By Yvonne Garris BSW

For the majority of my life I have lived within hearing distance of a train whistle. This to me is one of the best sounds because riding the train gives me a sense of freedom. Jimmy Stewart even agrees with me in one of my all time favorite movies It’s a Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart’s character asks what the three best sounds are and one of them is a train whistle. To him his three things also represented freedom. In my opinion at least, the train is one of the best inventions. It is a safe easy way to travel and has less hassle than either flying or driving.

The reason I have been thinking about trains is because a good friend of mine Max Ivy has just found out that he has been awarded one of only twenty-four of Amtrak Writers in Residence (#AmtrakResidency) awards for 2016. This exciting news is extra special because Max is totally blind and from what he tells me among the other winners there are movie writers and authors. It is a great thing that Amtrak has awarded this prestigious residency to someone that happens to be blind. I applaud them for seeing past his disability.

His news however made me start to think of the first time I took the train by myself after I lost my sight. I was in rehab and we could come home on the weekends and my mom would come and pick me up, but she had to drive an hour and a half each way. I inquired if I could receive some extra mobility training so I could start to bring the train home. While I had to give up some class time I was excited to be able to gain some independence.

My mobility instructor would take me to the train station a few times a week. Where he showed me how to navigate my way to a store and where the Diet Pepsi’s were (I always liked to have a soda for the train), where the bathrooms were and most importantly the red cap station. Before I was blind I never knew about red caps, but they are wonderful. Red caps will help you get to the correct train and if you are connecting they will help you do that as well. Since I was generally going home I did not need a red cap to meet me in Lancaster, but when I went to New York I did have one meet the train.

Now after all my practicing with my instructor in tow I thought I was ready to navigate the train station alone. The rehab center gave me a ride to the train station and I told them I did not need any help after they dropped me off, just get me to the door. Since I smoked at that time, I smoked a cigarette and then went inside. As soon as I walked in the door I asked myself what in the world I was doing. All of a sudden I was frozen with fear and doubted that I could navigate like I had learned.

I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I could do it and just remember what I was taught. I found the store and bought my Pepsi so that was the first hurdle. Maybe I could do this. Now to find the red cap station, I knew it wasn’t far. I landed up at the other end of the station, so I turned around and found the information desk. I knew I went too far so I went back the other way and landed up at the doors again. So I tried to start over, but landed up at the information desk again. While I still thought I could do it, there was a red cap there so they helped me, thankfully.

That first trip was so wonderful; I was doing something by myself. I was asserting my independence and maybe, just maybe I could handle this blind thing. Things got easier each time I went to the train station and I am happy to tell you that I have even gone to New York City on the train. My arrival in New York was good; however it was very difficult getting back, so I’m not sure if I will do that one alone again or not. I will however continue to take the train and who knows maybe next year I can be one of the twenty-four Amtrak Writers in Residence!


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