Seeing an August afternoon go dark for 2 minutes
Man o’war, people were fucking pumped for the eclipse, were they not?
I mean, holy shit, people were talking about it for months leading up to it. Kids got off school, people left work. Stores sold out of those rinky-dink, “are you sure these are safe?” sunglasses weeks ahead of time. The local grocery stores and bakeries sold stacks of black and chocolate frosted cakes; micro breweries ran small-batch dark beers with cutesy names. The city rolled out electronic signs—the sort they use to reroute traffic during construction — to actually warn people not to stop on the highways. I mean, people made fucking t-shirts for this shit.
But despite all this… to be honest, fam, I didn’t really understand what the hype was all about.
I was obviously around for other solar eclipses in the US — my first memory being smack dab elementary school. They dragged us all out of class that afternoon like some low-key fire drill and then warned us repeatedly, in that most serious adult voice, not to look at the sun — a reminder which frankly left me a bit bewildered, looking around at the other kids like, “wait, are you dumb brats normally doing that??” And then the teachers prompted us to instead take turns looking through a piece of cardboard at a shadow on the ground.
And my strongest memory of the event was a distinct feeling of: not very impressed.
I mean, a shadow, guys? This is it? A dot of light? Phenomenons like this are utterly lost on you when you’re 8 and you’re staring down a cardboard tube.
Eclipses, I decided, are totally lame.
So imagine my enthusiasm when The Guy I’m dating brought this eclipse to my attention months ago, saying “this is no joke. I want to take at least the afternoon off and drive to the centerline.”
Much like the pop-punk concerts I go to with him because he loves watching dudes cresting 40 try to re-live 14, I was like, “aiight, champ. I’ll do this for you.”
And so we both took off work and got into the car and drove for several hours, me the whole time thinking “I mean, I guess.”
But that extra 1% coverage was not just 1% cooler. It was like 100x cooler.
If you take nothing else from this, take that.
The math leads us all wrong in set expectations.
It took us a while to get to “The Spot” — a prime location he had scouted, researched, and navigated us to, while I did little more than wonder out loud if we’d have time to stop for roadies.
Spoiler: we did. And when The Guy mentioned that the sun’s atmosphere — what’s visible during totality — is called the “corona,” I turned to him and said, “neat — I know what beer I want.” And later I laughed at my own lame joke while tipping one back and blinking into the summer wind and southern countryside whipping through the passenger window rolled down, sighing happily as I thought “this might well be the highlight of my afternoon.” And that would’ve been just fine by me.
But I was wrong.
We got to The Spot — a dive bar with food, because The Boy is a generous and gracious man— and started getting partial coverage about an hour before totality, periodically putting the glasses back on and dutifully looking up, like, “ah, yes. Just like the photos.”
Not that that stopped anyone from taking their own photo anyway — an effort, I’m sure, that largely crashed and burned, but was still, to a skeptical onlooker, almost more amusing than the event itself.
I mean, the eclipse was cool enough — we looked at it off and on over the course of an hour, in between more rounds (still Corona) and it wasn’t un-fun.
It also helped that The Boy did what he could during this time to keep us (me) entertained, keeping me up to date on the minute-by-minute countdown. And doing shadow tricks.
But then, finally, it was coming. It was really, really coming.
The air started to darken — not quite twilight, in my opinion, though The Boy certainly called it that. To me, it looked more smog-like, the air increasingly saturated and muted with a heavy yellow haze even though we had “clear skies.” (I mean, lol, all things considered. Meteorologically.)
And then it dropped off into darkness. Like post-twilight. Like it was 9:30 pm, when the sky is mostly dark but the edges of the horizon are still washed in muted, watercolor sunlight.
And I was all, “oh my god.”
And the whole time, I’m just looking at everything around us on Earth — at the dark trees and lights flickering on — and I hear The Boy telling me, “look!” and I’m like “I am!” and he’s clarifying “look up!” and I’m like “I’m looking!” but I’m still not looking. But he keeps saying it, urging me.
And finally I do. I look up.
And fam, it was so fucking cool.
Photos do not do this shit justice, and here’s the main reason why:
That shit is mothafuckin light.
Like, you look at a photo and you’re like “yeah, I get it — a white halo.”
No. It’s not white. It’s light. So crisp and clean it’s fucking purple because it’s mothafuckin light. Not the 2-dimensional, flat, lifelessness like the photos; but sharp and piercing and intoxicating.
It is so damn cool.
You can’t not stare at it — and you can, during this time, so you do. Then, of course, you watch it just long enough to finally see “too much” light punch from the curve on the other side, and only then do you look away.
And you spend the next few hours periodically turning to each other and going, “holy shit — dat eclipse tho!” And already Googling for the next one.
And after that you do what everyone who’s seen it has always done forever, since the beginning of time, which is tell everyone else:
You just have to see it — ALL of it. At least once!
Because until you see it, you just can’t appreciate — or adequately explain.
And the best you can hope for is having someone in your life who cares about you enough to drag you out there and direct your eyes at the sky at just the right time.