"I'm scared," my 14-year-old daughter, Cree, said as we waited for the Boulder Blind Café to start on Friday night. In a room behind two blackout curtains, we were about to sit down to a vegetarian "Sensory Tasting Experience" and a performance by string ensemble Rosh & One Eye-Glass Broken in pitch dark. Cree was afraid she wouldn't be able to eat her food. I was worried about being stuck in one chair for two hours with no way to get to the bathroom or just step away. I hate seat belt lights on airplanes for the same reason.
"You'll be in the pitch dark for two hours," announced Gerry Leary, owner of The Unseen Bean and Coffee Roaster in Boulder, Colo., and the keynote speaker for this this event that takes place a couple times a year in Boulder, Colo., Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore. Leary and the other blind servers would lead us through the curtains and guide us as we ate a meal without being able to see. I put my hand on Cree's shoulder and took the rear of the line. Once the second curtain closed behind me, her shoulder became a lifeline. "Don't go so fast!" I whined as I untangled myself from a chair. Our blind waitress led the hobbling line of diners to our tables and placed our hands firmly on the back of the chair we should sit in.
Our food, which the chef described later to "ahas" from diners who had been puzzled by certain ingredients, was already on the table. We had been told that our salad would be in the middle, cheese plate on the right and dessert on the left. Salad? It's hard enough to deal with all those lettuce bits falling off the fork and bigger-than-bite-size beet chunks when you can see. I took a few unsuccessful bites before I realized: If I couldn't see them, they couldn't see me. I dug in with my hands.
"I'm eating with my hands," I whispered to Cree. "Me too," she said happily. After I licked all the leftover yogurt dip for the fruit skewers out of the cup, I took an extra coconut caramel because no one could see. During the music, I scooted my chair back, made sure there was space around me and did some yoga stretches over the back of my chair. It was warm in the room, and people made jokes about taking their clothes off. I wondered what other people were doing once they realized they were invisible.
Our experience built massive appreciation for our working vision, but we all realized we missed an important aspect. No one else could see us fumble. We were all in it together, with no one to judge our foibles. We laughed at ourselves and reached out to the people across from us to figure out how wide the table was. We searched together for a loaf of bread we never found, bumped elbows and accidentally drank each other's waters.
Throughout the evening the blind waiters and waitresses came by often to ask if we needed an escort to anywhere, but my internal seat belt sign had been illuminated. I stayed with my table. I wanted to be part of this community in the dark for as long as possible.
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