Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipse Musings

My idea was to head south to the totality belt, enjoying barbecue all the way. I'd stay over just north of that zone (with lots of cheap lodgings), and dash in for the event itself. It was a fine plan, but I realized it was unviable when every department store and pharmacy all the way up here in New York ran out of eclipse glasses the moment they arrived in stock. Dammit, the eclipse was crossing over out of geekdom. 

So my Monday morning drive into the belt of totality would be a nightmare, my escape from the region a slog, and if skies were cloudy, I'd be forced to join a massive Serengeti of westward vehicles looking for clear skies. Though I've always been afflicted with FoMO ("fear of missing out"), and there's nothing worse than staying home during a total eclipse within driving range, I skipped it.

Not to be a total loss, I pulled my car over at 2:35, gamely flipped on my eclipse glasses, and saw that things had already started. And I immediately flipped the specs back off again, because I'd noticed that the light was...weird.

It wasn't particularly dark. It was hard to describe. I'm no connoisseur of light quality (though I did notice, while playing gigs in Tuscany, that the light, unsurprisingly, had the unworldly character of a Renaissance painting). The sun was 90% blocked, yet it wasn't darker than if a cloud had drifted by. But this was no cloud diffusion. It was something else. The light was unpleasant and eerie. 

It made you cringe a little, like leaving an eye doctor's office with pupils dilated on a sunny day. It felt harsh. My first thought was "this must be what sunlight feels like on Mars." But then I noticed the deja vu. An impression of alien harshness had been my takeaway from every partial solar eclipse I'd ever experienced. I just never clicked it together before.

I drove on to an Italian deli in Queens I've been meaning to check out (Tony’s Beechhurst Deli; not bad), where the counterdude asked a customer if he'd seen the eclipse. Yes, he'd checked it out, but when asked if he'd used eclipse glasses, he scowled and wagged his head. He simply looked up, that's all.

To the likes of geeky me, that's the epitome of heedlessness. But blue collar workers spend their lives ignoring stupid warning labels and doing jobs others are too squeamish to do. They get it done, and don't have time for overblown warnings and prissy hesitation. And this reminded me of a previous sunny New York weekday, when I watched similar-looking blue-collar dudes scale a pile of smoldering debris. The burning smell was sickening; clearly they were risking major respiratory problems. But these guys are conditioned to disregard warnings. And so, I imagine, a whole lot of people looked up today without protection.

My two small insights might not amount to much, but I drove to Arkansas a few weeks ago for little more. I didn't have the socko experience of totality (just as I didn't enjoy an amazing hillbilly-Italian feast), but I'm a guy who appreciates small stuff.

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