“The lights will be going out in ten minutes, so if you want to use the restroom, this would be a good — “
The voice on the microphone was drowned out by the sound of several hundred chairs being pushed back and that many people rushing to the banquet room exits. It had occurred to all of us simultaneously that even something as mundane as slipping out to “freshen up” would be impossible in total darkness.
This event was arranged by a charitable organization called Foundation Fighting Blindness. It honored our friend Mary Romo, who is herself visually impaired but volunteers at the Braille Institute and at schools to help others whose eyesight is limited or gone.
The unique aspect of this dinner was that it would be served in the dark, giving diners some sense of the daily challenges faced by those who are sightless. Even the servers at this banquet were blind.
Our server came to the table before the lights were turned off, asking each of us individually if we had any dietary restrictions. It probably gave him a chance to recognize us by voice, which would be helpful to him during the serving process.
There were ropes and stanchions around the room which allowed the servers to find their way to and from the kitchen, and around the banquet hall. I noticed that a peg had been taped to the back of the chair of the woman who sat to my right. Presumably this helped the server locate her as #1; he would work around in a counterclockwise direction, so I would be the last served at our table.
After we all made it back from the restrooms, the lights were turned off, and you could hear a few gasps around the room at how dark it was. Seriously — it was black in there. I held my hand in front of my face and couldn’t see it.
The event organizers had sealed off all sources of light, however faint. Even the illuminated exit signs were blacked out. The planners had made arrangements with local authorities to have special marshals on hand in case of an emergency. I believe they were wearing those infared night-vision goggles, but as I said, I couldn’t even see my own hand.
When the meal arrived, there were guesses around the table about what we were eating. I’m fairly certain it was chicken florentine, broccoli and scalloped potatoes, but I’m ashamed to admit that I was going more by feel than by taste.
Oh, at first I tried to cut bites with my knife and fork. Things were squirting around my plate, though, and possibly into the middle of the table for all I know. Eventually I realized that if I was going to get any nourishment, my hands would need to be more directly involved. Fortunately, it was impossible for anyone to take incriminating photos of me fumbling with my food like a two-year-old.
After about a half-hour, the lights were turned back on; the conversation was subdued for a bit because we were all processing the implications of what we had just experienced.
In the dark, we had seen things we tend to take for granted. You might say that when we temporarily had our vision blocked out, our eyes were opened. And with the lights back on, I could also see that my suit would definitely need to be dry cleaned.