I’ve seen mentions about the Seattle Blind Café popping up here and there for a couple of years now and wondered what it’s all about. Given that the tickets are $125 for this experience, I was eager to volunteer at the event and to my surprise, my wife was open to giving it a try as well.
Inspired by his a trip to a “dark café” in Reykjavik, Iceland, The Blind Café was started by a singer-songwriter who goes by the singular name of Rosh.
“Our mission is to transform the quality of how people relate to themselves and others,” Rosh explains on his website. “By engaging people socially in 100 percent darkness, without the distractions of visual conditioning, social etiquette, and cell phones - we’re exploring how we impact ourselves and others.”
Rosh and a small group of people travel the U.S. breaking bread with others in the dark and they make their way to Seattle about twice a year. My wife and I decided to give the café a try during their most recent visit to the Emerald City over Valentine’s Day weekend.
One thing we learned right away about The Blind Café crew is that they are a relaxed bunch. Almost “hippy-ish” - if that is a thing. When I mentioned to our contact that my wife was wondering what to wear for the event, she simply replied, “Whatever she wants!” which I guess makes sense since we’d be spending most of our time in the dark.
Finding the venue wasn’t too hard, though it was a bit ominous finding the simple note saying “Blind Café” taped to the door of a darkened doorway. Inside we found a dimly lit open area with small tables set up with samples of free-trade chocolate and a bar serving locally-made kombucha and a few other beverages for guests waiting to go in.
We signed up to serve as the check-in crew for the later show of the night as well as some easy clean up chores. Once the first group left from the first show, we were brought in to clean up the tables and reset them for the next dinner show. With the lights on, we were able to see the aftermath of spilled food and water. Not a lot, but most of the tablecloths had to be changed. We placed one Mason jar of water, a spoon and a napkin for each place setting. Then we left to check in the group coming in for the second show which included all walks of life. One of our tasks was to serve as cellphone police - making sure that every person took out their cell and turned it completely off in front of us. Just “silent” or “airplane mode” wouldn’t do.
Soon we were told that we could join the group for the show. Rosh came out and introduced himself and our two blind ambassadors for the evening including Richie Flores, another singer-songwriter. Groups of six or eight people were brought into the dining room led by one of the ambassadors. We were instructed to place our right hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us and then follow like a train entering the dark room. And when I say dark, I mean really dark. They go to great extremes to make sure that no light enters the dining room at any time.
Rosh stated before the show that some people become overwhelmed being in total darkness, and I got a good sense of why that is. You really don’t have much control. You have to trust others for everything. Still, we made it to our table safely and without embarrassing ourselves.
Once seated, we found the spoon, napkin and water jar right where we left them, but now there were an addition of three covered containers containing our meal for the evening. The couple across from us introduced themselves. I said that the male sounded tall, but my wife astutely stated that he sounded like he was standing and not yet seated. It was a unique experience to talk to total strangers without actually seeing them. One man we spoke to leaving the show said that he usually had a hard time talking to strangers, but found it much easier in the dark.
As for the dinner, the meal consisted of a vegan and gluten-free dinner. Well, that is with the exception of the bread on the center of the table because they haven’t found any gluten-free bread that “doesn’t suck” as they explained. I won’t tell what was on the menu as to not spoil the surprise.
It was interesting to put mystery food into your mouth without seeing it ahead of time. Everyone received the same meal and if you’re not a fan of vegan food, this may not be for you. I thought it was smart that they served food that could be eaten with a spoon rather than relying on a fork or knife, but I thought that some of the vegetables where cut very large making them difficult to eat. I found myself overly concerned that I might tip over my water, but I managed to get through the night victorious. Others didn’t fare so well. At least it was only water and it didn’t stain anything. My wallet did slip out of my back pocket though and various cards flew out in the darkness, but we were able to scoop them all up without the benefit of a light.
After a short while, we got a chance to ask anything our ambassadors anything we wanted to know about what it was like to live life as a blind person. One people asked how they chose what clothes to wear each day, another asked how sighted people could help blind people when spotted on the streets and another asked what their greatest pet peeve was. It was all very insightful (no pun intended). Then dessert was served as more closed containers were delivered to each table via wicker basket and I don’t mind saying that it was delicious.
We were then treated to live music by Rosh and the Blind Café Band. They played four or five original songs which sounded great, but the songs didn’t seem to relate to the event at hand. Then again, I’m not sure what music would fit the occasion.
Sitting in the dark for two hours doesn’t completely give you an idea of what it is like to be blind, but it’s a good start. At times it was difficult to know if your eyes were open of if they were shut. Time seemed to move more slowly. You realize how often you look at your phone. Some people commented that they felt guilty after the experience knowing that they would be able to see again, but our ambassadors would not. At the very least, you leave with a greater appreciation for the sight you have and those annoying reading glasses become a lot less annoying.
After we helped clean up the venue before heading out, I found myself wishing that the crew took time to really capitalize our other four senses. It could be interesting to try to figure out different scents or feeling different textures of fabric for instance, but all in all, this was a great experience that everyone should try at least once.