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April 12, 2005

Taking my other senses for granted

Last Friday afternoon I was in downtown Minneapolis on Nicollet and 9th waiting for my express bus to come and wisk me home. I don't usually catch my bus at this location, but I had spent the afternoon at a conference at the convention center and this bus stop was a short walk away. Anyway, when I got to the stop I noticed another usual rider of my bus, a blind rider, waiting with his cane at the stop. A blind bus rider will typically wait at the curb of the stop and ask every bus that comes by if it is the bus he or she wants to ride. Knowing this, and knowing that this bus rider is waiting for the same bus as me, I approached him and asked him if he was waiting for the 663.

He answered that he was indeed waiting for the 663 and that he had missed the bus he would normally ride. So, I told him that I was also waiting for the 663 and that I would let him know when it arrived. He thanked me and we had a nice conversation about our work, kids, the weather, etc. etc. Anyway, the 663 came, we both got on, and we sat in separate seats.

As the bus traveled it's route I started to think how exactly does this blind gentlemen know when to get off the bus? How does he know when to pull the cord? I knew where he would get off since I've been on the bus when he has boarded, so I decided to watch to see how he would decide when it was time to get off. Until that time I sat back and read my book (Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, if you'd like to know.)

After leaving the Louisiana Transit Center I started to pay attention to see if I could figure out how he would know when to pull the cord. Sure enough, though, as we approached his stop he pulled the cord, got up, and exited the bus. I was absolutely flummoxed. How the heck did he know that his stop was coming up?

I started to think of possible reasons why he would pull the cord at that point. Did he and the bus driver have an understanding that he needed to get off at a certain stop? I quickly decided no since he had already told me that he had missed his normal bus. Did he count to a certain number after we left the Louisiana Transit Center and then pull the cord? That also couldn't be it since there were a few stops before his stop with people getting off. And he wasn't sitting with anyone so no one could have told him. How the heck did he know to get off without seeing the stop???

Then I realized that his stop was at the top of a hill. And while this is just a guess, I'm pretty sure that he knows when he starts to feel the incline of the hill begin he should pull the cord. It probably takes a lot of concentration for him to know exactly when to pull the cord since the hill he is looking for does not have that sharp of an incline. He probably prefers to sit alone also so that he can focus on the hills the bus rides on after the transit center stop.

I was very impressed with his ability to concentrate on what was going on around him in order to figure out where his stop is without even seeing it. It probably comes as second nature to him. In fact, he probably doesn't have any difficulty pulling off this feat at all. Needless to say, I would be toast if I had to do the same thing everyday. I would probably be riding all the way to Wilmar by the time I realized I should get off.

Anyway, I may give it a try some time. I am going to try to focus and concentrate on what, besides my eyesight, could clue me in to the fact that my stop is coming up. I'll let you know how it goes. However, until then I'd like to thank my new bus riding friend for teaching me a thing or two about using other senses beside eyesight. It was a good lesson for me.

Thanks for stopping by.

Posted by snackeru at April 12, 2005 7:43 AM | Life


You have my phone number Shane for when you close your eyes and miss your stop and end up in Buffalo.

Posted by: Cheesehead Craig at April 12, 2005 8:02 AM

My in-laws are both blind (yup, you read it--and they raised three boys, no less). My father in-law can tell you exactly what intersection we're at when stopped at a traffic light, in Cincinnati, where he lives.

You're right though--there ARE other cues than simply the visual ones that we've arrived at our stop, and since this guy rides the bus all the time, he probably knows how long he needs to be on the bus, how many intersections to go through, etc. Imagine him on another, less familiar, bus though. That's why bus drivers are supposed to call out the stops.

Happy riding!

Posted by: Laurene at April 12, 2005 10:27 AM

Hey Shane, could you send me an email? I'm working on a project for a class and I think you might be a very valuable resource. Thanks.

Posted by: Will Young at April 12, 2005 3:10 PM

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