. People he had been friends with. It seems although they were happy to see him, they half ignored him.
I like this one. Very realistic, I could see it playing out just as it was written.
Aziza NFB Writers' Division Mailing List
**15. Crowds are not my favorite things. But, they're much easier to maneuver when it's relatively quiet. I very much dislike atmospheres where the music is extremely too loud. It seems that most parties, whether they're class reunions, wedding receptions, or dances, are much too loud. I get the impression that many sighted people don't care for the volume, either, but they manage by reading lips, so they seem to tolerate the din better than I do.
I try to avoid these situations, whenever possible. But, if it's not possible, I try to leave as soon as possible.
A quieter room, even if it has quite a few people, with music coming from one area, is much easier to navigate.
So, I guess, for me, the volume of the music really dictates my enjoyment of the gathering.
Cindy Handel Willow Street, PA
**16. I have found my self in that type of situation a few times. each time it happens I feel lost and alone since it is very hard to hear what people are saying and it is very easy to get disoriented and to end up either talking to a wall or to some one who is there one minute and then gone the next. in short I don't like being in this type of situations since it is very hard to really hear anything. well those are my thoughts.
from Mich Verrier.
**17. Some class reunion. Batman did not think ahead attending his class reunion. After forty years, who is going to recognize you? Besides, Bat's former class mates most likely uneasy with Bat's blindness. It also appears that there was a lot of heavy drinking going on. I think Bat should have connected with a former class mate prior to attending. I'm quite sure the his former class mates were very uneasy about Bat's blindness. Bat might have asked others for assistance in finding other known class mates. Co-mingled with other groups, made new friends. It depends what Bat felt like doing. Apparently, Bat did not stay in touch with his class mates during the past forty years. One couldn't expect much more than what was received in Bat's reunion experience. After another forty years, it won't matter.
One Who Never Liked Reunions,
jack Mindrup Nebraska
**18. I sympathize with "Robbie Boy". I do not function well in stand-up cocktail parties (so called "ice breakers" or "mixers"). I find it difficult to maneuver with a cane, a drink, and sometimes, a snack. Someone always expects a hand shake, or bumps my elbow and my clothes get soaked, or worse yet, someone else's clothes get soaked or smeared with crab meat or cheese! If I know I am going to attend a function of this sort, I usually will call someone I know will attend also, and arrange to meet them in the bar or the lobby or some similar point. If I am alone, and I cannot arrange to meet someone, I generally just sort of stand around and try not to move around much. I just let people come to me. Once seated, I have no problem. I am quick to introduce myself and make new acquaintances, but please deliver me from the stand-up gathering! Sorry, "Robbie Boy"-can't help you on this one!
Jim Theall Longmont, Colorado
**19. This month's Thought Provoker seems pretty easy. You're standing there, some doofus is trying to get your attention visually, and you feel like shouting, "DUUH! BLIND PERSON HERE! NEED VERBAL CLUES!" The High School reunion thing is a whole other issue. I hated school. I had no idea what I was doing. Everybody there was in a clique. Nobody offered any practical advice, direction, or wisdom. That's why I wrote last month's Thought Provoker: Rhoda Laval is everything I wasn't. She knows what she's doing, how she's doing it, and why. She is a smart, happy, well-adjusted teenager. No wonder some readers think she's too unreal!
**20. Oh, Robert, I feel your pain!! Crowds drive me nuts. Being hard of hearing I have a heck of a time telling whether people are talking to me or someone else, or even what they're saying. And when someone grabs me in a big crowd like that, even if I know them well I have to ask who they are. Luckily for me the people who really know me know I'm hard of hearing, so they're cool about it generally.
I too would appreciate any tips you guys have to offer for dealing with these frustrating yet inevitable situations.
Angela Fowler NFB Writers' Division Mailing List
**21. I really have to respond to this one even if what I say doesn't appear on the website. I have a love-hate relationship with crowds. On the love side of the relationship: I am a musician and have developed my public speaking skills to a great extent. That means I find it fairly easy to get and keep the attention of a crowd and pretty much take the people in the room where I want them to go on a psychological level. On the other hand: I am totally blind and can't see the people in the crowd; I am also extremely short so often the people in the crowd don't see me and if there is loud music I become temporarily hard of hearing. I never go to high school or college reunions. If I go to other celebrations in crowded bars I either go with sighted friends or I just ask someone, stranger or friend, to show me to a chair and when seated people will come to me. They usually do.
Chris Coulter, Edmonds, Washington
**22. I avoid crowded places whenever possible. Because I have some vision, I feel like I am in a bat cave when I am in a crowd. You just don't know what is coming at you. It is distressing for me to navigate through arms, legs, shoulders, handbags and feet. People who are sighted jostle, stumble and bump each other. But it is easier for them to maintain equilibrium. It feels like I am on a ship in a turbulent storm, being tossed around by the sea. The cacophony of sound reduces my sense of hearing and I feel doubly impaired. I like knowing I have control of my environment most times. However, in a crowd, maintaining control is a challenge. It feels threatening. Going out to a crowded place should be fun. Being blind, I have this heightened need to be conscious and aware of my environment. I find my senses quickly become overloaded. In a short while, I am exhausted and overwhelmed. I am easily frustrated and resentful after the experience. That is negative energy that further impairs me. If I am in a crowd with family and friends, for example a wedding, anniversary or birthday, it is easier because people know me and someone will usually take the time to orient me to my surroundings.
How about trying to navigate a crowded room with lots of talking, shouting, music, clinking of bottles and glasses. That's not hectic enough because then you encounter people talking on their cell phones! Yikes, you don't know who is talking to whom! The funny thing is, you think they are talking to you and you foolishly answer them. For example, Person on cell phone: "Hey, how you doing?"
Unsuspecting blind person: "Fine, just fine, what's up?
Person on Cell phone: "Ah, I'm not talking to you, I'm on the phone."
Unsuspecting blind person: "Oh, sorry. (mentally, "Gee, thanks, pal.)
**23. This one is a challenge. We have to move very carefully and be polite. One time we were at a mall and it was shoulder to shoulder. I had my six year old daughter with me. I had to put my cane up in the air so they could see it. I would not dare let her out of my hand. I had to shout," Excuse me," so they could hear me. That was the last time I waited till close to Christmas to go shopping!
**24. Aside blindness, I'm also hearing impaired and have found that a tip that works for me is when I'm wanting to talk to someone in particular, I ask my family to look for that particular person and either take me to him or her or have the person come for me. When I'm done talking, I ask the person to take me back with my family or ask for someone else whom I want to talk with. When possible, I also prefer quiet and small groups to socialize in rather than crowds, but what remedy do we have when as blind people have to find ways to integrate in a sighted society?
Gerardo; Tampico, Mexico
**25. I am a vocational rehabilitation counselor, and I receive a weekly Email from a major hotel chain listing their current job openings. I have posted these listings to blind oriented listservs. I have occasionally received Emails from people asking why I would post such job listings to a blind oriented list. well! There was a time that I used to make generalizations about the kinds of work that can be done by a blind person, only to be corrected when I came upon a blind person doing the very job that I said blind persons couldn't do. I think that with the exception of driving or flying planes, I have at one time or another encountered a blind person doing just about any kind of job that I could think of.
Andy Baraco ACB-L listservTOP OF PAGE