For the offended

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Monday, April 8, 2024

Skip the eclipse (or don't)

In 2017, visitors to Carbondale paid $25 apiece to look up in Saluki Stadium.

     "Turkey in the Straw" is a terrible song. Grating, plodding, particularly when plinked out on a toy piano. It's also an old minstrel tune, to add an extra layer of offensiveness.
     And yet it moves me. In summertime, as I hear the sound, or, even worse, "Pop Goes the Weasel," dopplering toward me, and some powerful primal urge makes me want to grab money — well, really run to my mother and beg her to give me 50 cents, but that isn't a possibility — then rush outside to buy a Blue Ribbon Chocolate Eclair bar from the ice cream truck. You have to hurry, or you're going to miss it. By the time you hear the music, your chance is already passing by. I don't even like Chocolate Eclair bars, not being eight anymore. No matter. Now is the moment to act.
     I call that reaction — the urge to grab something you don't even want because your window of opportunity is limited —"The Ice Cream Truck Reflex," and it's a useful term to remember when confronting any rare, fleeting event, such as this damn solar eclipse Monday afternoon, which I am hoping to muster the strength to avoid, and I am giving you permission to miss, too.
     First, been there, done that. In August 2017 I drove down to Carbondale — with my entire family in tow — and occupied a spartan dorm room at Schneider Hall, which Southern Illinois University charged us $800 for three nights in classic soak-the-strangers fashion. (A bargain, actually. The Carbondale Holiday Inn charged $550 a night). For the big moment, we jammed into Saluki Stadium — along with 14,000 other dupes — and kudos for SIU contriving to charge visitors $25 for the privilege of watching what they could see just as well for free by standing in the parking lot and looking up.
     Or not see. The day was cloudy. Though that, too, built up the tension, released during the 10 seconds or so when the clouds parted and we actually eyeballed the eclipse. What was it like? "Hot, sweaty, exciting to see bite out of r. side of sun," I noted in my journal. "V. dramatic."
     Was it worth three days? Plus that $800 dorm room, and the other expenses (paid for by the paper, true, but I was still offended, on its behalf).

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  1. No eclipse plans for me. I have a medical appointment in Joliet at 1:00. By 2:07 I'll probably be driving home. I suppose I could pull over at Portillos and tailgate a hotdog while the day turns to dusk. No eclipse glasses, but at least I'll be eating a hotdog.

  2. I plan to watch the eclipse, in all its glory, unimpeded by clouds or crowds, without the slightest danger to my eyesight, at a time and place of my choosing. On TV, of course, where certified experts will free of charge give me all the skinny I desire and more about the phenomenon. I suppose I should thank all those who with enormous difficulty, appreciable expense and great risk swarm to sites to witness it at first hand. Otherwise, the TV cameras wouldn't be there either.


  3. It would be difficult to not take a few minutes from whatever you're doing in that four-minute span of time to just go outdoors and look up. Of course, there's also some poetic justice in noting that we here in the Chicago area who can't be bothered to drive downstate will be having cloud-free weather all day long, whereas I hear that the weather further south may be a bit iffy.

    I share Neil's wonder that people are shelling out tons of money for what's really a celestial event free to all. (In particular, I've spent a night on a dorm bunk in southern Illinois during a parents' weekend, and I can't believe people were paying for that same privilege last night.) I've driven to assorted Illinois colleges and back in a day; it's no big deal to have a pre-dawn coffee and donut at Dunkin', hit the road, and be there by early afternoon. At the appointed time, I'd just pull over on any handy side road, doesn't matter where, get out the lawn chairs and gaze away. Four minutes later I'm on the way home again. Piece o' cake.

  4. Duh.

    I'm camping at Rend Lake, an Army Corps campground. $18/night with my senior discount. Actually $36 cuz we sprung for a spot my son and gf as well. We're gonna drive over to a big open field, spread out a big sheet, put on our glasses, and watch for free.

    1. Good for you, dude, that’s the spirit. And as an SIU alum, it’s beautiful down there.

  5. In 2017, I-57 was a mess on the way down. On the way up, it was dead-stopped. I got off at Johnston City, headed east to US 45.

  6. Jesus, Neil. So much angst over an event that, unlike so many contrived manufactured spectaculars, this can cost you very little and actually be educational. My wife and I watched in the little lot across from our house 90 miles SW of Chicago. No Path of Totality, but pretty cool just the same. Had a half dozen neighbors join in and the mood was great. Hadn’t really seen them since late last fall as the weather was, um, shitty. I’ve seen far worse excuses to get together and we were able to share our experience with others walking their dogs (or just themselves) down the street. Shared our glasses which were much appreciated. They were more distant neighbors that we didn’t know at the time, but neighbors all the same. And now we do know them, at least a little. Even better, don’t know their political beliefs or policy party preference. It didn’t come up, kind of like it used to be. A blast from the past, a good one that didn’t involve any societal injustices being committed, real or perceived. Sometimes we just need a break. And we all marveled at science and its ability to predict these things hundreds of years in advance with accuracy down to the seconds. Hopefully, these are the kinds of things that convince people that science and experts do matter, and maybe we ought to listen to them when it comes to complicated things like climate change and highly contagious diseases. One can hope.

  7. On my 70th birthday, in August of 2017, my wife and I made the 600-mile, 10-hour trip down to Carbondale — from Cleveland — and paid $300 for three nights in one of the motels on the highway leading into town. I first called them in the summer of 2016, and called back every few months to make sure nothing got screwed up. My wife and I had both wanted to see totality since we were in grammar school, back in the late 50s.

    When we got there, the gouging and profiteering was in were in full-on, all-American, greedhead mode. People were pulling up and begging for a room, and repeatedly being turned away. (I think they were charging just $300 a night...a last-minute bargain, compared to the three-night, $1,500 package deals at the nearby state park, which sold out the winter before.). A Mexican restaurant did give me eclipse glasses and a free drink and free was my birthday, after all. Such a deal.

    We went to the Carbondale Shadowfest, which was just a big carnival, and enjoyed the art and science fairs on the SIU campus. My first visit ever (My parents wouldn't let me go there in 1965 because of its well-deserved party-school reputation. Might have saved me from Vietnam).

    We shunned Saluki Stadium...didn't want to pay for $25 for the privilege of burning our asses on unshaded benches, and elected to scope out Giant City State Park instead, ten miles down the road--and right on the center line of totality. Got there at dawn on the big day, and waited for about six hours in the hot sun and stuffy humidity. No metalheads polluted the almost-reverent silence and anticipation with their cranked-up tunes. State troopers saw to that. Woulda been like a boom box in a church.

    A nearby thundershower missed the area. Instead, we got scattered cumulus clouds, and then clear skies. Saluki Stadium got only a very brief glimpse of the eclipse. The luck of the draw. Coulda been us.

    Was it worth it? Damn betcha. Not only did we experience what may have been the second-best two minutes of our lives, but we also got those fantastic chicken dinners at the park lodge. Two days in a row, plus all the chicken we could carry away. Fearmongering about traffic jams, gas shortages, and overcrowding had kept the crowds down...the expected hordes from Chicago and St. Louis away did not materialize.

    So what happened in 2024, literally in our own backyard? Were we disappointed, like everyone expected...and agonized about... for the last two weeks? That's another story for another time. Tune in tomorrow.


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