21
Aug
12

Braile Rally Opens every driver’s eyes!

Star Car Central participated in the braille Rally for the third year.

Instead of a write up from one of our drivers, I am re-posting  this write up from a newbie on his experience. (He did manage to beat out our whole team in the celebrity category!)

Thanks to all the SCC members who participated, Oscar (in his “other” Ferrari), Dave K. Paul N. in his Delorean time machine, Brian in his Bond car, Gary in his Highway Patrol car, and Steve in his Jurassic Park truck!  I have a feeling that “mistake” in the directions caught most of our group!

If you want to join in the fun, the contact info for the organizer is at the end of the article.  I have a feeling this duo will be the pair to beat next year!

Braille Rallye: The Blind Leading the Humbled

Learning and Loving the Braille Rallye

Written by: on July 30 2012 2:54 PM

Jonny Lieberman Braille Rallye Car

“Most teenagers are very excited about getting their driver’s license.” One of the Braille Rallye’s organizers said to the group of new drivers that I was standing with. “These kids are never going to get their licenses. They’ll never be able to drive. This is a real highlight for them.” It was exactly then, at that moment, the magnitude of the day’s little two-hour rally hit me. What sounded on virtual paper as a good thing to do, a fun thing to do, was actually much bigger than that.

The Braille Rallye is put on by the Braille Institute of Los Angeles. Simply put, it’s a way for blind and partially sighted students to participate in a motoring event. They don’t just passively sit there. They are the navigators. The rally instructions are in braille (or, for the partially sighted students, large font). The drivers, for the most part, can’t read braille (I sure can’t), so if you’re going to complete the day’s drive, not to mention compete, you are dependent on your student navigator.

Motor Trend was offered a spot in this year’s Braille Rallye and I volunteered, showing up with a 2013 Volkswagen Golf R, which seemed like a fun car to run the event with. I was paired up with a young student named Tiffany Zhao. She’s been competing for a few years, and next year she’ll be a junior at Temple City High School in the San Gabriel Valley. That’s the age where most people start getting their learner’s permits and licenses. Not Tiffany however, as she can’t see. But as I learned, that’s her only disability.

“What’s in there?” Tiffany asks me as we sit in the VW, awaiting our 10:09 am start time. She’d been handed a bag of goodies that all the students get for participating. The first thing I pull out is some sort of toy monster. I begin describing it, but quickly realize I have no experience around blind kids. “It’s this blue… thing.” Did I really just describe it as blue? I feel inadequate. I tell Tiffany about the next piece of swag, a video game controller. “They always do this!” She exclaims, though with humor in her voice. “What are blind kids supposed to do with video game stuff? I guess I can give it to my little sister.” She pauses. “Or sell it on Amazon.” Last is a pair of headphones. “Good, I can use those.”

We’re the seventh car to leave, and I watch in amazement as Tiffany scans the instructions with her tiny right hand. “Turn right on Vermont, speed is 32, and stay in the left lane.” The series of dots she’s feeling are utterly meaningless to my eyes. Yet to Tiffany, they’re plain as day. She navigates us onto the 101 Freeway and then onto the 110, where she warns me that we’re going to need to immediately slide several lanes over to the left. No problem, I explain to her. This is my daily commute. She asks me if I’ve participated in rallies before. I think back – with horror – to the last time and distance rally I participated in. The one where I spent most of the night doing U-turns (a huge rally no-no) and blowing checkpoints, before my best friend and navigator eventually chucked the instructions out of the window. “A few,” I meekly tell her.

I ask her about previous Braille Rallyes she’s run. She tells me that she always enjoys them, but, “I really want a trophy this year.” Poor thing, I think to myself. They really stuck you with the wrong guy. However, everything is going smoothly early on. Because of the typical terrible L.A. traffic, I’m able to catch up to the sixth car, a new Porsche Boxster piloted by 15-year Braille Rallye veteran David Kunz of KABC TV fame. This is easy, I think to myself. Too easy. They probably just make it simple because of the poor blind kids. Suddenly Tiffany and I are making a right turn that Dave’s Porsche isn’t. I begin to doubt myself, and worse Tiffany. We’re looking for the address 520, a place for a momentary pause. I look left and see 500 and 550, but no 520. I make a U-turn and Tiffany yells, “What are you doing?” I feel awful. I’m already blowing it for this girl.

Coming the other direction I see one of the five California Highway Patrol cars that are participating in this year’s event. I use my eyes and look on the other side of the street and see 520. I feel bad for a second, but realize that rally organizers are always trying to trick you. Even addresses on both sides of the street is just the sort of trap they’d set. More importantly, I realize that Tiffany knows what she’s doing. I just need to trust her. We elect not to pause since we wasted time driving in circles. I apologize for not looking on the other side of the street and Tiffany tells me not to worry about it. She’s having fun. Earlier I placed her hand on the R20’s gear selector. I showed her how to row through the H-pattern. “Oh,” she says. “No one ever showed me how that works.” I think back to my father doing the same exercise with me when I was about six-years-old. It’s crazy how much we take for granted.

For the next hour or so we move smartly across South Los Angeles. Tiffany shows me she knows what she’s doing. For example, she’s reading three or four instructions ahead, which makes driving much easier for me. And she’s spelling out the street names. Smart. The $37K Volkswagen has a great cruise control interface that makes selecting and maintaining speeds like 42 mph in a 45 easy. Even though it feels weird going so slow. The organizers were very keen on letting us know that there’s simply no reason to exceed the speed limit. Still, like Tiffany, I’m having fun.

We travel down a long road in Huntington Beach, and are supposed to make a right turn at the “T,” and then take the first opportunity to make a right. There we’re supposed to find a stop sign where we can pause for as much as ten minutes if we’re ahead of schedule and need to recoup some time. Ahead of us is another CHP car, the fifth car out, so I just follow him into a suburban neighborhood that’s totally devoid of stop signs. I pull up next the car and the officer says, “I don’t see any stop signs.” Great.

“Maybe we missed something back at the light?” Tiffany suggests. We were supposed to turn at the fourth traffic signal. Maybe we turned at the third? “Are you sure it said ‘at’ and not ‘after?’” I ask Tiffany. “Yes,” she tells me, her hand reading and rereading the instructions. “It’s definitely ‘at.’” By this point I trust her completely. Maybe the officer turned at the third light and I just lazily followed him and his student too, pardon the expression, blindly? “Get us back to that 45 mph sign,” Tiffany commands, “And we can recount the lights.” Knowing that we had a ten-minute grace period, I decided it’s time to take advantage of the Golf R’s high-output turbo engine. After all, what good are 265 horsepower if you don’t use ‘em? “Hold on,” I tell Tiffany. She smiles and tells me not to worry. “There’s a bump coming up,” I tell her. The Volkswagen easily bounces over it. She loves it and laughs. Turns out there are occasions where speeding is necessary.

In no time flat we’re retracing our steps. Turns out both the cop car and us were right. The instructions, we reason, must be wrong. Tiffany fast-forwards the instructions to the next one that has a street name. McFadden. I use Google Maps on my phone to locate it. We’re close. We jam. After a few minutes we hit the second checkpoint. “You’re the first ones to arrive,” the volunteers tell us. “I think there’s a mistake in the instructions,” I tell them. They shake their collective heads, telling us that the route is pre-run 14 times to make sure everything is accurate. I shrug, depart, and then tell Tiffany that if the instructions are correct then there’s no way car 7 should show up before cars 1 through 6. She agrees. And smiles.

Before too long we’ve reached the final pause point, where if we like, we can sit for as many as ten minutes. Because of the blip we’d hit earlier, Tiffany suggests we just about split the difference and pause for four minutes next to a motorcycle shop. Tiffany keeps asking if I see any of the other competitors going by. Nope, I tell her. None. Four minutes strikes and we’re off to the end. As we pull in we’re told that we’re the first car to arrive. “How’d we do?” I ask. “Pretty good,” a volunteer tells us. “You’re about six minutes late.” Meaning that if we had continued on instead of stopping we only would’ve been two minutes late. Or so we thought. Turned out we were a little bit later than that.

Jonny Lieberman and Tiffany Zhao 300x187 imageTiffany and I, Team On Time as we decided to call ourselves, sat and waited for the other cars to show up. We’d been grouped into the Celebrity/Media group. Not that there were any actual celebrities in attendance, but rather there were a bunch of cars dressed up to look like movie cars including a Back to the Future DeLorean, a Brosnan-era James Bond 7 Series, a Ford Expedition in full Jurassic Park regalia and a wicked cool 1955 Buick Special/Century made to look like one from the old Highway Patrol TV show. We sat and watched and every time a car pulled in I let Tiffany know. Turns out there was a mistake in the instructions, as some cars are severely late. By more than an hour. “I think we’re going to win,” I tell Tiffany. “That’d be great.” She tells me with a big smile.

As it turns out, we did win. Tiffany and I were the winning Celebrity/Media team and finished in fifth place overall out of 55 participants. Other teams were closer to the specified time (the winning team of driver Jeff Laack and navigator Elizabeth Palafox were 7 minutes, 36 seconds over ideal), but our time of 13 minutes, 10 seconds (over) had us finishing second place among the braille readers. And, if we had not stopped for that last timeout, we would have been third place overall and first place amongst the braille readers. Much more importantly, Tiffany got her trophy. I led her up to where the awards are being given out the way I’d been shown (she takes my left elbow with her right hand) and we hold up our trophy. Then we pose for pictures. It feels awesome. “Can I drive you next year?” I ask Tiffany after we retake our seats. “I’d like that,” she says. And next year I assure her, we’re going to win. Tiffany, as always, smiles.

If you live Southern California and are interested in participating in a future Braille Rallye, contact Pat West at braillerallye@gmail.com

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