Imagine going out for a unique dining experience to try something new and unwind from the stress of the week. You get an address and a time. When you arrive at your destination, you’re met with a dark but beautifully lit building — an 1850s estate with towering pillars wrapped with soft lights. You enter the estate to be greeted by smiling faces who check you in and politely require that cell phones be turned off — not simply on vibrate or silent, but off. As you make your way into the common area, there are many unfamiliar faces about the room, all making their introductions to one another.
Shortly after everyone has had time to arrive and make their introductions, the host of the evening, Rosh Rocheleau makes his appearance. With a pleasant welcome, he introduces himself and gives us all a brief explanation of what is in store for the evening. Were experiencing The Blind Cafe. There would be no lights, and our wait staff is made of blind individuals. Excited and anxious at this point, we go back to mingling as Rosh and his team begin to divide us into table groups and lead us upstairs. This is where the magic of the evening truly unfolded.
When we entered the room, we were guided to our seats by a waiter who somehow knew the room better than all of us, despite his never seeing it either. Once we sat down, the fun began. Everyone was in a state of awe trying to get their bearings about them. The dinner for the evening created problems on its own for most everyone in attendance. We weren’t told what was on our plate or how much, so attempting to dig in proved to be much more of a formidable task than previously anticipated.
Our meal for the evening was vegan friendly, and featured a nice variety of vegetables, falafel, and humus. Laughs filled the room and conversations of hopefully helpful tips to finding the bread baskets could be heard at every table. It wasn’t particularly difficult to eat, but the trouble came in the form of finding the utensils with which we were intended to eat. Needless to say, finding our spoons and forks was a team effort. Inching my hands across the table slowly so not to intrude on the efforts of others, I was amused at my own ineffective efforts to navigate the table setting. Until the something hit me — this is the reality many people face on a daily basis.
Sitting in complete darkness with no sense of direction was a truly humbling experience. It really made me appreciate the little things we take for granted. Knowing where the fork is. Not fearing that you’ll knock over a drink. Being able to help others around you. For a moment, I could do nothing but simply sit in place fighting the overwhelming anxiety of my experience. I didn’t speak much that evening. I couldn’t. In this glimpse into the circumstance endured by so many, I could only cling to the knowledge that soon I would be me once again. So many people were in the room, there had to be at least 50, and I couldn’t see a single face. Not a smile, a friendly glance from a stranger as they passed, not even a comforting hand to hold as I sat in darkness. There were five other people at my table, and I couldn’t tell you much about them beyond the small talk they shared. Hubris removed, I could now begin to not only sympathize with the difficulties that blind individuals face daily, but respect the diligence they must put into leading a normal, fulfilling life.
Towards the end of the evening, we were entertained by a light musical performance from Austin’s own The Constellation Prize, headed by lead songwriter Richie Flores who is also a Keynote Blind Speaker and Facilitator at The Blind Cafe. Enjoying music in that environment was truly a unique experience. With one of our strongest senses stripped away, the music just felt much more intense — from the volume to the emotions it could evoke within a listener. It is unique to experience a band play an impressive set in complete darkness. In a way, it’s a very immersive experience really. You’re able to hear the music and really get into the performance, singling along with familiar verses and hearing the soft harmonies of the voices surrounding you without fear of looking or sounding foolish or out of place. It allowed me to experience togetherness while being alone.
By the end of the night, as we emerged from the darkness, I was grateful for the experience, despite my melancholy nature. I left the dining room a better person. I gained a new understanding and appreciation for a community that often goes unnoticed. I wish The Blind Cafe was a permanent fixture in Austin, but they’ve got other Texas events in the works and are steadily working to add more.