Earlier this year, I thought it would be fun to plan an August trip to the East Coast and visit family. I could stay with my mother in North Carolina, as usual, but while there, also drive a couple hundred miles and put myself in the path of Monday’s total eclipse of the sun.
Unfortunately, millions of other people were thinking the same thing — seeing the eclipse, I mean, not visiting my mother. And they planned it months ago. Hotel rooms along the path of the eclipse are booked up, at greatly inflated rates, and many of those communities are staging festivals to offer tourists other ways to spend money.
So, I’ll just stay home. I’ve already made two trips that direction this year, with one more promised after Thanksgiving, and airline tickets aren’t as cheap as they used to be.
Still, by Monday afternoon, I’m sure I’ll regret not making the effort to be in the path of totality. A total solar eclipse is something so incredible, and rare, you never forget it. It’s almost one of those “once in a lifetime” events.
I do have time to race 600 miles or more north into Kansas or Missouri, and my wife’s cousin living there might offer a place to sleep. But it’s not going to happen.
In Brownwood, we figure to see a disappointing partial eclipse of maybe 70 percent, while my Mom will experience a 95 percent reduction. From her home, I could drive a few hours south or west, and get the whole enchilada.
The path of totality will cross over the childhood homes of both my parents, on opposite ends of South Carolina. A few relatives I seldom see live in both cities. Would they put me up for a night, knowing that the reason I came was not to see them? With “no vacancy” signs posted at hotels all along the eclipse’s path from Oregon to South Carolina, that’s what I would have to confess.
Crowds are a predictable byproduct of any major attraction, especially one as rare as this, so the primary factor that could spoil it — other than having to sleep in the car — is bad weather. Forecasts for the Carolina cities I might have chosen to visit and witness the eclipse predict that on Monday, partly cloudy skies and thunderstorms are likely. Even so…
I should have done it. I should have planned the trip, paid the price, and fought the crowds.
But wait. Perhaps I’ve been bailed out.
I see where the United States is due for another total solar eclipse in April 2024, and the path of totality will track extremely close to Brownwood. People from southeast Brown County down through Lampasas and into Austin should be able to experience the greatest show above Earth from the comfort of their back yards.
OK, I’m getting excited. Is it too soon for our community to plan an eclipse festival?
Who cares if I miss the full spectacle on Monday? There’s another chance in the not-so-distant future. Just seven years, and counting. While nothing in life is guaranteed, it’s possible that I could still be around.
Meanwhile, wherever you go, heed the experts’ warning not to look at the sun without proper eye protection. And by all means, don’t stand too close.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.