“Sail away from the Safe Harbor”

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Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain

My first experience of traveling with Deaf was brought about by the annual East Texas Deaf Festival in 2006. My professors had always encouraged their students to attend, so, with my new-found confidence from socializing with Deaf, I decided to “throw off the bowlines” and “sail away from the safe harbor.” In other words, I was ready to get out of my comfort zone and explore a new world–the Deaf-World.

I asked around to see who was planning to attend the event. None of my friends from interpreting class were going, so I had a dilemma. I decided to ask my new Deaf friends if they were going. Day Day and Jex said “yes,” so I was both excited and nervous. I knew what my parents were going to say about the situation, “Two boys alone in the car with you? No way.” However, they said if I found another girl to go with us, then I could ride with Jex and Day Day (this was before they got to know both of them. In fact, at this point, neither of my parents had even MET Jex or Day Day). So, off I went to find another girl to come along. Finally, I found out that Kula was going with them, so I was ecstatic.

Early Saturday morning, Day Day drove up to my house in his sporty red Rio, and Jex came up to let me know they were there to pick me up. I had never been on a road trip with friends before although many would say this did not count since the festival was only about 45 minutes or an hour away. At any rate, I was excited. At least now I wasn’t nervous about driving with Deaf during the day ) .

My parents were EXTREMELY nervous. Remember all the concerns I had when I first rode with Jex? My parents had the same concerns and questioned me relentlessly. Well, it wasn’t THAT bad, but they weren’t sure about how Deaf drive, or how they talk or listen and drive at the same time. I explained to them that it was not any different than with hearing people. I told them how deaf are statistically better drivers than hearing, how they share responsibility when driving, etc. So, my mom and dad started feeling a little better. However, they still had not met “these guys from school,” so they still weren’t completely okay with the idea yet.

It was funny. After Jex came up to the garage, having seen my parents wave dramatically through the window towards the garage instead of the front of the house, my parents came bursting out the door with beaming faces and began to overenthusiastically introduced themselves (my mom knows a few signs and can fingerspell, so she introduced herself and my dad). So, by the time I got outside, Jex knew my parents’ names already and my parents were anxious to meet Day Day and Kula. We walked quickly towards Day Day’s car and he and kula got out of the car to meet us. I voice interpreted the introductions for my parents since my mom could mostly sign for herself and only needed to know what my friends were saying. After everyone had met, I think my parents felt much more comfortable with me going on the road trip.

The car ride was an experience. I had already ridden in a truck with Jex, so I knew how to communicate while using that form of transportation, but ridding in a car was different. Of course, Day Day drove since it was his car. Jex rode in the front seat, I sat behind Day Day, and Kula sat behind Jex. Therefore, I could only have a direct conversation with Kula, see half of the conversation between Jex and Day Day, talk to Jex if he turned around, and converse with Day Day while he looked in the rear view mirror or used Jex for an intermediary interpreter. It was complicated at first, but now I have started getting used to it ) .

Anyways, we arrived at the Deaf Festival early to help set up the booths only to find that most of the work had already been done. With an hour or two to spare, we decided to get back in the car and go eat at Taco Bell for lunch. Crystal, a girl from my ASL class, had already arrived at the festival as well, so she joined us for lunch. After we ate and visited for a while, we went back to the festival.

The Deaf festival was fairly large that year. They had one large room and one small room reserved for the booths. In the big room, there was a registration table in front of the entrance doors on the left side of the room and a kitchen against the same wall with a long counter where they served dinner. In the middle of the room stood rows and rows of tables and chairs. A short stage was built against the back wall in front of the tables. On the right side of the room, booths lined the walls and more booths could be found in the smaller room as well.

At first, I did not know what to do. I looked at a few of the booths–one was advertising TMAD (Tyler Metro Association for the Deaf), another selling hand-made crafts, and yet another was displaying the Sorenson video phone. When I came to the booth for my home church, one of my ASL teachers, who goes to the same church, saw me and asked if I would help with registration. I mentally debated with myself, “I am in ASL 4. I should be able to do this. No, I don’t know how to communicate with Deaf people I don’t know, so I can’t do this.” Of course, this debate only lasted a second, and I gave in quickly. I wanted to “catch the trade winds in [my] sails”, right?

My teacher, EC, led me to the registration table and showed me what to do. She signed, “Each person gets a free handkerchief because our theme this year is a cowboy theme. Then, each person needs to sign in here. If they did pre-registration, mark their name off this list. Get them to make a name tag and then they need to write their name on this ticket and put it in this bucket for door prizes. People who paid the full amount get this wrist band while the others get this one…” It was a lot of information, and I did my best to remember. I suddenly realized though, as EC was walking away and people began appoaching me, that I did not have the signing vocabulary necessary for the job.

I immediately began making up signs for “bandana,” “name tag,” and “door prizes.” Come to find out, most were either right or close to it. That was a relief. I just was hoping that I wasn’t saying anything bad. At any rate, it was fun and crazy putting Deaf and hearing people alike through the whole process of registering for the festival. The line of people almost went out the door on occasion. Needless to say, I got plum tuckered out. EC came by and took over so that I could have a break, which was welcomed more than she knew.

During my break, I looked around at the other booths, visited with Crystal when she was not interpreting, and chatted with Day Day, Kula, and Jex. I also met JW and a few other Deaf students from TJC. It was enjoyable. EC and I took turns for several hours until people began taking the booths down and everyone started getting ready for dinner.

The dinner consisted of bar-b-que brisket, I think, and baked beans. I did not eat anything though. In the end, I think I am glad that I did not feel hungry because my friends waited for more than an hour in line to get their food and I was tired after working registration.

After the bar-b-que dinner, the entertainment began. There were stories, signed songs, announcements, a lecture, and door prizes. Day Day did a funny story/joke, which everyone enjoyed. The lecture was interesting in that it was quite controversial among the Deaf attendies and several Deaf went on the stage to voice their opinons on the matter (no pun intended). And finally, the door prizes took over an hour to distribute. Everyone would “yell out” which prizes they hoped to win and teased those who won. All in all, it was a fun experience.

When the festival ended, we were the last to leave. Kula and I waited patiently for Jex and Day Day to finish their conversations with the other Deaf, most of whom were leaders in the Deaf community. Once one friend would be ready to leave, the other would see someone else and talk to them for a while, then they would come back, ready to go, and the other would see someone…and so it went for a while until we were all ready to leave.

We all got in Day Day’s car and began our journey home. I had one more burning question in my mind about driving with Deaf. I knew now how to communicate with Deaf in the car during the day–no big deal, that was natural. But now, it was dark, and I could not figure out how Deaf communicated when they couln’t see. The lights finally came on when Day Day reached up and clicked on the overhead to see what Jex had said. My last question aswered, I sat back and enjoyed the remainder of the trip home.

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