Dog and Man Return to the City

Cover of Planet of the Blind....man and dog....

I decided to come to New York City after 16 months of COVID isolation. I live in Syracuse, New York five hours west by train. I needed a “return to the world” guide dog journey. My current guide is a yellow Labrador named Caitlyn and she too has been stuck at home. We came here: a solo team testing the waters.

It’s hard to relate the precise feelings that lead to my decision but I felt if I didn’t do this I’d never get out of my house. Then there was my concern about Caitlyn’s skills. Would she be rusty after only taking meager walks around my suburban neighborhood for 16 months? Would I be inattentive and therefore not a good guide dog handler? Frankly it seemed safer to stay home.

So I made myself buy a train ticket and then, just to make the city visit a bit more challenging, I bought a reserved seat to see the New York Mets play baseball at their home stadium in Queens. I’d have to take the subway from 42nd Street to Willets Point.

Pre-pandemic I was routinely out and about and these things would be second nature to me. Now they felt daunting and even somewhat frightening. The pull of my couch was fierce.

I was betting the pull of my guide dog would be better than the couch.

**

Checklist so far:

Amtrak: excellent.
Guide dog: relaxed.
Man: drank coffee and read.

Arrival at Moynihan Train Hall: no one to advise me where to go. Wandered about with dog and suitcase. Found myself on the corner of 33rd Street and 8th Avenue. No taxis. Called for an Uber. I was on the wrong side of the building for Uber. The driver drove several blocks out of his way to find me. Score one for human kindness. I felt proud of “us” man and dog. The Madison Square Garden-Penn Station neighborhood is the opposite of my couch. Jackhammers; blaring horns; migraine sunlight; throngs pushing; people colliding like lobsters in a trap. Fabulous! New York! And there we were!

**

The hotel is on East 47th Street and Third Avenue. The room is small and it’s filled with pointy objects. Hilton calls is a “boutique” hotel. It’s a well dressed formerly shabby joint and not much really but heck, the check in peeps were really friendly and they told me something I needed to know: you don’t need a Metrocard to ride the subways anymore! You just point at the turnstile with your iPhone and voila! (Yes. It works.) Soon New York will be as advanced as Helsinki!

**

Caitlyn remembers everything. She stops on a dime at every curb. She looks and guides with precision. On the 7 train to the Bronx she curled up under the seat. (One always worries about what’s under those seats.) Post-Covid the subway smells better.

At the Mets stadium, Citi-Field we had a few kerfuffles. Before you enter the ballpark you’re greeted by a team of frontline handlers who as far as I understand it are the folks who make sure you’ve got your COVID vaccination card and a ticket. The woman who met me said I couldn’ come in with my guide dog. Then she got into a minor argument with another guy who said it wasn’t a problem. Then a Mets ticket taker came up and wanted to know if it was a “real” guide dog. It was kind of shitty. But of course that’s what being back in the world is partly about: being treated like shit if you’re disabled. So I just said, c’mon man, you’re the Mets, act like you’re major league.

Once inside the stadium they couldn’t have been more helpful and kind.

**

So we’d made it to the park. We were in ADA seating behind third base. We were actually doing the big world thing. And there was a crowd and they were happy and people did the “wave” and there was lots of cheering and I had a hotdog and I gave Caitlyn some kibble from my pocket and I shared my bottled water with her and we didn’t care if “we ever get back” as the song goes. If you haven’t been to the Mets ballpark you should go. It’s beautiful.

**

The train back to Manhattan was a snap.
Went to a restaurant adjacent to my hotel and the waiter didn’t want to let us in because he’d apparently never seen a guide dog in his life. The owner appeared and let us in and was solicitous. Yep. Disabled and back in the world.

**

With any luck going home tomorrow will be easy. I’m a little concerned about finding my train.
The usual blind person traveling alone predicament. I remind myself I know the drill. And my dog does too.

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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