The Dark Side of the Moon
I’d been eagerly looking forward to this event since I first heard about it—Illinois was going to see its second total solar eclipse in its history as a state, and no one alive had ever seen an Illinois total eclipse. It happened in 1869 and totality passed right through Springfield, the state’s capital. Then, as now, people were very excited.
I heard more and more about it, like totality was passing through Carbondale. Carbondale is about a hundred miles from St. Louis, which is about a hundred miles from Springfield. Ozzy Osbourne was slated to hold a concert in a tiny town thirty miles from Carbondale, and play Bark at the Moon during totality.
I was stoked; it was reported that the stars come out during totality and there are other strange things, like wavy lines on the ground that scientists couldn’t explain.
At first I was planning to meet my daughter Patty, who lives in Cincinnati, in Carbondale, but Carbondale was where everyone was talking about. It was going to be a madhouse, I was sure, and decided to visit my mom in Bellville the day before, a Sunday, then go to my friend Mike’s in Columbia to cook pork on his Weber and drink beer. I planned on crashing on his couch and heading south early the next morning.
Then I found NASA’s interactive eclipse map. Mom and Mike were right on the edge of totality, and the center of totality passed right through Prairie du Rocher, about thirty miles or so south of Mike’s house. Patty watched from the Shawnee National Forest, camping there the night before.
I set out south Sunday morning, and traffic was thick. However, it always is on the weekends, which is why I usually visit during the week. As is my usual habit I set the cruise control to five miles under the limit to make for a stressless drive. But I knew traffic was going to be worse the next day.
I visited my mom in Bellville, then headed to Mike’s, where we grilled pork steaks (well, he did) and we drank beer and bullshitted. I crashed on his couch, as planned.
Patty texted me, excited that they had found eclipse glasses for ten bucks apiece. She was thrilled. I thought she had been ripped off, as Mike’s wife had five pairs she had picked up at the library for free. I just heard today when I picked up tacos at George Rank’s that they were selling them on the internet for $150!
I’d planned on not using the glasses, not trusting them; there are some really evil people in the world who don’t mind blinding people for money, or even killing them. I wound up looking through them once or twice, anyway.
Monday morning we got up and drank coffee, and headed south on Bluff Road for the middle of the umbra, the part of the shadow that is in totality.
Bluff road is a little-used two lane highway that you can often travel without seeing another vehicle. We turned on to Bluff Road, and joined a parade of cars and truck headed for the best view. Traffic moved briskly, at the various speed limits on the way. It took about forty five minutes.
On the way we saw a roadside stand selling eclipse glasses for twenty bucks apiece. Mike cursed the ripping off they were doing; they’d gotten theirs for free from the public library, donated by a veteran’s club. It was indeed a ripoff, because it would have probably cost less than a penny apiece to make them. But better than a hundred and fifty, at least.
I wished Mike had driven rather than me, because there was some enchanting scenery on the way, as well as an eagle’s nest. The magic was beginning hours before the sun and moon met.
Mike has a grandson who lives there, and we had a hard time finding the address of the house in the tiny town. His wife had told him that if he asked google for the address on Bluff Road it would lead to the wrong house, as his address was Bluff Street.
Stupid Google kept giving directions to the address on Bluff Road, and it was even more maddening because we were surrounded by bluffs and the cell signals were nonexistent to very weak. We’d brought no refreshments, so stopped at a restaurant for soft drinks and directions to bluff street.
When we got out of the car, the very humid heat was oppressive. The place was packed, inside and out. We had a hard time finding a parking spot. We were informed that the streets were the same; Bluff Road became Bluff Street for a while.
His grandson lived in a house trailer right up against the bluff. We got out and it was even hotter and more humid. We went in, and it was perhaps five or ten degrees less hot than outside; the trailer had only a single one-room air conditioner. Every time I went outside, the heat started getting to me. My hands shook and I could barely walk; I was starting to suffer from heat exhaustion. Mike and his very young great granddaughter went up the hill exploring.
“There’s a cave up here!” Mike yelled down to me, so I staggered up the hill. There was a cool breeze coming out of the cave.
It wasn’t cool enough, so I got in the car and started it and blasted the air conditioning. It really helped, and I was in the car several times before the eclipse started.
I saw something I’d not seen since I was a kid—a toad. Then another one. This hellishly hot day was really cool!
Finally, some time between twelve thirty and one it started. I finally looked through the glasses once, and afterward made a pinhole viewer out of my fist. When the sun was a crescent, I saw the “wavy lines” science couldn’t explain and I had no trouble at all explaining them. It was the multiple crescents moving around the gravel. The tree was causing multiple pinhole viewers. The way the breeze moved the leaves did look like wavy lines on the ground as the crescents moved around the gravel.
There were clouds which sometimes covered the sun, and I feared the clouds would cover it during totality, but they didn’t. I hear clouds occluded the totality in Carbondale. I hope they didn’t cover the sun in the forest where Patty was.
I’d brought my big tablet, thinking I could use its front-facing camera to watch the eclipse on it and maybe make movies, but I feared the glare on the screen might harm my eyes, so that was out. I tried to take a photo with my phone, and I got a picture, but it didn’t show the sun as a crescent. The only halfway decent photo was the tree shadows when it was still partial.
Then the sky gradually changed colors for about ten minutes, after which it took seconds for it to become dark and for all the streetlights to come on, and the screams and cheers and applause of the thousands of people in town for the sight were very loud, from half a mile away. Mike kept saying “Wow! Man, that’s the neatest thing I’ve ever seen in my life!” Nobody could help but agree.
It did get very dark, about like under a full moon. But I saw no stars, although a friend who was in a different spot in totality told me he saw two or three stars right by the corona, which I only glanced at. Around the corona it was indeed pitch black. but the horizons were like dusk. Obviously light was being reflected from places that weren’t in totality. It’s hard to explain what it looked like.
Darkness lasted maybe two minutes, give or take a few seconds. I was way too busy taking it in for photos, and it was too dark for my phone’s camera to work without a flash, anyway. I should have bought film and brought my Canon 35mm SLR I’d bought half a century ago. Yes, film is coming back. They now sell and develop it again at Walgreen’s.
When it was over I was again in distress from the heat, then we headed back to his house. Mike, who knew where we were going and I didn’t, was too busy watching the scenery to see a turn we needed to take. We got all the way to Red Bud before realizing our mistake, and highway three was in gridlock. We didn’t want to go that way, anyway, and turned back around.
The little-used Bluff road was full, but traffic was moving at a reasonable pace. I’d planned on crossing the river for cheaper gasoline, but was still heat-distressed and decided not to. We went to his house, where I drank a copious amount of water, and we ate leftover pork steaks, but eating was making me hot. They say “starve a fever, feed a chill” and the reason is that eating will warm you up, unless it’s ice cream.
I left Mike’s about two, planning to stop by Mom’s house on the way home, and changed my mind as soon as I got on I-255. Traffic was at a crawl. The normally ten or fifteen minute trip to Bellville took nearly an hour. I drove right past her exit, because I could see this was going to be a long drive and I didn’t want to get home after dark.
Not once did the speedometer measure over 30 mph on 255. Getting off 255 to I-55 is a nightmare in normal traffic because of the idiotic interchange design, so I decided to bypass it and take Collinsville Road to I-55. Traffic was heavy, but moving briskly, far faster than the interstate. I stopped for gas and a soda and got on I-55. I was really glad I’d bypassed a bit, probably saved myself half an hour or even more.
I’ve never seen traffic that heavy outside Chicago in my life, and never saw traffic that heavy that stretched that far. My phone rang three times before I reached a rest stop, just past the I-70 interchange. I had to pee, I had to get my tortuously aching back out of that car, and I wanted to see who was trying to call. I figured it was my mom, who I’d told I’d probably visit again on my way home.
Two of the calls were from her, worried about me, and I ignored the other one, because I don’t answer calls without attached names. If you’re not a spammer, scammer, or pollster you can leave a message and I’ll call you back and add your number to my address book.
I’ve never seen an interstate rest area so crowded. Cars parked where they didn’t normally, and so did I. This wasn’t a normal day. I reassured Mom, walked quite a long way to the rest room, and walked back and resumed the arduous journey.
Four and a half hours after leaving Mike’s I’d traveled fifty miles. Past Staunton I had it up to 55mph for a short time, and hit sixty past Mount Olive. Five miles from Litchfield, traffic was stopped again.
Past Litchfield traffic thinned somewhat, and you could usually do forty, but it was almost in Springfield before anyone could do the speed limit. There was simply far, far more traffic than that highway was designed to handle.
Which makes me wonder how bad it will be if a nuclear missile is headed to a major city whose occupants have only half an hour to escape.
The trip was finally over about eight, just as it was getting dark. It had been a seven hour journey with an average speed of 14.3 mph. But it was well worth it! I’m really looking forward to the one in 2024.