By Brian Fischler
After our very enjoyable night in Dallas and our visit to Dealey Plaza, Ed and I head to Dallas Love Field airport to fly to Houston. I have never flown Southwest, so this should be interesting.
At Love Field we get checked in very quickly. When you are traveling with a service dog you need to go to the check-in counter to have the service dog listed on your boarding pass. It is why I never pre-check in, as there is no point to it for me. The lady at the counter was very helpful and has us sit down and wait for assistance to help us get through security. And here we go again. Ed and I wait, and we wait, and we wait. We question whether all the waiting we have to do is because of an airline/airport shortage of staff. Who knows, but it is not fun. Eventually two nice women come to escort us, Liz and Leslie. Liz has been working here for years, but Leslie is new. We have a delightful conversation as we breeze through security with no issues. Liz and Leslie take us right up to our gate as our plane is getting ready to board. As we are walking through the airport, I hear a Southwest employee announce, “Last call to board, if you are not here in two minutes, your life will change forever!” Pretty humorous for an announcement, and luckily it was not for our flight. Ed and I board first, which is nice because we get the bulkhead, a very spacious row for Wesley to spread out on the floor. We sit apart so it is just the two of us and Wesley in this row.
The flight is uneventful, and we get to Houston quickly. At the airport in Houston, two gentlemen meet Ed and me at our gate and walk us to the Lyft pick up spot. Our driver Max arrives. Ed sits up front and I am in the back with Wesley. Max is a high-end driver for Lyft, but she accidentally cancels our trip instead of hitting start. We tell her it is ok, and that we will pay cash on our way to the Embassy Suites downtown Houston. We have a lovely chat on our ride to the hotel. Max tells us how much she loves driving for Lyft and a little about living in Houston. We get to our hotel, say our good-byes to Max, and a lobby attendant gets us in line to check in. We make it to the front of the line. The reservation is under Fischler and the check-in clerk cannot find my name. No worries, as I have everything on my phone in a newly created Flight for Sight mailbox folder. I find my reservation confirmation and hand the clerk my phone. The problem: we are at the wrong hotel. Max dropped us off at the Hilton where the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) convention is being held and not at Embassy Suites where we are actually staying. Oh boy. Thank goodness I did not go ballistic when the clerk could not find our reservation. Amazingly, and probably because I did not go ballistic, the clerk takes the time to walk us all the way to Embassy Suites, which is about a block and a half away from the Hilton.
We successfully check in to the right hotel, get up to our room, get cleaned up, and then it is down to the free cocktail hour at Embassy Suites. Ed and I wander around aimlessly, and we run into our good friend, member of the all-blind fantasy football league, and fellow podcaster, David Goldstein. David also is a wonderful web designer and built the websites for both Flight for Sight and That Real Blind Tech Show. (Just in case anyone reading this is looking for a good web designer!)
David is low vision, and he helps us find the cocktail line, and our new best friend Rose, the bartender. Rose tells us the cocktail of the day is a Gin Fizz and Ed and I have one. David helps all of us find a table, and a nice server comes over and helps get us some snacks of chips and different bean dips. It’s not bad. David, Ed, and I do a lot of catching up. We talk smack about who we want to see and don’t want to see at the NFB conference tomorrow. Sorry, that conversation is confidential!
Our waitress surprises us with another round of drinks. David is drinking iced tea, but two more Gin Fizzes for Ed and me. We are having a great time talking and lose track of the time. We were invited to a private party being put on by the iBUG Today group who are based in Dallas and have rented a party suite over at the Hilton. I just happen to glance at my texts and realize I have missed a bunch of texts from Brad Schneider who is one of the hosts of the party, asking if we are still coming. I text back we are on our way, and David, Ed, and I begin to head over to the Hilton.
David guides us all to the Hilton and we find the elevator banks that will take us to the party on the 19th floor. When we get off the elevator we head towards the noise. When we get to the door, we are greeted by a guy named Wes, who it ends up is a big fan of That Real Blind Tech Show. Always nice for us to meet our fans, all three of them, ha.
We enter the packed room and Ed is off talking to tons of people about blind baseball. He meets a bunch of nice people from the NFB Colorado Center. We meet a guy named Guy, yes you read that correctly. Guy is an interesting fellow who plays classic rock and blues on the ukulele. Guy jams out a cover of “Johnny B. Goode,” and the room be a rocking, so don’t come a-knocking! Well, security obviously didn’t get the memo as they came a knocking. We take it down a notch. We grab a few beers and find a place to sit in the corner. Wes (the guide dog, not the man who is a fan of That Real Blind Tech Show) is chilling on the floor. Mike, the head of iBug Today, makes a few announcements, gives out a few door prizes, and how odd, David Goldstein wins the big drawing of an Apple gift card. Then Mike makes an announcement that there is a celebrity in the room. He means me! Yes, it is awkward, and I ask Mike if he knows the meaning of the word “celebrity”? We have some laughs, more beers and chat up the room, of course plugging Flight for Sight and That Real Blind Tech Show.
The party winds down and David, Ed, Brad, and I all head down to the bar in the lobby. We find a table in the packed bar, sit down, and finally order some dinner. The food is pretty good. It is about 1am, so we head back to our own hotel and call it a night.
Day two in Houston, we get Wesley fed and walked, and head over to the complimentary breakfast at the Embassy Suites. Stephanie, an employee greets us and helps Ed and me find a seat. We order omelets for breakfast and have our coffee, and then it is off to the Hilton for our first day of the NFB conference. We actually meet a very nice employee who walks us over to the Hilton and takes us up to the FedEx Office location inside, so I can pick up promotional postcards for Flight for Sight. Next, Ed and I head downstairs to get some water, as it is pretty hot in Houston. We walk around the lobby handing out some of the cards and then head up to the exhibit hall. At first, we wander around the exhibit hall a little cluelessly but then we learn that GoodMaps had mapped out the entire conference with indoor mapping. Once we knew about this, using the indoor navigation to find things such as elevators, booths, and restaurants was freaking awesome. Shout out to our friend Mike May, Chief Evangelist at GoodMaps.
The first booth we come across that we wanted to check out was the Guiding Eyes for the Blind booth. I run into Chelsea from Guiding Eyes who has done a home visit with Wesley and me. We chat it up for a bit, and we discover that Wesley has some dirty ears. Never fear though as Chelsey is here, and she gets some ear cleaner and gives Wesley a good ear cleaning.
Next, we come across the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) booth. I decide to have a little fun with them as I say, “APH? Never heard of you. Have you been around for a long time, or are you new?” Unfortunately, the gentleman at the booth does not get my joke and dryly informs me they have been around for over a hundred years. Woosh! Over his head, so Ed and I head on.
Next up was the Aira booth, a sponsor of Flight for Sight. We say hello to the gang there and talk for a bit. We then hit a few other booths before we get to the @OKO booth and see our friends William and Vincent, two of the founders of Oko. Oko is an app that makes pedestrian signals accessible. We get caught up with them and talk about getting together again in NYC when they return from Belgium. Finally, we make it to the iBug Today booth where we run into Brad and Wes. We talk for a bit and then fire up GoodMaps to find the elevators. The app works perfectly. Ed and I head back to our hotel for a little relaxation before the evening begins.
After resting, Ed and I hit the Embassy Suites happy hour. We get a couple of gin and tonics as the specialty drink that night does not sound that great. Our friend Rose the bartender helps us find some seats. We are hanging for a bit when David Goldstein shows up with another fan of That Real Blind tech Show, Simon from Philadelphia. Simon has emailed in to the show before, so it was nice to meet him in person. So, now I’ve met two out of three of my podcast’s fans. Lol. Simon decides to join us for dinner, and the four of us head over to Pappadeaux, a Cajun joint. We sit at the bar since there is a wait. I use the Be My Eyes Virtual Volunteer to scan and read the menu. Since it is a Cajun joint, I know I want a shrimp dish so I ask the app to read me the shrimp dishes. I end up going with the Pasta Mardi Gras and it was absolutely fantastic. Simon orders the same thing. I guess he really is a fan!
We then head back to the convention hotel, and since it is Texas, we mosey up to the bar. It is very hectic, so I ask the gentleman next to me to help me flag down the bartender. He does, and we get to talking. It turns out Clay and his son-in-law Bryan are in town from Beaumont, Texas, for the Astros game. They have a nephew who is going blind and having a tough time with it. We offer our advice and talk all evening. Their section at the Astros game the next day is not far from ours. We really hit it off with our new friends Clay and Bryan. (Great name, even if he spells it wrong.) It is getting late so we head back to our hotel.
Day three in Houston, the morning is the same: walk Wesley, get breakfast, but then we head back to the room to set up our gear to record an interview with Mike May for the Flight for Sight podcast. Mike shows up, we chat for a bit and then begin to record. The interview goes very well, and it will eventually come out once I have had some time to edit it.
We then meet our group of seven in the lobby to head to the Astros game. The group of fine-looking people includes David Goldstein, Brad Schneider, Mike May, Ed, and two employees from GoodMaps, Brent and Evelyn, and of course me. We were planning on taking the shuttle from our hotel to the ballpark but for some odd reason the shuttle driver picked the worst time to take his lunch break, so we decide to walk to the ballpark as it is not that far. It is a nice walk, and we use a combination of GoodMaps and the sighted people with us to get to the ballpark.
As we enter the ballpark, they note down that Mike May and I have a guide dog, but no hassle of any kind. They scan our tickets, and we go to find our seats. As we are headed to find our seats, we run into Clay and Bryan from the night before. We chat it up and have a few laughs. We get to our seats and Evelyn heads off to Guest Services to get us an in-stadium radio headset, as we discover that the radios we brought with us have a good 30 second delay from real time. Since it is July 4th, it is dollar hot dog day. I ask David to get me 36 hot dogs, but then change my mind, and give David a twenty and ask him if he could grab me a beer and two hot dogs. No Joey Chestnut here. David goes and grabs them, and shockingly, even with dollar dog day, there is no change because the beer is $18. Hey, somebody has to pay these ridiculous ballplayer salaries!
The Astros put up about 5 or 6 runs, but the Rockies no show and get shutout. We have a great time at the game but decide to beat the crowd and leave at the end of the 7th inning.
We head back to our hotel and bid adieu to Mike May, Evelyn, and Brent. Hey guess what? It is happy hour time at Embassy Suites again. In honor of July 4th, the happy hour cocktail is a vodka drink called The Patriot. Ed and I get one of those as our friend Rose serves us. Brad gets a couple of beers, and David gets his iced tea. We are chatting with Rose for a bit when she says the most shocking thing I have ever heard. She says to Ed, while I am sitting right there, that Ed is obviously the funny one! Say what, Rose? I say, “Then I must be the good looking one.” Honestly, Rose, Ed is definitely not the funny one. My shock eventually wears off, but Ed’s ego is probably good for the rest of the trip.
We close down the cocktail hour and decide we should record a podcast with David about the NFB convention, so we head up to the room. As we are getting ready to record, Mr. Funny Guy Ed gets a phone call. It is Clay and Bryan, our new friends from the hotel bar and Astros game, and they want to take us to dinner. Really, well there are four of us here, are you sure? Yeah, in fact, the entire family is going including Clay’s wife Robbie, and Bryan’s kids, so there will be eleven of us total. We all meet up in the lobby, and we head over to a steak joint called The Sawgrass. We will have a bit of a wait for our group, so Clay gets everyone cocktails. We have an incredible dinner of steaks, bread, an amazing appetizer of shrimp with jalapeño and drinks. We end up closing the restaurant down as our conversation just keeps going and going. We are totally blown away that Bryan picks up the entire tab. It could not have been cheap. But the evening is not over.
We head back to the bar at the Hilton and get a table. Ed and I try to put our cards down for drinks, but Clay says to us, “Not tonight, not tomorrow, not ever!” Clay pays for all the drinks. We have an amazing time, and Clay and I get into a quote off of lines from the movie Tombstone. I, of course, win. It is now about two in the morning, and the crazies are out tonight as it is July 4th. Clay and Bryan insist on walking us back to our hotel. It was an absolutely incredible evening. I had had a lot of misconceptions about Texas before getting to go to Dallas and Houston. All I can say now is, if Houston can put a giant dome over the city and air condition it all, I am moving here. The people of Texas have been so awesome to Ed and me.
Even though we are absolutely exhausted, it is all about the fans, so David, Ed, and I head back to our room and record a podcast about all of our time in Houston. The podcast will eventually be released as a Flight for Sight podcast, That Real Blind Tech Show, and on David’s podcast iCantCU. Of course, I still need to email David the file. Yes, things have been that hectic.
Since it is now 3:30 AM, Ed and I decide to skip breakfast and just head to the airport. Phoenix, you are going to have an awful lot to live up to as Dallas and now Houston have set some pretty high standards on my Flight for Sight journey.
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Listen to a Flight for Sight podcast with Mike May, hosted by Brian Fischler in Houston: Episode 2 – A Conversation with Mike May From NFB 2023 here.
Photo Description 1: David, Ed, and Brian are doing a cheers at dinner. Wesley, Brian’s guide dog is resting below the table.
Photo Description 2: David, Brian, Ed, and Mike are at the Houston Astros game. They are with two other people. The field is in the background.
Photo Description 3: Brian, Ed, and David are having dinner. They are at a long table with 8 other people.