I Survived the GDB Reunion Whirlwind!

Well, I’m home. My god, I didn’t know I could sleep as much as I did, but I sure can. I got home yesterday morning at around 9, stayed up for a little while, keeled over for a nap, took Trix out to pee, came back up, slept some more, got up, fed her, took her out, ate some stuff, checked some email, napped some more, then took her out for final potty duty, and then was down for the count for the rest of the night. Apparently, when Steve looked at me once, I was face-down in my pillow. I didn’t even have my head on its side. I was just laying straight down. I never do that.

so here’s my reunion weekend in a nutshell. It’s a long sucka. Hopefully people won’t be too bored. First off, there were some things I learned about this adventure. I really should have come a day earlier, and I should have coordinated with people from my area so we could all arrive a day early. Those are two things I need to do for next time so it’s not so friggin chaotic. It’s never good to arrive tired in a strange place when all 74 other dogs that are going to be there have already arrived. will you be an effective team leader? Hell no! Will your dog behave? Hell no! Will you be able to handle her behaviour? You’ll try, but my money’s on hell no! You’ll be so frazzled you certainly won’t be as effective as you could be.

On Friday morning, I dragged my bedraggled butt out of bed at 4 in the morning and got ready to go downstairs and meet the car that would take me to the airport. It was there, right on time, and the driver heaved the two bags I packed, one full of Trixie gear, one full of my gear in the big old van. I’m such a loser, having a dog suitcase. Trixie and I got in and we were off. The driver and fellow passengers weren’t much for conversation, so I just sort of lounged until we got to the airport. the driver took me to an agent, and they took over. the Hot Potato game had started, I was the hot potato.

It’s a miracle that I’d saved the directions to the hotel in my cellphone because I forgot that Customs always wants to know the street address of where you’re going, and I certainly hadn’t memorized it. I had for GDB training, but I’d forgotten for this one, so I just handed them my cell phone and said “I’m going to that place.”

I had another lesson about never knowing who you’re talking to, until it was too late. I sat down in my nice Bulkhead seat and there was one open beside me to give pooch and I lots of room. In the window seat was a nice woman and we got talking about all manner of things. She made me pretty comfortable, so I joked that I made a point to not watch Mayday before flying because it’s a bad thing to watch before going on a plane. She got very insistent that it was something you should never watch and air travel was the safest way to travel. It eventually came out that she was the wife of the pilot that was flying our plane. How often do you end up flying beside the pilot’s wife?

Poor Trixter had a mildly frightening flight from Toronto to Vancouver. As we were flying, Trixie sat bolt upright and started trembling like mad. I’d never seen her do that before, so I started to wonder if we were flying through some not so pleasant weather. Sure as shootin’, a couple of minutes later, we had turbulence. Then, before the turbulence had passed completely, Trixie calmed down again and lay down. My poor little canine barometer.

the funniest thing she did on that plane was try and make her self comfortable. While doing so, she stuck her nose under the curtain that separated us from first class and started sniffing. Oh, so you think you should be in there, do you, Trixter? We did get bumped there once, but that was a fluke.

We arrived in Vancouver, and got treated like royalty. We even ran into a lady who used to raise for GDB before she moved to Canada. We got to ride in a golf cart thingamabob, and I wasn’t even injured like the last time we rode in one! Wooo! Bonus, baby, bonus! One of the people who escorted us around said confidently, “I know where you’re going. You’re going to a guide dog alumni reunion. Some other people were flying there yesterday.” Ding ding ding. Get the woman a prize!

As we made our way to the dash 8 we had to ride, Trixie got uber excited about someone…someone with a guide dog perhaps? that would be affirmative. I never saw him again though.

There was one big thing of note about this Air Canada Jazz plane. Remember how Air Canada Jazz wasn’t going to carry life vests? Well, they’re still carrying food, and for free! Hmmm. I appreciated the food, but if we were going to crash, I’d rather have paid for the food and had the lifejacket available.

I landed in Portland, and a confused woman took me down to baggage claim because I said I would be meeting another girl with a guide dog there. But lucky for the other girl, she’d gotten there early and was already at the hotel. I checked my messages and got the scoop. So, since my suitcases were kind of clumsy, there was no way I was going to take the light rail thingy alone. I found a shuttle driven by a less than stellor man. We’ll get there later. I don’t know what service it was called, because he always said it too fast. Anyway, just as we left the airport, he insisted that I would need to be picked up at the Doubletree Hotel at 1:30 on Sunday for my 6:30 flight because traffic was really bad. I was too tired and confused, and stupidly, *slaps head vigorously*, said “ok, if you think that’s what I need to do…” Never ever ever do that, guys! Learn from my mistake. Then again, probably noone else would be that bone stupid. We’ll get to that later.

So I get to the hotel, and stumble in like a lost sheep. Baaa! I get my key, and go up to the room, and my room-mates were already there, happily checked in. One of them was Autumn who was my room-mate from when I trained. the other one was a friend of hers, and she’s now a friend of mine. She has a pretty cool dog, who I swear is Trixie’s long-lost sister. they’re both really sloppy eaters, they both do similar routines after eating, and they’re both black labbies. Hers is much more dominant than mine, that’s for sure.

My room-mates graciously showed me where the dog-relieving zone was. Now, let me explain the dog-relieving zone, because it needs to be explained. they set up a part of the parking garage to contain several large boxes filled with shavings. think of an enormous cat litter box. In theory, our dogs are all supposed to get in the box and do their thing and we all scoop. If we miss any, they had staff who were checking every so often.

Now, GDB had thought of everything, including making the way to the boxes really easy. You went out the hotel main door, and made a right. You walked until you hit a rug. You made a left there and crossed a driveway. You knew you were good when you hit another rug! Then you went straight until you hit, what? A rug? Yeah! you made a right and the boxes were ahead. Then they had music over at the trash cans. How friggin cream of cool is that?

My dog did not think the boxes were anything remotely close to cool. After a few visits, I would say “right,” and she would say “Yeah right!” If she was feeling generous, she would pee in the boxes, and then fire herself out of there as if propelled by a rocket. Apologies to the folks who were assigned the fun of hosing down the area around the boxes. My dog was one of the ones who did the bulk of her business *outside* the box. No poop ever went inside the litter box. I think I could hear her voice saying, “What do you think I am, a cat?”

So anyway, I got all registered, and got a backpack full of goodies, complete with a program. Cool beans. That backpack came in handy for carting gift shop loot. I got an orientation to the lobby, which was awesome if my fog-laiden brain could take any of it in. Score another one for having more time to adjust. Trixie got perfectly oriented to the essentials, like where to sleep, where to poop, and where to meet the pack, aka the elevators.

This was a pretty stressful time for me and the Trixter. She wanted to sniff every frickin dog butt that was in snarfing range, and if they weren’t, she would seek them out. this meant she was not thinking like a guide dog. She wore her gental leader, got a few high collars, and I knew the trainers were watching, so I was wondering what they were thinking of my inadequacies. Thankfully, a lot of other dogs were going nuts too.

After I was semi-oriented, we went down to the little wine and cheese reception. That was cool, and I nibbled a lot of goodies. I was hungry. too much flying. They had us guess some dogs’ names and stuff who were there, and basically gave us a little welcome.

Somewhere in there, I harassed the gift shop ladies so I could ask them what they had, bought some stuff, and checked out the Victor Reader Stream demonstration. The Victor Reader Stream is basically a suped up mp3-player. Well, it can do more than that. Ah, this should explain it. Anyway, they were offering them at a pretty sweet rate, like half price, so I was very interested.

After that was over, I knew there wasn’t much time before a bunch of us from an email list that I am on were going to meet up to go eat. I attempted to find the relieving box, or the box as we called it by the end. People in the hotel who weren’t part of our group must have thought we were pretty weird because we would say to each other, “So, are you off to the box? I have to take Trixie to the box.” They’d be like “box? What the hell kind of collection of weirdos are these?”

In my quest for the box, I made our little dinner-gathering late, oops, sorry guys. After a little discussion, we went to Applebees. I thought at least one of us would have had some form of GPS. In fact, I was banking on it. But all we got were some directions, followed them, and miraculously arrived! Then we had the fun of cramming 6 dogs under a table! someone took a picture of the heaps of dogs. I wish I had it. I think we scared the staff for a second, but they were way cool after they took a deep breath.

After we left Applebees, well…we sorta got split unintentionally into two groups. There was the group who got home without help and then there was the group I was in. I was no help. I just wandered like a lost sheep, baaa. But a dude helped us get back to the hotel, so it was all good.

I wish I could apologize to the desk dude. Ya see, I’d ordered a roll-away bed since I was sharing a room with two girls and the room just has two double beds in it. I’m not that cosy with either girl, so I wanted my own bed. I saw it was not there earlier so I asked for it. When I got back from applebees, it was really late, and it still wasn’t there. When I called the desk to ask where it was, they said they had no record of me asking for it. I waited a bit longer, probably not long enough, and then called again. Forgive me, but I’d almost been up for 24 hours! I wanted a place to flop! After the second call, a dude brought it to me. Really, I’m not a demanding bitch. But after traveling for this long, I sorta didn’t want to wait too too much longer for a bed.

Dogs and humans flopped down and were not awake until we had to be. Well that’s not true. My little hungry labby was up at 4:00 a.m. why 4? Because 4 Pacific is 7 eastern, which would have been the right time for her to eat. She was over at my bed trying to wake me, then she thought she’d enlist the
help of my room-mates’ dogs. Oh boy did they all get told to settle down.

We got up, got ready, and had a yummy breakfast. We heard some speeches, and a moving tribute to Michael Osborn. For those who don’t know, Michael Osborn had to do a lot of work to get permission for dogs to ride in the cabins of aircraft on long hall flights. I guess they thought the dogs would wizzle all over the cabin, so made them fly in cargo. After a lot of convincing and debating, he did it, and then not long after, he passed away. I didn’t even get to know the guy and my eyes were all teary. Then we loaded up and headed to the Boring, Oregon campus.

The weather was beautiful and we all sat outside and ate some lunches. Unfortunately, I managed to get stung by a bee. There’s nothing like wincing in pain during a speech when you just want to go ow oo ee! Michele Pouliot, *chekcs spelling*, did a whole speech on how much training
has changed over the years. Yeesh! I’m glad I didn’t get a dog back then. She showed this clip where a dog missed a pretty big down curb, and the instructor completely ignored it. the attitude was “dogs don’t make mistakes, their handlers do.” She showed this other clip where the students were about to receive their dogs. The instructor said in a very flat voice, “Today you meet your new companion. She doesn’t know that her life is going to change. If she could talk, she would probably say she showed no interest whatsoever in meeting you.” Isn’t that a wonderful way to start dog day? I’m glad they don’t say that anymore. Hell, I’m glad we make dogs who blow curbs rework them! I still snicker when I think about that clip narated by Bing
Crosby. It showed this instructor telling the dog to go ahead, and then he either smacks his nose on something or falls down some steps or something, and you hear him say “no! no!” and then Bing Crosby starts up and says something about “It takes a strong man to train a guide dog…” Yeah, a strong man, now that the instructors are mostly women. But apparently, back then, not too many women were allowed to be instructors. Michele was only the second at GDB. That woman had a lot of guts.

Then we all split up and went on tours. The tour was ok, but I guess I was hoping we could walk the trail, since that was one of the distinguishing features of the Oregon campus. Having never been there, I wanted to see it. But all we saw was the dorm, the vet clinic, the kennels, but not the part where the dogs were, the bathing area, the place where they got the food ready for all the puppies, and then we were at the visitors’ area.

I could have shot our tour guide. I’m sure she’s a fine volunteer, fine enough to win an award, which she did later, but good lord, woman, know your audience! She had the audacity to stand before us and say things like “You may wonder why blind people would want to watch TV since they can’t see it, but they enjoy it as much as you and I!” or “You may not know this, but once a dog is in class, it is the handler’s responsibility to do everything for it. It is with them 24-7.” Yeah, we should know this. We, um, have guide dogs. We all have been through it! I was this close to putting up my hand and saying, “tell me something I don’t know, please.” I mean, we came on this tour, didn’t get to see the trail, and then got told all this stuff that we already know. Arg! but that was the biggest arg about the whole trip, so I guess they were doing pretty well.

The funniest thing that happened was as we were standing somewhere, I heard someone speaking and suddenly heard, “Carin Headrick.” Huh? Who’s that and how do they know me? Duh, moron, you’re wearing a freaking name tag. After I asked, the guy said he was the husband of a lady that was on my same email list. Sweet! So I met the lady and we talked for a bit, but not too long. After the tour, we picked up our gift shop loot, and my Stream. Believe me, all this talk of the Stream becomes important.

I sat down, and ran into another lady from the list. That was cool. As we were sitting there, they made the draw for the three lucky people who were going to get Streams! Ya wanna know what? All 3 are on the list! they called out the name of a lady far away, then the lady across the table, and then they said, “I don’t know if she’s here, but…Carin Headrick?” They found out pretty quick I was there. I won a Stream! How cool is that? I’d been joking about how maybe I shouldn’t buy one because I’ll win, but I was just joking! I had no idea! So yea woo, they
refunded my money, and home I came with a Stream.

Not only did I come home with a stream, but they sent us home with 1.5 gigs of stuf on a 2-gig card. It has all the lectures, a whole crapload of stuff that Michael Osborn put together about traveling abroad with woof, and the Mike May story “Crashing Through”! I’ve been meaning to read the book, now I have no excuse. Oh yeah, Mike May was there! I guess he should have been, since his company was one of the sponsors. I can hear it. “Who the hell is Mike May?” He’s the president of the Sendero group who have designed a bunch of talking GPS stuff, but he’s done a lot of cool stuff and done a lot of cool speeches. I think they’re going to turn “Crashing Through” into a movie, so watch out. My instructor who teaches me routes and stuff is going to be mad, because she said to me, “If you get a chance to talk to him, do.” Well, I stood right near him, but not a sound would exit my mouth. Yup, I suck. I guess I have the cat’s got your tongue when someone famous is around syndrome.

So, after all that jazz finished up, we loaded onto the bus, and Mike May got on our bus and showed off his GPS stuff. My only beef with that, which can’t be helped, is we had no point of reference to know how accurate it is. For example, it’s telling me we’re passing bus stop x. We don’t know if bus stop x was right there, or a zillion meters ahead. but, that can’t be helped. We’re all strangers in this foreign land. Somebody needed to go to the john, so another guy yells, “Hey Mike, where does the GPS say the nearest john is?”

we got back, and got ready for the banquet, and let the dogs play a little. That was the first time I saw Trixie’s hackles raise. Oh dear, oh dear. She’s a very submissive dog, and the other two dogs knew each other, and I guess she found their style of play threatening. I put my hand on her once and I felt a low rumble. Uh, Trixie, was that a growl? then I slid my hand down, and instead of having short, coarse fur, it was all fluffy and puffy! Oh my. I brought her away from the action, told her to sit and petted her for a while in hopes of calming her down. bye-bye hackles. I saw them reappear once again that weekend. My poor baby, scared by other labbies who weren’t even playing directly with her.

The banquet was cool. Morgan Watkins, one of the board member dudes, got up and did a speech that made me laugh really hard. Never tell airport security guards who don’t know if your baggies of dog food are drugs to “try it. If you don’t get a buzz, it’s dog food!” I laughed so unbelievably hard, but I don’t think he was laughing that day. All day the next day I was thinking about that, since of course, I had baggies of dog food and was about to fly. Some people won some pretty cool awards. My room-mates were teasing me since I seemed to know a lot of people. Then I didn’t know one guy who won an award who happened to be Canadian. Autumn says to me, “So you know a bunch of people from the states, and he’s Canadian and you don’t know him? What’s wrong with you?” So that became the running joke.

I thought the funniest thing was when the head vet won his award, Trixie stood up. She was trying to give him a standing ovation! I thought that was hilarious!

Then the dance started. Here’s something dumb, for two reasons. It’s a dance, and most of us have dogs. If we want to dance, we have to get other people to hold our dogs. I guess that’s ok, unless a lot of people want to dance. But the dumber thing was the fact that they dimmed the lights. Hellooo! A lot of us have some vision, and function less well under shitty lighting. I was surprised they didn’t think of that.

I didn’t stay long because I’m not much of a dancer, but I figured out Trixie liked “Twist and Shout” and “great balls of Fire.” Before leaving for this trip, a friend of mine joked that they would play “Who Let the Dogs Out” at the dance. I said “na, they won’t.” They did! In the name of Juno, it was played!

We went back to the room with full intentions of heading for the hospitality suite, this room stocked with drinks and snakcs and it had chairs and stuf. . Our bodies had other plans. We all fell asleep for a while. We showed up late, and sadly the place was pretty empty. It was fun anyway.

Sunday, woops, we overslept, sleeping through an obnoxious cellphone alarm, and missed breakfast. That’s how I know Trixie doesn’t know what time it is. I was late for the first workshop, damn damn damn, and then went to the head vet’s first-aid workshop. that was cool. I like picking up tidbits. Then we found lunch, and I saw some of the exhibits, including the coolest braille display ever. It senses where your hand is and refreshes automatically. It’s cooler than cool. I also saw a braille display meant to be used with a cellphone. It’s bigger than the phone, but it has a phone-holder on it. I managed to run into some more folk from the email list. It’s nice to put voices to messages. I wish I could have met more of them.

Anyway, as I was walking around exhibits, my cellphone rang. It was the less than stellor shuttle guy. I tried to cancel with him, and say “just go ahead with the other lady you were picking up.” He would have none of it. He said he would be back for me in an hour. I asked him to come back in a couple hours, but he said no, he’d come in an hour and charge me extra to boot! *slaps self vigorously again for what I didd after this point* I said ok, because I felt sort of trapped. But I was planning to find another service. This guy just wasn’t treating me right.

I went upstairs and got my bags and brought them down so I could check out. I ran into one of the ladies that I had dinner with on Friday and we were talking. She was giving me the number of the shuttle she had, and then I discovered that another guy and his wife were on my same flight! Bonus! I’d go with them!

I was about to call the other guy and cancel him, but my cell phone was frozen. As I unfroze it, the shuttle guy was there. He slapped me on the shoulder and said it was time to go. I told him I’m sorry, but I was going with someone else. Hooo! This man knows how to make a scene. He started saying no I was coming with him, he came all the way to get me, and I had to go with him. I said I agreed to go early because he gave me no other option. He started screaming”Who is going to pay for the trip. You find me someone! who is going to pay for the trip. All the gas, who’s going to pay!” Everybody ralleyed around me, bless everybody, but he wouldn’t go away. We must have looked pretty upset.

I would like to kiss the hotel concierge. He came over, said “what is the problem?” He told him he understood he was upset, but I’d changed my mind and he couldn’t harass me. Less than stellor shuttle man still wouldn’t leave, so I skittered away as fast as my suitcases would allow and left him jibbering to the concierge. He was still there 10 minutes later! Dude, by now, you could have picked up someone else!

So, the dude who was going on my flight, his wife, a puppy raiser and I took the light rail to the airport. That was the wierdest pickup spot ever. We crossed one street, we turned and went to cross another, and wammo! We were on a platform and a train was coming! What the hel! I’m just glad I wasn’t alone. Guelph doesn’t have subways, so I was a bit nervous.

We got on and got off at the airport. the damn thing tried to close on me, even though it was the last stop! What’s up with that? We got to the airport, and met the stupidest folks ever to walk this earth. Actually no, the security folks Morgan Watkins described in his speech were the stupidest folks ever to walk this earth. These were a touch up from that. There was no special needs help desk, or so they said, and they kept calling our guide dogs pets. Pets? seethe seethe seethe. They didn’t want to help us, I think because the other dude’s sighted wife was there. They were like “What do you need, a wheelchair?” The dude was as calm as calm could be. He was funny. He got someone for him, and someone for me, but when we got to airports where we were being treated nicely, we just got one person to help me, while his wife helped him. I think he asked for a little more because they were being such baffoons. But that’s just my theory. I could be all wet, which I probably am. A dude walked me through a revolving door without warning me, and even when I asked him not to. I was not very nice to him. But he was acting as if I was speaking in tongues! he got better near the end, though.

We got on our plane, and got to Vancouver. Again, they treated us like royalty. I wish I had a picture of the dude and I and our dogs in a cart. It was beautiful. I think his dog fell in love with mine. We both told the Vancouver people how wonderful they were. They couldn’t figure out why we were so impressed. Well, after the dopes we met at Portland that day, we were thankful multiplied by 10. Plus, the Vancouver people just plain rock.

We got on the plane, and it was full! I was in a seat with two other ladies who weren’t sure what to make of my dog. They were speaking Cantonese, and the dude who I came with, who also speaks Cantonese, heard them, leaned over, and said something to them which I’ll never know what it was. But they calmed down and didn’t seem so jittery about my dog. Thank you, Dude! I don’t know what you said, but thank you!

The rest was pretty mundane. We got off, got our bags, I got picked up by the service I’d reserved, we came home, bla bla bla. the only way cool thing was I was relieved to find out the service I had reserved understands it takes a while to wait for bags, so they waited until Ground Transportation told them I was there before they came looking for me. They didn’t leave without me! After that scary shuttle guy, I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be marooned in Toronto in the early Monday morning hours.

So that was my reunion experience in a nutshell. It was cool. Hope folks enjoyed reading my goofy ramblings.

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