What's the benefit of homeschooling and having a flexible work schedule* if you don't take advantage of it? With the solar eclipse approaching, I started reading some online about what we could expect in the seventh-best swamp city in northeastern Florida. We were going to get 90% obscuration. That seemed pretty good to me. But then I read a bunch of quotes about how seeing a 99% eclipse is like seeing 1% of the event, and how seeing a 99% eclipse and saying you saw the eclipse is like standing outside a concert hall and saying you heard the performance. I thought, "Geez, pretentious much?" But since the eclipse was on a Monday, and I don't teach on Mondays, I decided we'd drive up to South Carolina to see the whole deal.
My wife read online that traffic would be terrible and everyone would die from interminable traffic jams, so we were a little worried about what we were getting into. I figured we could drive up very early (I usually aim for waking up at 3 a.m.--why is another story), and just chill in a Walmart parking lot or something. My wife read online that Columbia was trying to attract eclipse travelers, so we figured we'd go there.
Our plan to leave very early hit a snag because Crazy Jane had Seminary that morning. So we all drove her to Seminary and then, while she went to that, we went to Walmart to get gasoline and snacks. When my wife ran inside, I talked Jerome Jerome the Metronome into cruising around the parking lot on a mobility scooter that had been left outside. But it had a dead battery. And a Walmart employee saw us and sent out someone to gather up the scooters.
We picked up Crazy Jane early and left town around 6:45. Everyone fell back asleep as we drove north through Georgia. We stopped at a rest area right after crossing into South Carolina, and it was full of eclipse travelers. When we got back on the freeway, the traffic was really bad, and I thought, "If we're going to be in stop-and-go traffic all the way to Columbia, we might not get there in enough time." As long as we were in the area of totality, we could just pull over and view it from our car, except South Carolina Department of Transportation had set all their changeable-text signs to read "DO NOT STOP ON ROADWAY TO VIEW ECLIPSE."
After about 10 miles, the traffic cleared up some. It was still congested for a Monday morning in the rural South, but the speeds were a lot closer to freeway speeds. We got to Columbia around 11 a.m. We parked in a city garage and started walking around with some lawn chairs and blankets, looking for a place to sit. We ended up on The Horseshoe, the old quad area of University of South Carolina. We set up our blankets and had nothing to do for several hours.
Weather-wise, the forecast for our area of Florida was for solid cloud cover, and as we drove north, we were underneath a solidly cloudy sky. But when we turned inland, the clouds started to break up. In Columbia, the clouds were intermittent, and as the day wore on, the clouds dissipated. By the time of the eclipse, there were no clouds left. People who stayed in Florida told us that they couldn't see the sun at all, or else they barely saw it briefly.
Articulate Joe and I needed haircuts, so we decided to make good use of our time by getting haircuts while we waited. We walked over to an area called Five Points and found a Supercuts. But they were severely understaffed because one stylist had called in "sick" and her replacement was stuck in eclipse traffic. She ended up being 90 minutes late because they closed the freeway down to land a helicopter on it for an air evacuation. By the time we got our haircuts, the eclipse had begun. We hadn't brought our eclipse glasses with us because we figured there was no way two haircuts would take several hours. As soon as we got outside, though, a guy walking past offered us two pairs of eclipse glasses, so we could look and see what it was like before we walked back over to The Horseshoe.
Jerome has a habit of photo-bombing our pictures. See here for more.
The Screamapilar was freaked out from our warnings to only look at the sun through his eclipse glasses, so he decided to not look at the sun at all. Eventually we did get him to look when the sun was obscured enough that you could tell something was going on, and of course he looked during totality, when he didn't need glasses.
Having experienced a total solar eclipse now, here's my take on the pretentious Internet things I read beforehand: they are accurate. Having been there for 90% obscurity and then being able to compare that to totality a few moments later, I can support the claim that 90% obscurity is a pile of puke compared to the real thing.
And then totality ended and everyone tried to act like there was still something to see, but after a few minutes most people had left. We got back to our car and were in pretty bad traffic on I-26, so we exited to eat at Fatz, a restaurant I first saw advertised when we were driving our moving truck through South Carolina two summers ago. Since then it has been my white whale, haunting my dreams and visions. And, just like Ahab discovered, sometimes getting your white whale sucks. Fatz wasn't that good, and it was pretty expensive. AND, it didn't even save us from bad traffic. The "four-hour" drive home from Columbia took about eight hours.
Finally, to those asking, "Why have you taken three months to blog about this trip?" Well, there's a very good reason, smart-ass. It's because I couldn't be bothered getting the pictures off my phone until last week. So there.
* = I'm not actually sure I have a flexible work schedule. I mean, I know I only teach and have office hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but does that mean that they're cool with me not being there on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday? I haven't asked because I don't want to find out if the answer is no. (I'm writing this from my bed on a Friday afternoon.) I'm confident I'm not cheating my employer--I work over 40 hours each week. But we'll see if they ever want to know where I am on the occasional day I don't go in.