Driving While Blind

[Today, I will try to reconstruct the item I wrote yesterday about driving while blind.  It will likely be less funny as it will be less fresh but that’s life.  Leon Gilbert, the man behind Blind News (one of my greatest sources for blog ideas) posted a comment yesterday that made reference to some serious blind driving projects.  I am aware of these and will, when in a serious mood, write something about them.  Today’s item will, however, be pretty silly and in the semi gonzo form I’ve been taking lately.

Some material in today’s article might not be suitable for young readers.  There is nothing sexual but there are comments about the use of various intoxicants during a period in my personal history.  I do not advocate drug use, alcohol abuseinsanity, , promiscuity or violence but, as the late great Hunter S. Thompson once said, “It worked for me for a long time.”  Today, I don’t use any illicit drugs or drink alcohol as I think for a living and such substances do little for the clarity of mind I need to do my jobs.  I rarely get involved in violence anymore as I am old, weak and pathetic.  Promiscuity ended when the women started saying, “no,”.  I keep enough insanity around to make up for the others though.]

Back in 1977, the State of New Jersey in its infinite wisdom found it appropriate to issue me, one Christian David Hofstader, a license to operate an automobile.  They seemed to miss the fact that I spent most of my leisure time swilling beer, smoking pot and ingesting nearly any other intoxicant available in freakdom – a fact the local juvenile justice system knew quite well.  They also neglected to notice that I had nearly no remaining peripheral vision, a fact I kept well hidden.

“It doesn’t matter what’s beside you,” said the driver’s education teacher and my wrestling coach at Union Catholic High School (I won’t include his name to protect the guilty); “just drive straight ahead and you’ll do fine.”  While taking advice from a gym teacher who would, on occasion, purchase some very potent Hawaiian herbal remedies from my little cottage business might  lead to a poor outcome, my testosterone driven seventeen year old self wanted to drive as much as did my Molson swilling, bong water stained buddies.  

As Bruce described the Jersey suburban landscape of the time, “Baby this town rips the bones from your back, it’s a death trap, a suicide rap, we gotta get out while we’re young!”  Driving meant freedom to us suburbanites.  So, license in wallet, I hit the road.  I slammed the gas pedal to the metal on my 1972 Toyota Corolla and raced up to a blazing 45 miles per hour, at least double the speed I could reach on my bicycle and, as the rust fell off the once yellow body and Blue Oyster Cult blared from the 8 track, I had achieved Nirvana – Jersey style.

Fortunately for me and the occasional daredevil willing to ride as a passenger when I drove, the six accidents in which I was involved during my legal driving career resulted in nothing more than the occasional ding and an increase in my dad’s insurance rates.

Ultimately, a judge forced me to turn in my license during a trial resulting from a bit of nastiness involving the Union County Police, beer, marijuana, ice skating, a friend suffering a head injury (unrelated to anything automotive), a whole lot of shouting and those sticks cops carry striking my head a few times.  My attorney used my poor vision and the brutality of the police as the basis of my defense.  Somehow, the judge couldn’t reconcile my legal blindness with my legally driving so he forced me to surrender my license, pay $100 in court fees and let me go on my way.

A little detour in our story:  A few months after my adjudication, the arresting officer in my case (a name I will leave out to protect the innocent, his family and such) attended a party with a whole lot of other police officers.  After consuming large amounts of alcohol and who knows what else, some of New Jersey’s Finest started to play a game called “cop.”  I don’t know the rules of this game but I suppose someone does.  The boy in blue who arrested me on that winter night, with a blood alcohol level approaching flammable, shocked his fellow officers by firing a real bullet directly between the eyes of his partner, killing him instantly.  In the same courthouse where I gave up my right to drive, he received a life sentence and had his life handed over to the care of Rahway State Prison in Woodbridge, New Jersey.  I hear the other residents of such places treat former cops pretty poorly; I don’t know, I’ve never lived in a state prison.

The last time I drove a car happened during COMDEX 1994.  My business partners and I sat for a long time in the Caesar’s Palace tequila bar, the only drinking establishment 3000 miles from home where the bartenders knew our names and served us our drinks for free.  We drank beer and tequila shots until we couldn’t stand those damned talking statues outside of the place.  We picked ourselves up from our stools, not a simple feat at that point and staggered across Las Vegas Blvd. to Bally’s to drink in their tequila bar.  After a few hours there, the idea of my driving the rental seemed like a brilliant diversion so we yelled, “To the Lincoln!”  And set back across the street to retrieve our car from the Caesar’s valet.

When the kid brought our car around, Steve, our CFO and designated drunk driver, hopped behind the wheel and headed east, toward the desert.  When we passed Henderson, well on our way to Boulder City, Steve pulled off onto a deserted patch of sand hills, dirt, cactus and total darkness.  He hopped out of the car, ran to the passenger’s seat as I slid behind the wheel, we all buckled up and Eric, our lead software engineer, a MIT graduate and now executive at a very successful Silicon Beach technology company, yelled, “Let’s do it!”

I put the vehicle into drive, slammed down on the gas and listened as my boys shouted directions to turn right, left, stop, reverse.  We flew off sand dunes, catching air in a Lincoln Town Car, we slid, we spun, we whooped and hollered and, when we grew tired, Steve drove us back to the MGM Grand.  In the parking lot, a couple of guys asked, “What happened to your car?”  We explained and it turned out they wrote for PC magazine and mentioned us in a COMDEX highlights article in the next edition.

Before returning the car to Avis, we removed a chunk of chaparral from the grill and used Super Glue to repair it.  With strapping wire, we put the muffler back near its original position and, with only my Leatherman toolkit, we got the rear bumper back to where it belonged.  We ran the vehicle through a car wash to get rid of the cactus juice, sand and other crud and brought the car back looking pretty nice.  I often wonder what happened to the next people who rented that particular Town Car.

I found it interesting when I read an article that came through Blind News from the Illinois based, Belleville News Democrat that described how Chicago public schools require students with vision impairments to pass the written portion of the driver’s education test in order to graduate from high school.  The article quotes a blind 16 year old, Mayra Ramirez, as saying, “In other classes, you don’t really feel different because you can do the work other people do.  But in driver’s ed, it does give us the feeling we’re different. In a way, it brought me down, because it reminds me of something I can’t do.”

Clearly, young Ms Ramirez hasn’t predicted the beer bashes, hydroponic bong hits, electric Kool-Aid parties, grain alcohol, Jell-O shots and other hazards to which she will undoubtedly receive invitations when she reaches college.  After any of these events, she could drive as skillfully as any frat boy, sorority babe or chemistry geek who cooks up the freakiest intoxicants in the basement of the science building.

The article continues, “It defies logic to require blind students to take this course … and waste their academic time,” said Meta Minton, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education.  I’ll quote Paul Simon here, “When I look back at all the crap I learned in high school,” things like history lessons that described the white supremacist genocide of American Indians with the lovely euphemism, “manifest destiny” as if God himself endowed those of European ancestry the right to kill, torture, steal and maim in order to be blessed from sea to shining sea, I actually think the driver’s education classes I took probably provided me with far more useful information.  Put in the light of how issues like slavery and the use of atomic weapons against human targets were taught, I’m certain that traffic laws came in handy far more often than the bleached out, Disnified past that never happened but was forced upon us did.

The article adds, Brent Johnston, a teacher at a suburban high school and chairman of the Illinois High School/College Driver’s Education Association, told the Chicago Tribune that the classes aren’t a waste of time for blind students.
“I don’t think you can ever get enough traffic safety,” Johnston said.  I’m just glad this guy doesn’t teach knife throwing or gun safety as that might encourage him to take truly dangerous actions.

In all seriousness, though, blind people have entered automobile rallies and others have driven around portions of the UK and Canada to raise awareness of various causes involving people with vision impairments.  Carnegie Melon University has a robotic automobile that drives based on GPS, cyber-vision and all kinds of other artificial intelligence which may take over the personal transportation world in a few decades.  Independently operating some kind of vehicle is probably the Holy Grail of blindness technology and I, for one, look forward to experiencing it someday.  Just don’t ask me to be a beta tester…


Thanks to Jonathon Mosen and Matt Daly for featuring Blind Confidential in their blogs yesterday.  We’ve added links to their blogs in the list of blindness related blogs up at the top of this page.

An unfortunate act by an idiot spammer or, more likely, a bot released by an idiot spammer, has forced Blind Confidential to change its policy of open comments to a moderated status.  So, if you post a comment, you’ll have to wait until I get to my email so I can approve it before it will show up here.  I promise to approve anything that pertains to the topics discussed herein, positive, negative or death threats.

In today’s piece, I take certain attitudes held by white supremacists to task.  If you happen to follow this doctrine, you probably want to kill me just because I have a birth defect.  This behavior advocated by the slow minded members of the KKK, National Front, Arian Nation and other organizations populated by lunkheaded skinheads amuses me as they don’t believe in evolution so what difference does it make if I swim in the gene pool or not?  I, on the other hand, do believe in evolution and believe someone should add a little chlorine to the gene pool in order to get rid of these neo-Nazi types.  I’m not advocating killing these people, castration will do nicely.

If you consider yourself a “conservative” or “neo-con” who feels badly about my statements about the overt racism in the history books I grew up with, consider this, the real Nazi Party, the one back in the bad old days of Germany, first started their genocide by executing homosexuals.  Next, people like me, people with birth defects, became the subjects of horrific experiments.  Nazi rhetoric always singled out Jews and other foreigners who, shortly after we blinks hit the laboratories, found themselves in extermination camps.  Recently retired Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, who voted with the majority in Bush v. Gore to put W. into office, in a speech earlier this week, probably became the most prominent American ever to suggest that our nation may be heading toward dictatorship.

So, when I see the governments of various states and the president of the United States openly making discriminatory statements about gays and lesbians and passing mob rules legislation about people from foreign nations, I start thinking about buying that Mossberg M9, twelve gauge, pump action shotgun with halogen blinding light affixed atop it.  I’ll have nine rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber, you’ll be as blind as me, so come on you crazy Kluckers, let’s rumble.


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I'm an accessibility advocate working on issues involving technology and people with print impairment. I'm a stoner, crackpot, hacker and all around decent fellow. I blog at this site and occasionally contribute to Skepchick. I'm a skeptic, atheist, humanist and all around left wing sort. You can follow this blog in your favorite RSS reader, and you can also view my Twitter profile (@gonz_blinko) and follow me there.

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