'I just kind of forget you’re blind sometimes'
Columnist Steve Lange talks to Chris Mathews.
Ten (or so) questions with Chris Mathews, advocate for the visually impaired, Honkers fan, child care worker.
So did you walk here through Peace Plaza (we’re meeting in the Galleria near Bravo Espresso)?
You made a video evaluating downtown in terms of accessibility for the vision-impaired. So rate downtown on a 1 to 10 when it comes to accessibility, 10 being the best.
It goes for about a 6. But the people in charge are now thinking more about these issues. It looks like there is progress being made in some of those areas.
What’s something you understand that I don’t?
I don’t know what to assume you understand, but I will guess I better understand the way that sound dictates your environment.
And is that because of your vision impairment?
It’s hard to say, but probably at least partially.
Because you pay more attention to it, or ...?
I pay more attention to it, and I have to take more from it. A really good example of that ... imagine there’s a bike coming down the road. You’re going to see that bike from a block away. You can track it. You might hear it at the last second as a side effect, but you’re tracking it visually.
For me, I might hear that bike from about the same distance you see it, because the only way I have to pick up on it is hearing, and then I’m going to track it auditorily, and I can tell you what side of the street it’s coming from, how fast it’s going. Because I have to.
Tell me about skydiving.
I want to do it again. The guy that I jumped with has jumped like 15,000 times. He’s a bad ass. He gave me probably the best life advice I’ve heard. He’s like, “Whatever you’re feeling as you’re going through this, just feel that. Because if you spend time fighting your fear, you’re not going to be able to let go enough to enjoy it.” And so I did. We’re going up, and I’m a little nervous. He opens the door, and of course, it’s windy as all hell. It was the calmest I’ve ever felt in my life.
You have mentioned about people being cool about you being blind. What does that entail?
So many people in everyday interactions have an anxiety and a fear about what I might need. And that comes out as very aggressive.
Talking super loud?
Yeah. Or over-enunciating things. “Hel-lo, sir. Would you like a pret-zel?” Yeah, bro, I’ll take a pretzel. One of my buddies and I were at a ball game one time, and he goes, “I just kind of forget you’re blind sometimes.” And my response was, “Well, if we’re ever approaching a flight of stairs, please don’t.” But I knew what he meant in that he didn’t view me as the blind guy. I’m just a buddy. We’re going to a ball game. People don’t need to be anxious.
I find you inspirational. You inspire me.
Ha! Yes. You must know that kind of stuff drives me insane. You know how many times I’ve been working for the Honkers, and people will come up to me after the game and say “You are such an inspiration, the way you walk around those stands.” But I’m not an inspiration because I collected my stuff, got my socks on, and went to go get a hot dog. People seem to think a lot of times that if you have a disability that there’s some inherent, I don’t know, amazingness to the fact that I’m alive.
Give me a song that defines you.
Right now it’s “All I Need,” by Goose. Also, today is National Goose Day.
So are you just naturally drawn to things that have to do with birds?
Apparently. My girlfriend has a pet goose. I’ve worked for the Honkers. I listen to the band Goose.
Tell me about the Reverend C. “Frog” Russell.
The what now?
Yeah, that may have been a different Chris Mathews. I wasn’t sure about that one.
I wish the Reverend C. "Frog" Russell was someone I knew. Or maybe not.
OK. That’s a good way to end this. I’ll see you later.
You’ll definitely see me before I see you.
Oh boy. I’ll follow you out (of the Galleria). It will be inspirational to watch.
Just tell me when I get to the escalator.
Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.