by Ken Stewart
Some time ago I wrote in "The Braille Forum" about an incident at a bus shelter at the terminus of a public transit commuter line. Another traveler asked me to watch his bag while he stepped away briefly, probably to use the nearby Burger King's men's room. During his absence I couldn't see his luggage, but I did notice what appeared to be a little old lady arrive, and then soon shuffle off again as if burdened by a heavy suitcase. Only from the returning fellow traveler's cheerful "Thank you" did I conclude that nothing was stolen.
After that incident I resolved to prepare a scripted caveat to recite if that situation ever recurred. So I did, and it did. I prepared a clear, concise statement to warn a seeker of help that I would be quite limited in my ability to guard luggage. I would be agreeable but not misleading. The circumstance did indeed repeat itself. As before, I was the only other person at the bus shelter, wearing no sunglasses, and with my long white cane already folded up in my backpack. A man, probably with a very full bladder, about to embark on a two-hour bus ride, had luggage with him. I responded to his friendly request with my prepared and rehearsed friendly disclaimer. His perfunctory response and hurried departure suggested that what I had said did not sink in. So, in those few minutes that I was alone with his who-knows-how-valuable personal possessions, I thought about how to break the news to him that he had entrusted his worldly goods to a blind guy. I wanted to inform, with my broadest smile, in a way that would minimize his likely embarrassment.
Like in the previous incident, his exuberant expressions of gratitude upon his return assured me that no criminal activity had transpired during his absence. I followed my new script, and casually noted that my very limited vision did not equip me to faithfully execute his wishes. Despite my efforts to prevent it, he profusely apologized, concluding his mea culpa with, "I am so sorry. I couldn't tell you were blind." What a great straight line for me! I replied, "The main thing is, potential thieves couldn't tell either."
Now I have one more reason to keep my long white cane on display as I wait for my bus.