Who knew that a degree in clambering would piggyback a degree in English? And that there would be no tuition charged for it? I certainly did not.
If you are wondering precisely what clambering is, think of what happens when you show up late at a huge auditorium with fixed, assigned seating and an usher tells you that your ticket is for a seat that requires a helicopter to reach. But since that isn’t an option, you are forced to either forego the event or clamber over legs, knees, laps, bags, and armrests causing a whole row of people to become involuntary butt-kissers as you turn your backside to them in order to get to that empty seat off in the distance. That’s clambering.
On a university campus, clambering is a way of life regardless of whether seating is fixed, assigned, or otherwise. And any kind of mobility is not only complicated by students who have their heads buried in techno-gizmos but also the myriad backpacks, bags, and other gear that accompanies them. And then there is the mysterious factor that seemingly causes those students to claim the first available seat inside the door and drop their accompanying gear wherever gravity happens to place it.
In many of the classrooms in which I was a student, nearly every square foot of floor space was littered with the usual paper, pencils, pens, and snack food wrappers as well as backpacks, bags, hats, scarves, gloves, scooters, and skateboards. And then there were the trip-cords strung from laptops to wall receptacles because their owners forgot to charge them ahead of time.
Even for a person with 20/20 visual acuity and 180 degrees of visual field, mobility is complicated and often involves clambering. For a person with a visual problem these situations involve constant clambering and other complications.
Mostly I did my darnedest to be the first person in any classroom but that wasn’t always possible so whenever I encountered an obstacle, the neat-freak mother in me wanted to demand that the room be cleaned up immediately.
Even more annoying and frustrating was the almost palpable aura of self-absorbed entitlement through which I metaphorically clambered day after day. Sometimes I heard an embarrassed “Oops, I’m sorry, let me get that out of your way” but more often, there was either no response or one that made me feel like a culprit.
Skateboards were the worst.
One day as I swung my white cane along the wall in the narrow aisle around the perimeter of the room, a brief hitch in its flow alerted me to an obstacle. A split second later I heard a clatter and a thump so I said, “What the heck was that?”
“Oh, don’t worry about it, that’s Tom’s skateboard. It was leaning against the wall and now it’s ready to roll.” a voice said.
“Well, why is it there?” I asked, hoping Tom would get the hint and move the stupid thing out of the aisle before somebody actually hurt themselves on it.
Tom did not get the hint. He merely laughed, shrugged, and said, “Not to worry, I’m sure you didn’t hurt the skateboard, it hits things a lot harder than your cane.”
That was a stationary skateboard, indoors. Outdoors, skateboards were far worse. The University park campus of Penn State spans several city blocks so the miles and miles of sidewalks, alleys, and streets were littered with skateboards, scooters, and bicycles. Those risky modes of mobility caused me a lot of trepidation. Technically, they were not to be used on sidewalks but apparently that rule was not enforced.
In the end, I consider myself lucky to have survived eight semesters with no serious injuries and graduated with highest distinction in both English and clambering.