Bannock: A Huge Goddamn Headache
A little while ago I wrote about autistic accessibility, and some of the factors that contribute toward my finding a space easier or harder to navigate.
The Saturday before last I had an experience that I thought would make a valuable case study. Hannah and I decided to go to Bannock, which is a moderately fancy restaurant in downtown Toronto. It also turned out to be the perfect example of a space which is inaccessible for hypersensitive autistics.
We approached the server at the front of the restaurant, who told me that there was a fifteen to twenty minute wait.
Hannah asked if we could wait at the bar, and the server said the bar was full, too. This set off alarm bells: crowded restaurants are more likely to be inaccessible, for a number of reasons.
The server told us that we could stand off to the side, and we’d be called when they found a table. I had a bad feeling about this, but went along with it. We’d wanted to go to Bannock for a long time, but hadn’t had the opportunity until then.
We found a spare stool, and Hannah parked herself next to me.
“I hate it when they do that,” she said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I talk to them, but they don’t look at me. They look at you.”
“That’s odd,” I said.
“No, it isn’t.”
Which is true. We both knew exactly what had happened, because it’s happened a lot. People don’t see Hannah, they just see her wheelchair.
Whenever we’re out together and we have to talk to employees of any kind, I usually let Hannah speak for both of us. She’s better at it than me, and talking to people makes me uncomfortable.
But even though we’re both disabled, only her disability is visible, and so she isn’t seen as credible. Which is ironic, because when it comes to interpersonal interactions she’s so much more credible than me.
After a few minutes, a server appeared and told us there was a table available for two, so long as we left within the next two hours.
Fine, whatever, I thought.
I dreaded to see where they’d stick us.
We were led into the dining room, which was curiously configured. There were several tables in the middle of the room- inaccessible for anyone with overly sensitive proprioception- and then a number of tables bordering the edge of the room. These tables ensured that one or two diners (depending on the size of the table) would be able to sit with their back against a wall.
This is ideal.
However, here’s the weird part: the diners who sat against the wall all shared one long bench, and the tables were less than a foot apart. Which meant I’d have to sit elbow to elbow with a stranger. Two strangers, as it turned out, because the restaurant was crowded.
The stranger to my right was wearing heavy perfume. The stranger to my left was eating fish.
I started calculating whether or not this was a tolerable situation, because I’m out of touch with both my body and my feelings. I also wanted the dining experience to be successful, because we’d both really wanted to come here and I wanted Hannah to have a good time.
After a few minutes, she asked if I was okay. Her skill at reading people is better than my own considerable ability to camouflage my distress.
“Yeah, I’m just figuring out if I can handle this,” I said, scanning the room. I quickly realized there were no accessible tables. There were maybe two or three which were set apart, but these were in a more narrow section of the restaurant which was inaccessible to Hannah.
A few minutes later I said, “I definitely can’t do this. Can we leave?”
“Do you want to come back later? It might be less crowded then.”
I hadn’t considered that an option. I’d kind of assumed I’d ruined our opportunity to have a nice dinner at Bannock.
“We can do that,” I said.
The servers were apologetic as we got up to leave, and even offered to move us to a different (equally inaccessible) table.
When we came back, the restaurant was emptier. We were shown to a table in the middle of the restaurant; a dreaded floater, which meant that no matter where I sat, I felt horribly exposed.
Hannah was puzzled by my discomfort.
“Can we try to make this work?” she asked.
“We can try, but I’ll probably be a little spacey,” I said.
We examined the menu; we’d already examined it at her apartment. Whenever I go to a new restaurant, I try to look at the menu at least once beforehand in order to get some idea of what I’ll eat.
At Bannock, there were a few options, but what I was most curious about was the duck poutine pizza.
Hannah had gone to Bannock twice before, and had already tried it.
“It’s really good,” she said. “You’ll like it.”
So I ordered it, and she got the grilled cheese.
Our food arrived surprisingly quickly, and I saw that my pizza was piled with shredded onion.
I stared at it in disgust. Onion is one of the foods that I absolutely cannot eat. It had not been listed on the menu as an ingredient in the pizza.
“You can have it,” I said to Hannah.
“I can’t eat two things.”
“You can take it home with you.”
“You’re not eating it?”
She analyzed the pizza for a moment, and then began carefully picking the onion off piece by piece, placing them on her plate. I joined her.
After a few minutes, we’d gotten almost all of them. There was a messy pile of onions on the side of her plate. A few stray pieces were scattered on the table.
Our server appeared, trying to mask his horror. I supposed, judging by his reaction, that there’s some kind of taboo against picking apart meals in the middle of a restaurant.
Well, I thought, it was their fault for not listing all the ingredients on the menu.
“You don’t like onions,” he said.
“Let’s make you another pizza.”
“We’ve got almost all of it off,” said Hannah.
“I’d really rather have us make you another one,” said the server.
“It’s not a problem,” I said.
“We use a burned onion base for that pizza,” he said.
“Let us make you another one.”
“That’s probably a good idea,” I said.
“Do you want soup or something in the meantime?” he asked.
I declined. If they were capable of assaulting a perfectly good pizza in this manner, Christ knows what they’d do with soup. Any number of nasty surprises can be concealed within a murky broth.
He took the mutilated pizza away.
Hannah started on her grilled cheese, which was burned black. Ordinarily I love grilled cheese, but I wouldn’t have been able to eat this.
Hannah struggled, too.
“This is really gross,” she said, after a few bites. “I don’t think I can finish.”
My pizza arrived. It had not been pre-sliced, and was piled so high with fries, cheese curds, and duck that I had no idea how to cut through it with only an ordinary knife and my questionable motor skills.
I’m usually a fastidious eater, especially in public. I feel self-conscious about my innate clumsiness. But at this point, I had run completely out of fucks.
I hacked and sawed at the pizza, carving out an ungainly chunk.
“Feel free to have some if you want,” I said to Hannah.
“I don’t have a knife,” she said.
“Who cares? Use your hands.”
After awhile I abandoned my knife and joined Hannah in messily tearing off pieces of pizza. We were like a couple of vultures, and I knew our server and most of the other staff would be appalled.
Which frankly delighted me.
Eventually the pizza was utterly annihilated, looking as though we had attempted to cut it with a chainsaw. We were both full. There were scraps of meat, cheese and crust on the table, and I didn’t care.
The server came by and offered us dessert.
“Can we have a slice of s’mores pie?” said Hannah. “And we can have that to go?”
Neither of us wanted to stay in that horrible place any longer than we had to.
We ate the pie in the calm and quiet of Hannah’s apartment, and it was delicious.