“…everything under the sun is in tune, but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.” Pink Floyd
The problem with living only a few hours from a total eclipse is that you feel obligated to go see the damned thing. The media trumpet the event like it will rival the parting of the Red Sea, never to return in our lifetimes (or at least for the next seven years), so for it all to be going down just 150 miles north puts a lot of undue pressure on a person.
The thing is, I’ve not been witness to many of humankind’s bigger moments. I was a zygote during Woodstock (okay, I was 12), and the one time I showed up for a shuttle launch it got scrubbed. I have no stories about shooting up backstage with the Rolling Stones or pulling Hemingway from the path of rampaging cattle on the streets of Pamplona. There was that time Richard Nixon came to give a speech at my high school in the days before Watergate. As a member of the band I sat in the stands behind the podium and carry with me many fond memories of the back of the president’s head. So #Eclipse2017 seemed like a perfect ‘bucketlist’ opportunity.
Still, while I’m probably more astronomically nerdish than most, there’s a lot to consider. How bad will traffic be? Can I find a place to park? Will I get my money back if it’s cloudy? What if I can’t hold my breath long enough in the porta-potties? Will I go blind because I waited so long I had to buy knockoff glasses from that guy on craigslist? Will the werewolves speak English?
All is forgotten, though, once the moon eases fully across the face of the sun, and totality is upon us. An eerie darkness falls on the low hills of eastern Wyoming as a cheer goes up from the crowd of nearly one hundred-thousand gathered at the airport in Glendo – a tiny farm town (population 204 on a normal day) in the bullseye of the big event. The ridiculous cardboard viewing glasses are tossed aside and all bask in the wonder of the black orb overhead, ringed by the dancing strands of the solar corona. Stars are suddenly visible in the half-night. This is what we came for.
But it’s over in two and a half minutes. And as soon as the first rays of sunshine peek from behind the moon’s trailing edge, the rush for the exits is on. Actually, exit. There is only one. Gridlock is immediate and all-encompassing as the parking lot goes from zero to Thunderdome in a matter of seconds. Thousands of cars that had moments earlier been parked in neat double rows now jockey for position as they funnel down to a single line, to be then funneled onto to a single road that is the only outlet for two other massive fields similarly choked with vehicles as well as those spilling from the nearby state park viewing areas. A scenario that is being repeated across the state, with the ultimate goal of funneling nearly a million people onto the single freeway where southbound traffic is already stacked up as far as the eye can see.
We decide on the ‘play it cool’ approach and avoid the mayhem, having some lunch while what we assume will be the worst of it subsides. Our first tactical error, as “the worst of it” will actually continue, statewide, for most of the day.
After about an hour, we pack up and head into the fray, inching along with everyone else toward the main road that will take us back into town and out to the freeway entrance ramp maybe a mile away. But what’s this? When we finally get to the road, someone is standing in the intersection waving all the vehicles in the opposite direction – not south into town (which is, of course, at a standstill), but north to points unknown. Like sheep, we comply. Tactical error number two. After two-and-a-half hours we have gone 14 miles in the wrong direction and now face the unappealing choice of getting back on the freeway to inch our way 14 miles back to where we came (and then beyond) or take our chances in the wilds of eastern Wyoming.
We choose the wilds – tactical error number three.
It turns out paved roads are something of a novelty across the high prairie of the Equality State. And we are not the only ones who have smartphones and are desperate for an alternate route out of this post-eclipse hell.
There are 83 miles of absolutely nothing between the towns of Torrington and Cheyenne. And one road. Have you ever seen an 83 mile long conga line? Moving at 10 miles an hour? Nuff said.
So here are a few tips for those planning to catch the 2024 eclipse. Do some breathing exercises beforehand to condition yourself for the porta-potties, bring plenty of treats for the werewolves, and pray that flying cars finally arrive.
Oh, and get a new cellphone, ’cause a Galaxy s3 just ain’t up to the task.