21 August 2017

Total Eclipse of the Sun becomes the worlds largest tailgate party

The Total Eclipse of the Sun of 2017 became one of the most hyped natural events of the decade.

Two years ago astronomers noted that this would be the first total eclipse viewable in a vast swath of the United States since 1918.

At first this was of interest only to astronomers and other scientists such as myself.

However, I noted that where I lived, the eclipse would achieve only 92% totality. Half a loaf is better than none, though. While I planned to ‘watch’ it, I didn’t plan on driving a couple hundred miles south to see the total eclipse. Viewing it from my backyard was good enough for me.  

Somehow and somewhen, though, it stopped being ‘just’ an astronomical event and turned into: an astronomical “EVENT”. As in: a 2500 mile (4,000 km) long party, the like of which hasn’t been seen since Woodstock (which was minuscule in comparison).  I heard that one such event planned on playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
Album cover, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon

 I can’t think of a more appropriate title. (Ironically, when Pink Floyd first proposed the title, they learned another band had a song with the same title, so they temporarily titled the album "Eclipse" !!)

 It promised to be the country’s largest tailgate party in history. Small ranching towns such as Madras, OR (population of about  7000 people) was to become a city of several hundred thousand. The city council had a scientist on the board. She realized that it was first landfall, so to speak, for the TES. Madras has everything necessary for viewing: great weather, open land and is easily reached, just off the interstate. The downside: perhaps six motels.
Nevertheless, they put a person in charge, two years ago, to plan for the crowds they were sure would come.

Smart people, who wanted to see it, began making motel and campground reservations a year in advance.

What happened to them is exactly the same thing as did to horsemen when hotel owners in Kentucky suddenly realized that fifty thousand woman would descend on Lexington for the 2010 World Equestrian Games. They all quadrupled their room prices.

 Smart people, like my friend, made (and held with a credit card) hotel reservations a year in advance of the games.  A week before the Games, the hotel refused to admit reservations had been made. Then they upped the price to at least $500 a night. Only a conversation with her lawyer made them realize that at least in her case, they’d lose a lot more money than they would gain.
They did it to a lot of others, though. The same thing has happened with the eclipse: motels were ‘losing’ reservations or gouging the person for a lot more money, take it or leave it. One heard of outrageous rates like “$1600 for one night.”
Even the town of Madras wasn’t exempt from gouging.  The planner had contracted for hundreds of portapotties two years ago. Last week, the portapotty company they’d contracted with said the same thing: the rent has gone through the roof. Pay it or no portapotties.

Greed. Outright greed. Disgusting.

Being that I was staying home, I was unaffected by this, except for one thing: the traffic.

Beginning five days before the TES, traffic started to build on I-5 South. I had to drive about 70 miles north to Seattle on Sunday, the day before the eclipse. Normally, southbound traffic on a Sunday evening is fairly sparse. This time, at noon, the southbound side of the interstate was nuts-to-butts traffic, inching along, at a rate of speed so slow one could have walked faster. It was that way all 70 miles of my trip. There were HUNDREDS of thousands of cars, all headed south. This had been going on for days.

This, I thought, was what a mass evacuation of a big city looks like.

There were thousands of people, all heading for various parts of Oregon. The television stations reported that the small airport, which normally had three landings per day, was seeing a landing every three MINUTES.  

Thank the star(s) that my prairie wasn’t in the path of totality. We would have had this:
One campground outside of Prineville, OR
Below the aircraft’s wings is a picture of a hayfield outside of Prineville, OR. Those aren’t houses. They’re tents and campers, pop up pavilions and tarps. This is just ONE spot in the eclipse’ path that runs from Oregon to South Carolina.
I would guess there are at least a hundred thousand people down there, just in that one spot.

On Thursday, 17 Aug 17, the TV news helicopter filmed a line of vehicles on the secondary road leading (Hwy 97) into Madras that was 30 miles long.
All across the nation, from Oregon to the East Coast, there are towns in the path. Thousands of people all wanting to be under the sun when it’s eclipsed. To see the “tunnel in the sky”, to see the stars come out at noon.

All that, for a two hour or so experience.

Hundreds of thousands of ‘eclipse glasses’ were sold. One, on eBay, was selling for over a hundred dollars. The thing was cardboard and tinted plastic, I think.
Many thousands of those glasses were belatedly found to be counterfeit junk, no more able to protect your vision from permanent retinal damage than tissue paper. I guarantee you, there will be thousands of people who will be seeing an eye doctor in the future due to retinal burns. No insurance will cover what they will call a willful and purposeful, intentional damage to one’s eyesight.

I did see the partial eclipse, indirectly, of course. I value my eyesight and didn’t even think of looking at it. 

I would have liked to have seen the blackened sky, stars in the morning, all that.  
But I primarily wanted to see what, if any, effect it would have on the birds in my area. I can say that there was none. The ravens still klonked in the trees, the purple martins still called high up in the sky, the meadowlarks still sang, the kestrels still hovered over the prairie.

The sunlight, though, was ‘odd’. One could easily see a difference from normal morning light.  It wasn’t at all like sunlight at sunset or sunrise. Here, the totality, such as it was, occurred at 1015 hrs. The sunlight dimmed, as if on a dimmer switch. It appeared as it does when one wears polarized sunglasses. It got a bit cooler, but then, there was a cool breeze blowing so I don’t know if that was due to the decreased sunlight or the ambient temperature.

It was also easy to know when it was ‘over’. The light came back up, bright and harsh as only an August morning sun can be.

While I didn’t see totality, I did see a partial eclipse and afterwards, I walked back into my house.

I am very happy that I didn’t travel to see it. For after the very brief moments of total eclipse, those thousands and thousands and THOUSANDS of people (some of whom made the journey five days ago) will all now want to go home. Now.

Take five days’ worth of creeping, beeping gridlock and throw all that on the one interstate highway in one day. What ordinarily takes about 5 hours drive from Madras will take days?
Woof. It’s going to be very, very bad. All it takes is one accident, one incident of road rage,  or a stretch of road construction (which, at least in my state, is everywhere), to stop all traffic. 

If the highways were bad yesterday, I can only imagine what they will look like NOW.

In fact, I just did. Oregon’s Dept of Transportation website says that the ‘drive’, such as it is, between Salem, OR and Portland, OR (usually about a 45 minute drive) is currently taking 3.5 HOURS. And once they hit Portland it can only get worse. Even on its best traffic day, the 13 mile drive on I-5 North, from Portland, OR to the Columbia River bridge can take two hours.

Yeah, I missed the total eclipse of the sun. I sure didn’t miss the hellacious drive after it. 
Eclipse of the Sun becomes the world's largest tailgate party 

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