A couple of years ago my friend John Dunne from Dublin (Ireland, not Ohio) emailed me and said he was coming to the US for the solar eclipse.
Naturally I replied, “What solar eclipse?”
I know what you’re thinking: “Greg, you’re an astronomy buff. You write songs about atoms and stars. You even worked in a planetarium. How could you not know there was a solar eclipse coming to the USA?”
Well, two years ago I didn’t. Like most people, I was busy watching the Royals win the World Series, then watching the Republican Primaries undergo a political eclipse which brought a vast and dangerous darkness to the people and the planet. But I digress.
Ahead of the Curve
Somehow John knew all about the solar event, which surprised the heck out of me. We’d met many years ago working the same resort in the Caribbean. Since then he’s been a financial planner, and if he ever said anything about an interest in science or astronomy, he must have said it quietly, in ancient Irish, after several pints, in a noisy pub. Because I didn’t hear it.
Anyway, he announced his intentions, and I was thrilled. I checked out the eclipse path. It ran from coast to coast. And incredibly, just an hour north of my home in Kansas City.
Meanwhile, John was busy researching weather patterns, the jet stream, El Niño, butterfly wings flapping in the Amazon, and potential Acts of God at sites all across the US to determine the best place to watch.
I told him I’d meet them wherever he wanted, but if they came to Kansas City to watch, they could stay with me for free. And we could eat barbecue. And they could meet my dog.
The point is, John really wanted to witness this eclipse, and – eventually – he decided to come to Kansas City to see it. This delighted me no end, but also added a bit of pressure. Ireland was a long way to come from (plus a lot of money) for a three-minute event, so we darn sure better see it.
So I dove headlong into my own extensive research. I found several small cities and towns along the path of totality within reasonable driving distance, in case we had to be flexible and mobile for the weather.
Three Wise People Bearing Gifts
Friday night before the eclipse, John, his wife Alison, and teenage daughter Elizabeth landed in the Heartland. On Saturday we exchanged gifts, toured the city, went to a museum, visited a farmers market, ate barbecue, and took in a Royals game on bobblehead night. (I now have extra Kevin Appier bobbleheads if you need one.)
Sunday morning we did the jazz brunch at a well known jazz club:
The club was packed with locals and out of town folks in town for the eclipse. A jazz duo was playing personalized songs for the out-of-towners, like New York New York, I Left My Heart In San Francisco, Dixie, and even the University of Nebraska Fight Song.*
* The University of Nebraska Fight Song is not a jazz tune.
I felt it was my duty to let the band know there were people in the audience from a far away place called Ireland. The band (actually the duo) were duly impressed. Really? Ireland? How wonderful! We must sing an Irish folk song! We must sing Danny Boy!
So of course they did.
Synchronicity Or What?
Meanwhile, back at our table, we were approached by a Leprechaun. Or at least a guy who looked like he was auditioning for the part. He was a sweet older gentleman, short, stoop shouldered, wizened, with white hair and a cryptic smile. His name was Mickey.
He let us know he was an American of Irish heritage. He was a former airline pilot who had spent many nights in Ireland on layovers. He loved the country and the people. He would be most delighted and honored if we would come to his 25 acres out in the country to watch the eclipse. Right in the path of totality. With a swimming pool. He would even cook for us on his outdoor grill. I could bring my dog. We could avoid the crowds and the traffic. It would be perfect.
This seemed like a sign from God. We said yes.
Catch 22 and 23
The problem was that in his little corner of the universe, the weather forecast looked iffy. But the ladies (John’s wife and daughter) really loved the swimming pool option, I loved the “bring your dog” option, and Mickey was so nice, we decided to chance it.
We got up before dawn. Checked the weather again – still iffy – and headed north, several hours early. We stopped for breakfast at a Burger King (nothing is too good for my Irish friends), and made it to Mickey’s by 9am.
To say that Mickey’s Country Estate was a disappointment is like saying Trump has a slight tweeting problem. The pool was dirty. The house was dirty. Everything looked like it had been eclipsed about 40 years ago. Mickey, God bless him, was way past being able to care for it all. There was no way the gals (or the guys, for that matter) were going anywhere near that pool. Probably not even my dog. Personally, I found myself wondering what kind of life forms might be growing under the hood of the outdoor grill.
As for the weather, it had been mostly nice all morning, with only wispy clouds. But a friend called, said he was driving in our direction, and was caught in a hellacious storm.
After an hour at Mickey’s place the clouds were getting thick.
Since nothing in our surroundings, above or below, was appealing enough to make us stay, and since the weather forecasts looked better to the east, John and I decided that the four of us needed to make a break for it.
On The Road Again
Let me just say this was not a universally popular decision. The idea of riding in the car for a couple more hours just to see a three-minute event was not entirely appealing to the ladies in the party. (And to be fair, they had the dubious pleasure of riding in the back seat with my dog.) To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled about driving two or three more hours on minimal sleep myself, but I felt we had to chance it. I did not want John to come all the way from Ireland after all his painstaking research and miss this thing. I certainly didn’t want him thinking he should have gone to Casper Wyoming.
They don’t even have baseball. OR barbecue.
So we set out to retrace our path for 30 miles, then turn eastward towards Boonville or Columbia. If everything went well, we could be there in a little over two hours, with plenty of time to spare before the big event.
Unfortunately – and unknowingly – we were driving directly into the teeth of that storm.
Whether To Weather It
It was a nasty storm. Truly nasty. Heavy lightning, brutal thunder. Rain so thick at times you couldn’t see the cars in front of you. Ten or fifteen miles per hour on the interstate, tops.
As bad as it was, however, I’ve driven though lots of storms like that. It’s not scary to me, just tiring and annoying. But my Irish friends, especially the ladies in the back seat, were – to put it mildly – having a new experience. Not exactly the “dream vacation” variety. Not at all what they signed up for. Quite frankly it was freaking them out. If a banshee had landed on the car and screamed in our faces, it would not have frightened them any more.
Not that I blame them. But it was kind of a tense time there for about an hour.
Out Of The Storm, Into The Jam
When we finally made it through the storm and turned east, I-70 was crammed with cars full of people who’d evidently had the same brilliant idea we’d had. The rain had lessened, but there were wrecks, cops, tow trucks, and enough slow-moving vehicles to fill a medium sized lunar crater.
We moped along at about 20 mph for another hour, all the while noticing that 25 or so miles to the south was a lot of blue sky. That was away from the path of totality, but at least under a clear sky we might be able to see something.
Finally in frustration, we turned off that soggy, sloggy Interstate and headed south on state road 13 to Warrensburg, home of the University of Central Missouri Fighting Mules and Jennies, who have been national champions in some sport or another but I can’t remember what.
In Warrensburg, we learned we were just outside the zone of total totality, and to get back in it we needed to head east several more miles, ideally to Sedalia, home of the Missouri State Fair. Also a former girlfriend of mine named Jane who as I recall was really into tanning. Which presumably would not work during a solar eclipse.
So it was back in the car for another half hour. By 12:45 we’d had all the highway we could take. We were right on the edge of the clouds. It looked like we should stop now if we wanted to see anything.
We pulled off at a dot on the map called Knob Noster, home of the Whiteman Air Force Base freaky-looking stealth bombers. (Fortunately, Trump did not have them cruising overhead on eclipse day.) Just off the highway there was a Casey’s General Store with a strip of grass in front. A few people were already sitting there waiting for the big show. We parked, got out the blankets, refreshments, and eclipse glasses. We looked up.
It had already begun! The sun was about one third covered, even through the wispy clouds. Smashing! But as we watched, incredibly, almost like magic, the clouds overhead politely moved off to the northeast. We had a clear blue sky.
We gaped at the unobstructed dark moon as it gently, gracefully took center stage from the sun. The cardboard eclipse filters I bought for my binoculars worked perfectly. So beautiful. Then came the diamond ring. Glasses off. The corona! Venus to the right. Darkness with a 360 degree sunset. Woo!
We had 57 seconds of totality. Not as much as if we’d been farther north or east, but it was enough. And more importantly, Irish eyes were smiling.
Just about then I remembered something that’s always astonished me:
On this planet we only have one moon. That’s unusual.
In proportion to its planet, it’s the largest moon in the solar system. Very unusual.
And somehow, it just happens to be the Exact. Perfect. Size. to precisely eclipse our sun.
Isn’t that just a little bit mind-blowing?
© 2017 Greg Tamblyn
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