Our new hotel is not the Bellagio. The carpet is filthy and squashed into a flat slick mass. The window dressings in the hallway are strangely elaborate. The pungent odor of someone’s cooking, sour and heavy with garlic, permeates the hallway and leaks into the room. There’s only one ice machine in the building and the pool looks out of commission. Still, we’re lucky to have anything. Talking with ELW, wondering what to expect in the way of crowds and traffic, he tells me he found an Air B&B charging $2,500 for floor space in a vacant house. I’m imagining hours of gridlock, bathroom lines a mile long, and vendors with t-shirts and glow sticks picking their way through a sea of bodies. I’m thinking Warped Tour, Mardi Gras, and Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
Once I’ve packed for the day and outfitted the cooler with snacks and beverages, I go out and wait by the car for everyone else. While I’m looking around, I notice that the bright yellow flowers that had been winking in our headlights last night are now closed. I walk over to investigate and discover that there’s a small garden in front of me. There are corn plants, peas, and the yellow flowers are from a squash vine. I’m happy to find this little place; a little plot of land someone has tended. If only I had some skill at raising vegetables.
Today is the day. It’s eclipse day, the reason we’re miles from home out in Missouri. I’m excited not only to see the moon pass before the sun, but to witness this human migration. As we drive from Eureka toward St. Claire, I can see hand drawn signs advertising water, sandwiches, and parking space. At the gas station, a man in a utility vehicle goes by, five red gas tanks lined up in back, black nozzles all facing outward. It’s a small station, with a deli and liquor for sale. A short distance away, we pull into a school parking lot and ELW tells me this is where his father was a principle. I can see a small cluster of folks on the lawn in the shade and my stomach clenches. I’d forgotten all about meeting ELW’s family.
I’m awkward. I’m the odd one out, the only one not from this town, the only one not a part of this family. And I look like a weirdo. There are a few teenagers and three sisters. I wave and nod and smile at them all. One sister asks me where I live and I’m surprised ELW hasn’t told her we live together. It makes me wonder if he talks about me at all and I feel a little less important. But I soon forget about that as the two of us become instant friends. I know she’s worked with victim’s services and, as I try and thank her for being there for people like me, I get choked up and the words aren’t coming out.
Thank god – one sister has brought beer. Social lubricant, conversation starter, and thirst quencher, beer is what my life has been lacking for the past four days. We don’t have to wait long before the first tiny chunk is starting to disappear from the sun. Through my eclipse glasses, which block out literally everything but the sun, I can see a cookie shape with a bite taken out of it. ELW shows us that, against a flat light background, the leaves act as pinhole cameras and little crescents will start to show amid the shadows. My mind is completely blown. And then, the sky starts to dim.
I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled to amazing places and have seen things I’ll never forget. Only a handful of them have been so beautiful as to bring tears to my eyes. The stars of the Milky Way reflected in the glassy surface of the Amazon River took my breath away. An ancient temple carved into the side of a mountain in Bali brought me to my knees. I never thought that the eclipse would be on my list. But, when I finally saw the corona form around the moon and the world around me was plunged suddenly into twilight, I felt magic. I think I can, at least partly, understand why people chase this event around the globe. Folks in Austin will find me on their couches in seven years for the next one.
There were no crowds, only a few cars at the school. When the sun and moon had gone their separate ways, we all went to a local restaurant and shared plates of fried food. It was a full house, but the roads to it were clear and the roads back to the hotel were empty. Completely anti-climactic as far as my worries for being stuck in traffic were concerned. As much as I’d been fretting about it, I was hoping for a little more excitement or at least a souvenir. Once we were back at the hotel, the little one went to the pool with daddy and I stayed behind and tried to learn how to play Town of Salem. That is until I was hit with a migraine.