So, a blind guy walks into a dildo shop on Castro Street… (Oh, come on, you know it's just begging for a punch line.)

When I heard that Bob Feinstein was finally (finally!) coming for a visit to San Francisco, I was excited. We'd been friends-by-proxy for a couple of years, admiring each other's work in BENT, exchanging e-mails now and then, chatting on the phone from time to time, but we'd never met. Face-to-face, that is. After many false starts, he was actually coming. Fantastic!

As his arrival got closer, I began to wonder: what would we do? I've had many friends with many different disabilities embodying varying degrees of…spectacularness…of said disabilities. I was still concerned, though. Truth be told, my interaction with blind people had been practically nonexistent. I began to worry that I would commit some sort of blind faux-pas.

Then again, planning an itinerary for someone's first trip to San Francisco is a no-brainer: Golden Gate Bridge, Hippies in the Haight, City Lights bookstore and Café Trieste, skyscrapers in the Financial District and (if they're queer) some quality time bellied up to the bar at the Eagle or the Hole in the Wall. But wait! All of those are primarily visual experiences. Help!

Ah, yes, the food! San Francisco practically invented Asian Fusion. Then there are taquerias in the Mission, scary little Vietnamese dives populated by drunks, drag queens and fearless foodies, Downtown bistros with their old-money clientele, foofoo little cafes serving brunch, that gayest of all meals. You can see with your stomach in San Francisco.

Then I get the call from Bob. It seems that his impending visit has inspired another of his West Coast tour guides to play hostess with the mostest and plan an afternoon potluck (OK, I lied…brunch is one of the two gayest meals.) Worse yet, I discover that Bob is a little bit…shall we say…reluctant to leave himself for purposes of feeding in the care of a bunch of flighty Californians. He informs me that he's not very adventurous when it comes to food. I'm shocked! And awed! Shock and awe!

Bob makes me promise him that if the potluck turns into the California smorgasbord of organic tofu and leaves and twigs that he fears, I'll escape with him in search of "a burger or something. Regular food."

Hmmm. OK. So clearly the pursuit of cuisine isn't going to fly, either.

My boyfriend and I spend some time racking our brains, trying to think of things to do that don't have to be seen to be entertaining. Then, it hits me. Duh! Everything I do is a visual experience, because I can see. Trying to come up with non-visual activities is an exercise in futility.

I call Bob. "What about Alcatraz?", I ask. We can hang out at Pier 39, a tourist Mecca, and then take the ferry out to the island. I remember that they have a self-guided audio tour of the prison. It seems like the perfect day-trip, and Bob and my boyfriend Michael and I are all excited about it. Whew!

I felt better prepared, but was still a little reluctant to drag Bob out to the middle of San Francisco Bay for our first excursion. On the Friday afternoon before our Alcatraz trip, I left work a little early to join Bob and a few others who were enjoying a beautiful afternoon at a sidewalk café in the Castro. I ended up sticking around until dinner time, chatting with Bob and his friends from Reno. We were getting along famously.

The next day, we made a whirlwind tour of the city. My boyfriend Michael and I picked Bob up about noon, then took the antique streetcar from the Castro through downtown to Pier 39. We browsed in the shops, and Michael and I took turns narrating the scenery for Bob and guiding him. At first, I was a little apprehensive about guiding Bob, given that a finely-tuned sense of balance is one of the things that my CP has compromised. Still, we managed quite well as we adjusted to each others' physical peculiarities.

Besides, when I started walking too fast, or not giving appropriate directions or narration, Bob would playfully whack me with his cane, to remind me to be mindful of what he needed.

Alcatraz was a blast. The audio tour was really cool, and we frequently paused the program so that Bob could feel the bars and concrete walls of the prison. I remembered little bits of the tour from years ago when I had been there on an elementary-school field trip, but being there with Bob gave me a fresh perspective. I spent a lot of time closing my eyes, feeling things, trying to experience the world in a non-visual way.

I was fascinated by the different ways that Bob perceived aspects of the environment. Making our way around Alcatraz, I noticed how he was attuned to physical changes practically imperceptible to me: changes in temperature, slope of the land, and even the size of the room we were in.

We took the ferry back to San Francisco and hooked up with a carriage driver we had befriended earlier in the day. He gave us a tour in his carriage, making sure to narrate the scenery for Bob

The next day (Sunday) was the potluck. There were seven or eight of us and by this point we had all gotten to know each other. We laughed, we ate, we drank, and just generally carried on. At one point, Bob pointed out that he didn't know eight people at home in Brooklyn that he could invite over for a potluck. When he said that, I had a moment of clarity. We live in a technological society, and that technology is often said to isolate and insulate people from each other. But here I was on a beautiful Sunday afternoon having a great time with a roomful of friends. Without that technology, the Internet, in this case, I never would have met Bob, or spent an afternoon with him chasing Al Capone's ghost around Alcatraz

I'm a "story" guy. I love to be able to tell the stories that happen in my life. Bob's visit provided me with several great stories, but more importantly, it solidified a friendship that had been building for quite a while. To be honest, I don't think I'd be able to fly across the country and entrust my vacation to a bunch of guys I'd never met. But Bob did just that, and created a lot of rich experiences for everyone else in the process. Me, I came out of it with several new friends, and a greater friendship with Bob.

I also got a couple of fantastic stories. I told you just a bit about Alcatraz. And then there was the time I took a blind friend of mine for his first visit to a sex-toy store . . . but if you want to hear that story, (or the one about Prince Albert) you're going to have to ask . . . Bob.

Text © 2003 Raymond J. Aguilera
Photo montage/title design © 2003 Idea | Monger

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Raymond J. Aguilera keeps busy trying to finish his master's degree and enjoying a faaaaaabulous suburban existence with his partner. Ray is a contributor to "Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their Stories," edited by Bob Guter and John R. Killacky, Haworth Press, November 2003.


BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/November 2003