Waiting to enter the Blind Cafe

Waiting to enter the Blind Cafe

After a Friday night filled with sensory overload, Saturday night was to be the complete opposite. Liv was treating me to an experience with The Blind Cafe. Once again, I was not sure what to expect, but I knew it would be quite different.

The Blind Cafe is is actually an organization that hosts “pop up” events at restaurants in various cities including San Francisco, Boulder, Seattle, Austin, and Portland. These events are hosted in complete darkness. They are not designed to completely imitate blindness, but do give you sense of what it might be like. The one we attended was at the Shine Restaurant in Boulder.

I have to admit, I was a bit nervous upon arrival at Shine. I was not sure how I would handle being in complete darkness for two hours. I joked that we may need to eat after the event because I wasn’t sure I’d get any food in the dark.

Guide dog in training

Guide dog in training

As we waited for all of the other guests to arrive, we mingled and got to meet some of the volunteers and some guide dogs in training. It was a nice distraction and interesting to see the young pups that would soon be assisting someone navigate their world.

Soon, it was time for us to line up. We had been assigned to table 6. One of the waiters, who is actually blind came out to greet us. We were instructed to grab the shoulder of the person in front of us — and don’t let go until seated. Our waiter slowly led us through two layers of black out curtains and then we were completely immersed in darkness. We shuffled our way through the room. Occasionally I would bump into a chair or table. I would call out “chair left” so that those behind me might avoid it.

Walking into a dark room was disorienting. You are used to immediately assessing a room by its appearance, but there was none of that. I couldn’t tell how large the room was, where the tables were, etc. As we snaked through the tables, I wanted to just grab a seat and take refuge.

We got to what should have been our table only to discover that people were already seated there. Actually, our waiter made that determination because I couldn’t tell what was going on. He made the decision to exit the dining area and figure out where we could sit.

When we briefly exited to the light, I exhaled a sigh of relief. That’s also when we noticed that we had lost half of the 12 people at our table. My only guess is that someone let go and they all just found and empty seat. We also saw that there was a guest that was having an anxiety attack over the darkness. They had become disoriented and were crying while being comforted by their partner.

After a discussion with the staff, our waiter escorted the remaining guests of table six back in the dining area. This time we were quickly seated and I can tell you, that was extremely comforting.

Once seated, we then started realizing how different this experience was going to be. We were desperately trying to get to know our surroundings. We called out in the dark to the others in the room, trying to figure out who was seated at our table. We cautiously explored the table with our hands. Everyone was feeling out the location of their plate, utensils, and cups… and yes, a few people accidentally jabbed their food with their fingers.

After a minute or two of socializing, most people began eating. It was sort of a weird moment. Were we suppose to be eating? What is everyone else doing? Are we suppose to wait?

That is the way the dining went. There were two aspects to being in the dark. One, you had to deal with the difficulties of not seeing. But you also realized that no one could see you. I discovered that it isn’t so bad to dine without seeing. I used my fingers a bit more and had some problems trying to find the butter for the bread. It was also odd eating food without seeing it. I realized that the look of the food affected my notion of how it would taste.

Without other people being able to see me made me more lax at the table. It was OK to use my fingers. During the Q&A session with the staff, I didn’t have to “act” interested. It was indeed interesting, but I didn’t feel the need to look like I thought it was. I really did like the Q&A. The guests got the opportunity to ask questions about what it was like to be blind. One interesting tidbit — one of the waiters was an auto mechanic for 20+ years!

The next part of the evening was live music. It was pretty neat to be in complete darkness and listening to live music. I’m sure we’ve all closed our eyes and done that, but it was not a choice tonight. What did they look like? What instruments were they playing?

As the music ended, the founder of the Blind Cafe lit a candle. My eyes drank in the surroundings like a thirsty man would drink a glass of water. I wanted to examine the tables, the food, the other guests to see if my mind had created it as I thought it was. Mostly, it had done well, but there were some surprises — I thought we were a big, long table but it was actually rather small.

With that, the dining evening was over. Liv and I talked a lot about our experiences in the dark. One thing we both thought was interesting was that darkness wasn’t black. We both saw lots of shades of grey and muted colors. I want to try to draw what I saw because it was so interesting and different.

If you have a chance to visit a Blind Cafe, I highly recommend it. It was an enlightening experience and I’m so glad I could leave the darkness and return to my world of sight.