Mike: I want people to know that there’s opportunities in the trades, why don’t you pick up a tool and try, if you’re an influencer, a grandparent or a parent of some young person, give them a tool. Ask them to help you and do something. You might reach a part of their soul that college is never going to reach for them.
Chris: This is the Penny Forward podcast, a show about blind people building bright futures one penny at a time. I’m Chris Peterson.
Liz: And I’m Liz Bottner.
Chris: We are blind people learning, from each other, what it takes to be successful in our personal, professional, and financial lives.
Chris: Our guest this week is Mike Dizinno. He calls himself “America’s blind tradesman,” and he’s worked in over 13 different trades over the course of his life and career. He’s also the first blind American to attend public school as a mainstream student, and he is currently working on his million job movement, which he will tell you about during his interview. We’re gonna be talking about Mike’s life and career, how he has started a number of different businesses, and what he thinks is key to the success of those businesses, and he will teach us how to sell to anyone without feeling slimy. Stay tuned for that. But first, …
Liz: Before we start, we’d like to thank Ron and Lisa Brookes, at Accessible Avenue, for sponsoring the Penny Forward podcast. I’m sure many of us have experienced frustration and uncertainty when trying to use public transportation or paratransit services that are either inaccessible, or just poorly designed for meeting our needs. Accessible Avenue works with transit agencies and other mobility providers to make transportation services accessible for everyone, including those of us who are blind or visually impaired. Accessible Avenue also works with individuals and organizations who need training or assistance with public transportation problems. You can learn more at
Chris: We’d also like to thank Kane Brolin of Brolin Wealth Management for sponsoring the podcast. Investing doesn’t have to be complicated, and it’s never too late to take action. But depending on how far away your goals are, the decisions you need to make will be very different. Kane Brolin is a blind certified financial planner, and chartered special needs consultant, who may be able to help you, no matter how much you have, or what stage of life you are in. Learn more by visiting
or by calling 574-254-7180.
Chris: Mike, thanks for being here.
Mike: My pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity, Chris.
Chris: Can you start out by telling us about yourself and your blindness, and what that’s been like for you?
Mike: I was born legally blind, back in 1949, and I did not have an eye exam until I was in kindergarten. And up until then, they just thought I was some clutzy kid that would bump into things, trip over things, matter of fact, there was even some discussion that I might have actually had a mental disability because I didn’t understand basic instructions from adults. (Laugh.) Which usually meant they pointed. But when I had that eye test, that’s when they discovered I had a problem. The principal actually brought me home that day. And my mother happened to be home that day, and my mother was an immigrant to this country. English was her seventh language that she was learning so that she could become a citizen, and so she didn’t fully understand what the principal said, but all she got out of the conversation was, a representative, the principal, from the government, the state, was telling her that they were going to confiscate her child. Because what they were saying to her was, I couldn’t continue to go to public school, and that I would have to go away to the special blind school that the state had for blind students, and in those days, parents basically gave up their rights to their children to do that. About that time, there was a congressman elected who spoke one of my mother’s languages, and he was able to communicate with her that this was a good thing, not a bad thing. And she wanted to go to the school and see it. And they were running a pretty good guilt tripp on her. They were saying, you know, “This is the best place for him, you’re being selfish for trying to keep him at home and go to public school, it’s never been done, and all this other stuff, and, you know, she saw a place with no stairs, just ramps, and ropes guiding people, and everything marked in braille, and no obstructions in the hallway and stuff, and they almost had her convinced. And she then turned around and asked them as she was walking back to the car, “What about the high school?” And they said “Well we don’t have a blind high school in Connecticut at this point,” they said, “but by the time your son is in eighth grade, we’ll probably have a high school.” And she thought another second and said, “And then what? Do you have a blind college planned? And then when he gets out, are you gonna give him a blind job? And is he gonna marry a blind wife and have blind children? At what point will my son ever meet the real world?” And that’s when she went home and fought even harder. And in September of 54, I started first grade, and I was the first blind child in the United States allowed to have a public school education.
Liz: As the first blind person to attend public school, what was that like for you? Did you realize that at the time, or was that something you realized later?
Mike: Well, I’ll tell you. I didn’t see any significance to it, other than I got to stay home with my family. I didn’t know any other blind people. Matter of fact I didn’t even meet another blind person till I was 17 years old. But what happened was, having won that battle, now we had to figure out, what did it mean to be blind? I remember, though, my mother setting me up that summer between kindergarten and first grade. I was going out to play, and I was like, almost six years old, and she stopped me, and said, “Now look, you go out there and you do anything you want to do, and don’t let people tell you what you can’t do.” And she said, “Now if you come up with a reason why you can’t do it, you then listen to yourself, but you don’t let other people tell you why you can’t do it.” Okay. So I started heading for the door and she stopped me again, she says, “Oh by the way, make sure you know the difference between a reason and an excuse.” That wisdom is what sent me on my way to just start building a life.
Chris: I don’t imagine that most of the teachers and staff members you were encountering knew how to teach a blind person. What was it that you were learning, or maybe that you weren’t learning, during that time?
Mike: There were teachers that were ambivalent, and would spend the whole year never once call my name other than in the beginning to find out who I was for roll call so they knew I was in attendance. They didn’t know what to do with me. There were teachers who were angels, and there were teachers who were absolutely opposed to the whole thing, and did everything they could do to obstruct my progress. The first grade teacher, she said, “I don’t know how I could teach him, but I’m willing to try. I accept the challenge,” and she volunteered to be my first grade teacher. She later became my teacher again in sixth grade, which was important, because that’s when all the trouble started at home. My father’s alcoholism had reached a point where there was violence in the house and everything else, and I didn’t do that well in school, but she became my champion again where she said, “Promote him. Don’t keep him back. He knows the stuff, it’s just not what’s important to him. He’s now the man of the house.” There were other teachers who were gunning for me. One was in high school freshman year, English teacher, she didn’t care that I was blind. She made no special accommodations. By then we had a blind program in Connecticut and there was a special ed teacher services for the blind. She wouldn’t even give that lady an advance what the reading assignments were gonna be. She said “No, you’re gonna help him cheat.” She said “I am a teacher. I will not help him cheat. But we just need some advance warning.” Because back then, the way books got read, they got read on reel to reel tape, and the process took, even if it went quickly, to get a chapter done took five days. They used to take the tape recorder and the reel to reel tapes down to the Danbury State prison because those were white collar criminals, and those were educated criminals, they could read. Peg Sullivan was the special services teacher’s name. She brought me the tape early in the morning, like 6 o’clock in the morning, 6:30 in the morning, and I’d listen to the one hour tape, and go to school for 8 o’clock and take the test. I mean that’s how tight things were then. There was no support system like there is today. Well, I failed that English class. And when that teacher got transferred to another school, all the tapes from Library of Congress and anything, records or anything that I was supposed to receive, which I never received, were all in her locker in the faculty lounge.
Liz: You mentioned that you had support later in your schooling career in high school from a teacher of the blind and visually impaired. How did not having that in your early years impact you?
Mike: Liz, that’s a really good question. One day, in fifth grade, I had another one of those “ah hah” moments as a blind person, and as a person. It was Tuesday night, “Red Skelton” was on TV, and my mother was bowling that night, so nobody was there to follow up, to make sure I did my homework or whatever, and I chose to just goof off. Well the next day in school, the teacher comes to me, and I thought I’d played the statistical odds, because we had the thirty-something people in the class, there was no way she was gonna … I was gonna be one of the four or five she was gonna ask about homework. Well, sure enough, I was the first one she asked. And I just stood up and told her I didn’t have my homework. And she said, “Oh. Okay,” and she told me to sit down. I said “Gea, that was easy.” What was hardest came next. The next kid to my right, she asked him to stand up, and she said, “Let’s talk about _your homework.” He said “Well I didn’t do mine either.” She went up one side of him and down the other side of him, and it was like, “Holy smokes!” And he says “Why are you picking on me? He didn’t have his homework.” And she got very soft, and very quiet, and she said, “But he’s blind. And you’re not.” And I hated that moment. Because she was making excuses for me. Whether I knew it or not, I was doing what my mother warned me not to do. I was making excuses. Or others were making excuses for me. I didn’t like the way that felt, because it wasn’t the truth. I purposely decided not to do my homework. I was the jerk. And from that day on, I was very careful about taking more responsibility if I didn’t get something done. I had a reason, or I had no reason, but I sure the heck didn’t have an excuse. And, and this is relevant to my work career and everything else. You can make excuses, or you can make accomplishments, but you can’t do both.
Chris: So tell us about your life and career after school.
Mike: After my experience growing up in the projects and getting out into the real world, getting beyond the neighborhood, I began to do little errands for neighbors, and I began to fix things, because when my … I was eleven years old when my father left us, and I became, quote unquote, “the man of the house.” And that’s what all the cousins and everybody else were saying. “Michael, you’re the man of the house now. You have to take care of your mother and your little brother.” And I took that very seriously. By sixteen years old, I never had a formal job, I was making enough money on the side that I took the burden off my mother. I paid my own dental bills, paid my own doctor bills, bought my own clothes, about the only thing I did was lived in her house and ate her food, but I was on my way to making myself independent. Which was something she really wanted. I was the person my mother turned to when something needed to be fixed or taken care of ’cause she’d know I would get it done somehow. And that was a big shot to my ego. Because it really helped me then have the courage to go and try some of the many other trades that I did, working at a newspaper, did financial services for a while in my life, and also then went into the construction trades. I went to college, University of Connecticut, where I majored in theoretic physics and mathematics, and one day, I was going back to start my final two years, to get my masters and get my PH.D, and stopped for gas, and there was a young fellow there, and, seemed pretty sharp, I said “What are you doing working in a gas station?” He said, “There’s no jobs.” I said “What do you mean there’s no jobs?” That was during the Vietnam war, and a lot of people just went to college to stay out of the war, and so I figured he had a degree in horseback riding or basket weaving or something. I said “No,” he says “I’ve got a serious degree.” And I said “What do you have?” He said “I have a PH.D in theoretic physics.” I said “Whoa! My counselor is telling me that, you know, in two years, I’m gonna be starting out there with big money and everything else.” He said “Where are you gonna work? All the defense plants aren’t hiring, the university doesn’t need more physics professors, almost nobody’s studying that.” So I checked out what he said, found out it was true, had a great party with my money, and landed a job formanning the reconstruction and remodeling of 1735 Coach House on the old post road from colonial days and stuff, and I stayed in construction after that. I got to work in many trades because of that. So I worked as a carpenter, I worked as a framer, I worked … I did framing, siding, cabinet work, did all that, built my own roofing company, and I kept opening companies ’cause nobody would hire me, but I just went through twelve, thirteen trades in my lifetime ’cause I love the knowledge, and I found they were all interconnected. Like George Wertzel said. You know, you could see the same pattern in his life. He just … He kept going down these forks in the road and so did I. And when you found the fork, you always had two decisions. Go down the one that said “Stop and do nothing,” or the other one, find a way to do what was next, and get down the road a little further till you come to the next fork.
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Liz: How did you navigate situations where either you wanted to learn from someone how to do something and they were hesitant to show you, and/or, you knowing whichever trade that you knew, and wanting to work for someone, and that person was kind of hesitant to accept? How did you navigate those situations?
Mike: My god, Liz. Great question. What happened was, uh, you’re right. As I got out there, people couldn’t believe I could do anything. And you have to overcome that stigma. And the way I did it was, I would do whatever menial job they said to do in the printing trades. I had two jobs. One was taking old newspapers, that were out of date, and unfolding them so they were big flat sheets, so on Sunday night when they printed the Sunday paper, they could throw one down on the conveyer belt and it became the bottom of the bundle, so that if the ground was wet, the bottom paper didn’t get destroyed. So that was my job. Just stand there and unfold them. They thought I could do that. There was another job I did too, as a … we used to call them inserters, but basically, it’s a collator’s job. By hand, where you had to take whatever advertising went into the Sunday paper that week, and the TV guide, and the comics, which were a jacket, and you opened the comics, and you stuck one of each advertisement, and a TV magazine into that. And you put it down on the bench, and when you had a stack of about 50 or a hundred of them, you picked them up and carried them across the room to the guys who were counting them into bundles of twenty-five getting ready to print the Sunday newspaper three or four days later. That job was piece work. It paid a penny for every three complete sections I did. My first week, I worked something like 17, 18 hours, and made seven dollars and ninety cents take home. I didn’t care. I figured, “There’s guys making money, I’ve got to figure out what they were doing.” I did not know, ’cause I couldn’t see, that there’s a little insert that you can put over the tip of your finger that would give you more grip. And it was a lot faster, and it picked up my speed. And eventually, uh, there were twenty-two of us in the department. Two kids counting, the other twenty, myself and 19 others, were in charge of doing all the inserts. The weekly circulation was fifty-six thousand a week. My speed increased to the point where I could do nineteen thousand of them alone, and the other 19 kids did the remaining 30 odd thousand. That made me the rainmaker in that room. I was the one to beat, I became the machine there producing. They never thought that. But once they saw I had those abilities, and that I would stick with something, eventually, in 1969, my speed was so fast at a penny for every three, I was averaging between $5.25 and $7.05 an hour for my time. Minimum wage had just gone up to $2.15. I was earning double or triple minimum wage. But again, once they saw I could do the work, and then they began to say “Well here. Why don’t you come in on Sunday night and do the Sunday night printing?” Or, “Our sister company needs help. Why don’t you go over to the printing plant and work there?” And I was a rate buster everywhere I went. ‘Cause the one thing I was in control of was my attitude, and I was in control of my speed. And I would do everything to refine the art so that I could become faster and better than anyone else, so that I got noticed basically.
Chris: Can you talk about other ways that you maybe found to get noticed over the years?
Mike: Yeah. Well, this came from being at that printing situation for six years, and one day, I just needed to move on with my life. I wanted more than what they thought, you know, I was gonna get. So I started my own little home improvement and copper business on the side because I had learned the skills to hang paneling, do copper plumbing, do electrical wiring and stuff, and I had learned those skills, and I began to market those skills, and my phone began to ring, and they’d say “Mike, I’m gonna do this this Saturday. Think you could help me?” “Sure.” All this work that nobody else wanted to do, I began to just take, because the word spread amongst my friends. But the one thing that made it all possible was, I learned a key phrase, “Who, do, you, know?” And I found that if I needed a piece of equipment, or I was involved in a process that I didn’t understand, “Who do you know that can do this? Who do you know that has that? Who do you know that has a truck for sale? Who do you know, who do you know, who do you know, who do you know?” And that’s pretty much, you know, how that happened. And just never being afraid to ask questions. I didn’t care if they thought less of me. I wanted the knowledge. I didn’t want their … (Chuckle.) I didn’t want their approval. I wanted their knowledge. And, um, and then people would tell me “Well, I don’t know anybody.” ‘Cause I’ve talked to people who I’ve tried to coach over the years. And they’d say “Well I don’t know anybody.” I said, “What do you mean you don’t know anybody?” And I’m not talking just about disabled people, Chris and Liz. I’m talking about all people. They’d say “Well I don’t know anybody.” And I’d go “Really? I mean if you don’t have a support system, and you live in an inner city apartment, where are you growing your food? On the roof? I mean where are you finding the money to pay your rent? You have a support system. And you need to learn how to tap that support system for anything that you run into that you need. And with that awareness is how I built my businesses.
Liz: What current projects are you working on?
Mike: I have what are known as my three initiatives. And they’re all centered around one goal. And that’s to help people find a job in one of the trades. Twenty-six percent of American young adults go to college, half of them never get a degree, what do we do with the other seventy-four percent? Well, the truth is, be known that at 18 years old, if you go into a trade in your lifetime, you will out earn the average person who goes to college. I know of construction jobs right now, the starter pay is 65 thousand dollars a year with no experience, and if you have ten years experience, they’ll start you at two hundred thousand dollars a year. So I’m a big advocate of the trades. So we started the Million Job movement. And the Million Job movement is my personal commitment to do a public awareness campaign nationally to assist a million Americans to find one of the high paying, rewarding careers in one of the many trades that are out there right now. And to do that, we have the seminars and stuff that we do for the Million Job Movement, but we also have, and we’re going back on the air, with the “I Love My Tools” internet radio show, which is a call in show, and it’s all geared toward people in the trades. Where they come on, and they talk about how they got in the trades, and how they learned what they learned, we also talk about the latest techniques and building materials and tools and industries and stuff. So that’s a fun thing to do. The other thing is the Anyone Can Win Entrepreneurial training program. It’s where I do short videos and stuff on YouTube and from the website, where I’m teaching step by step how I built my businesses. Because five of my businesses led to multi million status, even though, no banker would loan to me. I actually had bankers tell me “we don’t lone to blind people.” In the early days when I was starting out. So I had to come up with ways to fund everything on my own resources. Buy my own trucks. I had insurance people telling me “we don’t insure blind people,” but yet I … the state of Connecticut said I had to have insurance on my trucks. I had to have liability insurance in my home improvement business. And I found work-arounds for everything. And I’ll be sharing that at the Anyone Can Win website. Everything I do is geared toward the Million Job Movement. I want people to know that there’s opportunities in the trades, why don’t you pick up a tool and try, if you’re an influencer, a grandparent or a parent of some young person, give them a tool. Ask them to help you and do something. You might reach a part of their soul that college is never going to reach for them. And, uh, so I’m a big advocate about the trades. And that’s what I’ve been working on.
Liz: In navigating your experiences and trying all the things that you’ve tried, and just living your life, how have you handled either self-doubt, and/or the what ifs of those experiences?
Mike: Time taught me that ultimately, I was my own best resource. As I went through life, being raised poor, and in a state housing project, and blind, I heard about other successful people. And I began to study success when I was about fourteen years old. And I found some things that were true about all successful people. And the first thing that all successful people did, they embraced the fact that they were in charge of their own life. And so every time I was in a situation, I made sure that I understood it was up to me. And I fed myself with positive information. People like Robert Schuler. People like Jim Rone. People like Tony Robins and stuff. The second thing I discovered from all successful people was, since nobody was gonna benefit by my success greater than I was, who then did it fall upon to do the greatest commitment of resources, the greatest commitment of time, the greatest learning, and the most work effort? And it obviously had to be me. I couldn’t expect other people to do what I wouldn’t do. Matter of fact, at the top of my day timer, a quote that I wrote to myself thirty odd years ago, and it’s still there. “If I won’t do it, why should anyone?” I can’t impose upon others the will to do things. So I found everything came down to three binary choices. Stop or go, yes or no, now or later. It was that simple. And I also ran into a guy in Texas who taught me something about problem solving, and he said, “Most people, there’s a 95 5 rule and most people get it wrong.” I said “What’s the 95 5 rule?” He says, “You put 5 percent of your resources into identifying the problem, and 95 percent of your resources into solving the problem.” And I asked him, “Well, what do you mean by that?” He said “You’ll find most people who have a mess going on. They’ve got time to put 95 percent of their resources to pick up the phone and call everyone they know, “Oh you wouldn’t believe what just happened to me! I’m a victim, I’m a victim, I’m a victim!” And they put almost no effort into solving the problem. “ONCE you’re over the initial shock,” he said, “you’ll find the most successful people know how to shake it off in thirty seconds and say “Okay, we’ve got a situation. What do we do to apply our resources?”
Chris: You’ve talked about starting businesses because nobody would hire you, and, when you need to start a business, one of the biggest fears people have is, “How am I going to go and ask people to become my customers?” And you’ve spent some time thinking about that, right? How do you go about asking people to take advantage of your business once you’ve opened it?
Mike: Well, there’s two categories of people in the world. There’s the people you know, and there’s the people you don’t know. That’s good news bad news. The bad news is, you only know a few people, but the good news is, those few people you know know the rest of the world. And you’ve got to keep it short, you’ve got to keep it to the point, for every business I ever had, I practiced a short presentation that was less than thirty seconds, I could do it in one breath, and you’ve got to practice with a tape recorder, back then it was a tape recorder, now it’s digital, but you’ve got to hear what you sound like, and you can’t sound unsure, you’ve got to train yourself to be successful, basically, and when we did that, we come up with a short presentation. Basically I asked for help. I didn’t say “buy,” or “join,” I asked for help. And I did it with the storm doors and aluminum seamless gutters. Called someone up, said “Hey Chris,” you’re my best friend in the world, Chris. I said “Hey Chris, it’s Mike. Listen, I need your help.” One, two, three, Chris said “Sure, Mike, what do you need,” or “what’s up?” I said, “Bunny and I have opened our own seamless gutter business, so you know anybody who needs to put gutters on their house, we’d appreciate it if you could send them our way. We have some samples, we have some literature we can give them, and if that’s all you can do right now, believe me, that’s more than enough, so, how’s the family? How’s your babies?” And I changed the subject. And if they were interested, they turned around and said, “Oh, the family’s fine, but listen, my uncle was just thinking about putting gutters on his house.” And I said, “Well, I would love to give him a quote, but make sure when he calls me, he tells me he’s your uncle, and I’ll make sure he gets the friend price.” And he goes “Oh, great.” And that made my phone ring, Chris. That simple thing. That strategy can be used in any business you have, matter of fact that worked so well in that “particular business, the gentleman who was the subcontractor who I hired, now I did some gutters on my own with pop rivets and cock and all that. I know how to do gutters. But this guy gave me a price for gutters, he was the son-in-law of the man who invented the seamless gutter process. He showed up with a truck and a two-mile long coil of aluminum wire in the back of the truk. He could make gutters a hundred feet long if he had to in one piece. And so I began to use him. And one day he told me, he said “Mike,” he said “I don’t know what you’re doing, but you know something?” I found out he was the same guy that did the seamless gutters for Sears and Roebuck. And he says “Mike, you give me more work state wide than they do.” Get the word out. There’s no business that opens a store, rents the store, stocks the shelves, paints the windows black, disconnects the telephone, shuts off the electricity, and sits there and wonders why there’s nobody coming in. You’ve got to let the world know you exist. The first job we got was a little old lady in her eighties. The elbow came off of the gutter up on her house, and it was a two-story house. It took me longer to take the ladder off the truck, run up and put a screw in it, and put the ladder away than it did to fix the problem. She asked me what she owed me, I said “nothing,” she said, “No no no no no,” she was old school. “No no, you’ve got to make something.” So she gave me five dollars. I said “Well thank you, but just let folks know that you met a nice young guy who’s willing to work and who’s fair to you.” Over the next two weeks, she sent eleven referrals to me. That company, in forty-two months, was doing two million dollars a year.
Chris: You told me a story when we talked on the phone before this interview about fixing a school bus. It was an oil leak if I remember correctly.
Mike: Oh my god! Yeah. I was working in Miami, um, down south, I was a snow bird, I would go down there in the months and … in the cold months up north, and I would reinvent myself. And I would pack different tools with me and go down there, and I was tired of being an electrician, and I thought, “Well gea, maybe I ought to do something different.” So I packed mechanics tools thinking “Well I’ll find something where I’ll turn a wrench and earn a living.” I was sitting in a little pancake house diner next to one of the canals in Miami. I remember I could hear the drawbridge going up and down, and traffic stopping. In comes this big guy, and uh, he was huge. He was like four hundred and fifty pounds. He was huge. Former marine. And he steps up to the counter and he says, “Idiots can’t fix nothing!” And I said “What’s wrong, John?” And he said “Ah, one of my buses with an oil leak over to the garage. And they’re charging me …” and back then, 18 dollars an hour was a lot of shop time. And uh, and he said “and I had it over there fourteen hours, I get it back and I still have the leak. I’m losing forty-eight quarts an hour on the highway going picking up passengers and stuff.” And he said “The idiots can’t find the leak.” I don’t know what made me do it, but I spoke up and just said to him, “I can find that oil leak.” I figured, “Oh, come on. An oil leak, that’s easy to find. Look for the wet spot.” We went to his terminal where he had his bus terminal, I went inside the bus, lifted the hatch up out of the floor, and I’m going, “What the heck am I doing?” Everything is so disproportioned in a bus. Bigger everything. The air filter, I thought, was a garbage can under the floor. I mean it was that huge. And then I pulled out the side and you’ve got to get past the battery rack to get to the side of the engine, and I believe I found the leak because I was blind. I felt around the engine. On the side of the engine is a big steel plate that bolts the side of the engine to the crank case, and off the side of that is all your oil that supplies your equipment. Including the air compressor that opens and closes the doors on the bus. And the bottom had two bolts in it, and they were okay, and up on top, I felt a crack. By getting my fingers hooked over the top. The plate was away from the engine block by a quarter inch. Those two bolts on top had fallen out and the plate was leaning out. And from underneath, you’d never see it, from on top you can’t see it, it wasn’t straight down from the deck in the … the hatch in the floor up above, and so I crawled out from under it, and just then a guy comes in, who was a jobber, and he said “Boss around?” I said “No,” and he said, “Um, just tell him the guy that sells nuts and bolts is here.” I said “Nuts and bolts!” I said “Here. Do you have one of these?” And I showed him a stud, and it needed a certain size nut, he said “Yeah, I’ve got those.” And he gave me, he said “How many you need?” I said “Well, I probably should change all four.” And he said “Okay, here.” And I said, “I don’t have any money on me.” I said “You’ll have to come back and get it from the boss.” He says “Nah, just tell the boss a nice guy came by and helped you out and got the problem fixed.” So I got back under the bus, put the four bolts in, just about the time I was finishing, John the marine stormed in, into the beaches, comes up to me under the bus and says, “Did you find the leak?” And I said “Find it! It’s fixed.” He said, “Fixed!” (Laugh.) So he ran up the stairs and started the bus, I barely got out from under the bus, (Laugh.) Before he took off. And uh, and he hammered it, and he came back about twenty minutes later, checked the dip stick and saw there was no oil loss, and he said “Kid, you want a job?” This was early 1970’s, he offered me seven dollars an hour to start, that was a lot of money back then. And I worked for him for three months, and when March came, April came, I wanted to get back up north, go back home, become a carpenter again, and do the stuff I could do outside. He offered to teach me to be a bus mechanic, a desal mechanic. He offered me, said “If you stay, I’ll pay you nine dollars an hour.” But I didn’t take him up on that. But you know, again, I spoke up for myself, and I took on a challenge. It’s kind of fun, in a sick, sadistic way, to prove the sighted world wrong when they try to underestimate you.
Chris: Did you ever think about, what if you hadn’t been able to find the leak? What would have happened then? Did that enter your mind?
Mike: No. Never. Because I knew it had to be obvious. It just had to be somewhere that nobody looked. And once I understood that there were lots of parts to that engine nobody could look directly at, I knew only touch was gonna find it. The engine was so soaked in oil, no sighted person could find it because everything was dripping under there. But I’ve taken on other projects like that. That other people said were impossible. Because, well, you know, brain surgery is done by people with an average IQ of a hundred to a hundred and ten. Which is the high side of average. You know, the Wright Brothers invented the whole industry of flight. They were bicycle repair guys. Now I get knots in my stomach, checking out the problem, but I’ll tell you, it’s the ultimate high to beat the odds, and to, and to come up with a solution. And especially when you realized, “What’s the worst? These are people who already don’t think much of me being blind anyway. So, so what if I disappoint them?” But I knew I had to at least try.
Chris: Is there anything that we should have asked, that we didn’t think to ask you that you want people to know?
Mike: My mother, on her deathbed, told me that her goal was to make sure that if I married a woman, it was because I loved her, not because I needed her. And part of not needing anybody, I didn’t need to marry somebody wealthy because I took care of my own future. I knew the power of compound interest, and I learned all that, everything I did was geared toward the day when my mother would be gone, my support system would be diminished, I would be the head of the family, and how did I meet my obligations and keep my independence? Because my independence meant everything to me.
Chris: Thanks, Mike. Where can people contact you if they want to learn more about what you’re doing or become involved?
Mike: The best way to learn what I’m doing, and the simplest thing to put out here is, ’cause I have a number of websites, you know,
where the radio show is, “America’s Blind Tradesman,” you know, they can find all that, but the easiest way is to become part of my crew. ‘Cause in construction we have crews. We don’t … I don’t have mailing lists, I have a crew. (Chuckle.) And you just simply go to join mike’s, with an S, crew, dot com. And you sign up for my newsletter. All I’m gonna ask is your first name or handle, an E-mail address, and what state you’re in, and the only reason I want to know what state you’re in is because as I travel this country, and I go through the list one day and realize I have thirty-seven people in east Texas, then what I’m gonna do is, when I get down there, I’ll let you all know I’m coming in case you all want to get together for a cup of coffee. You know, that’s the only reason I want the information. Other than that, I don’t need it. And it’s
and that’s the easiest way, Chris.
Chris: Well Mike, thank you for being here. You’ve had a lot of important things to say to the blind community. I really appreciate it.
Mike: Oh my pleasure. Thank you for the forum to even share my thoughts. Thank you, Chris.
Liz: Is there something you’d like to talk about? We’d love to hear from you. Visit pennyforward.com/podcast
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Chris: The Penny Forward podcast is produced by Liz Bottner and Chris Peterson, Audio editing and post production is provided by Byron Lee, and transcription is provided by Ann Verduin. Web hosting is provided by Taylor’s Accessible Branding Solutions.
Liz: Penny Forward is a community of blind people building bright futures one penny at a time. Visit
to learn more about who we are and what we do.
Chris: For all of us in the Penny Forward community, I’m Chris Peterson, …
Liz: And I’m Liz Bottner.
Chris: Have a great week.
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