When I took a bad step off a curb over the summer and ended a-sprawl in the street, I mentioned that I had lingering shoulder injury. I finally got around to seeing a doctor and was told that I have a rotator cuff strain (apparently these just take a really long time to heal and I have to take some anti-inflammatories and do some physical therapy to help that happen). The obvious joke would be: “There goes my curveball.” Except that it was my left (non-throwing) shoulder and I never had a curveball anyway. What this post pre-supposes is: but what if I did?

Well not exactly. I actually just wanted to use the tools on Baseball Reference and Football Reference to see how many professional sportsfellows continue to play who are older than me. If one relatively minor accident could hinder my athletic potential for months, I wonder how anyone my age could perform high-level competitive physical activity day after day. This list is a fairly easy delineation at this point: basically it’s a list of active 40-somethings.

Baseball first:

Baseball players older than me

Eight results at first glance. But Joe Nathan is out: he hasn’t played this season due to injuries and announced that he was retiring over the summer. Oscar Robles and Walter Silva are not active MLB players either, though they do continue to play professionally in Mexico (hence their inclusion in the results). Really we’re down to just five active MLB players. Four of them are pitchers. Bartolo and RA Dickey aren’t going to blow anyone away but they continue to be reliable innings-eaters, which counts for something. We might even see Bartolo in the playoffs if the Twins can escape the wild card game. Jason Grilli’s ERA is well over 6. Koji’s had the best year of any of them, he continues to be effective in a bullpen role for the Cubs. Ichiro is the only non-pitcher, and an unquestioned Hall of Famer, but hasn’t been all that good for years.

How much longer will they be around?

I think I can count on a few more years of knowing there are baseball players older than me. I’d guess Koji or RA Dickey will be the last one standing. Koji is still effective and Dickey, notably, is a knuckleballer, so he avoids the usual arm wear and tear. A starter with an average ERA who doesn’t get hurt will continue to have a job, however unglamorous. Bartolo, maybe about the same. Grilli is probably done though. Ichiro is the mystery. He seems to not mind just kinda hanging on. One suspects he’d play anywhere, maybe he’ll end up back in Japan for a while. What if he ends up just being a baseball vagrant like Rickey Henderson, playing for Independent League teams forever, just because they’ll keep him around.

Football

Players older than me from football reference

Tom Brady misses the cut–he’s 40 but didn’t get there until this summer. So all we have is four: three kickers and a punter. Adam Viniatieri is the oldest in either league. He might make it into is late forties.

How much longer will they be around?

Honestly no way to predict anything here. There’s no real age limit on these skillsets, but eventually you’re bound to have a bad month or get a nagging injury and that’s the end. As a forty-something myself, I would not want a job where much younger, larger, faster, stronger humans are battling, sprawling, brawling, diving, or jumping anywhere near me. That might dawn on any of these guys at any time as well.

Now: we wait.

Quark

S2E4, “Invasive Procedures” (writer: John Whelpley)

Sisko was always going to be a shift in the role of the Trek Captain, whether that was the intention of the showrunners or not. The nature of the role means there would be no boldly going where no one has gone before, mostly you’ll be doing some boldly staying. (They don’t have any “boldly” preambles in this one at all, I just realized.) Plus you have to follow William Shatner and Patrick Stewart, so I mean, good luck. Kristen observed that Sisko is really more of a bureaucrat than the bold captain type anyway. His job is like 50% diplomacy and 50% administrivia like signing off on everyone’s ideas and letting people check out runabouts.

After the station is cleared down to a skeleton crew due to an impending plasma storm, a group of rogues manage to dock and take over the station. They are able to circumvent the usual security with an assist from Quark. He just hides during the evacuation and disables security screens, as he has been tricked into thinking this is all a ruse so he can sell the pirates some fenced liquid data chains. (I guess, data clouds don’t exist in interstellar space, so the “cloud” metaphor checks out.) Instead, the real ruse has nothing to do with him. The leader of the gang, Verad, is a Trill who is bent on hijacking Dax’s symbiant for himself. This episode balances three tracks:

  1. Lots of insight into Trill society and psychology. Verad is sort of a meek weasel by nature, and bitter about not being bonded with a symbiant. We learn that this isn’t a thing that all Trills have, actually only 1 in 10 people make good matches. But this is determined by some Trill administrative process, and he didn’t match up. He was devastated, and specifically wants to bond with Dax. I think this episode has finally helped me internalize the identity of the Trill person, Jadzia, as a separate entity from the symbiant, Dax. The symbiant goes from host to host, and is known as “Jadzia Dax” or “Verad Dax” or “Lester Dax”, what have you. Also that the bonding experience makes a Trill feel like a more complete person, with sort of like a super partner, complete with multiple lifetimes of memories and experiences. Verad can’t get over missing out, and Jadzia tells him it’s totally normal, and plenty of Trill are fine without, even though it totally does rule to have one.
  2. Really strong episode for both the character of Sisko, and the performance by Avery Brooks. Since he’s been friends with Dax through multiple incarnations, he knows how much things will change for Verad once he’s bonded. So he immediately starts working on Verad’s partner and girlfriend Mareel, knowing that helping Verad accomplish his goal is the same as helping him be a different person. Of course as soon as he becomes Verad Dax, he becomes an overconfident brash jerkbag [this is probably why the Trill didn’t give him a symbiant in the first place?]. Sisko picks up on it immediately and is back to work on Mareel, eventually making a compelling case for her to switch sides.
  3. All the gross medical stuff. Symbiants are just big gross worms that are just as horrifyingly invasive as the ear slugs in Star Trek II, only these are nice slugs. Symbiant surgery looks pretty straightforward…disgustingly straightforward, frankly.

Endnotes:

  • The gang is prepared for Odo, they have a nifty little security box to contain him. It was curious to me that once they got him in there they could just pick it up. So he weighs, like, next to nothing? I guess he’d have to, he also was able to pool into Lwaxana’s dress just a few episodes ago. I don’t want to go all Trek nerd and wonder how he could have this near-weightless property and also wail on bad guys or disturb a chair he sits on, etc., so I’m going to let this go now.
    • Wait, one thing. Maybe you could argue this containment box has some kind of antigrav technology otherwise it’d be sort of impractical. One could also argue Troi’s dress had the same, for fashion and flattery reasons. Let’s go with that.
  • Quark is outed as a co-conspirator here and should absolutely be prosecuted, right? He does help straighten things out, including hacking Odo’s security box. But he’s only fixing a situation he created. Anyway I think he’s up to 2 or 3 legitimate on-screen crimes that are forgotten once the episode runs its course.

Morn watch: No appearance. Since the station has been cleared, presumably he’s left. But we never do see the bar, so we can’t rule out Morn isn’t just sitting in there wondering where everyone went.

Overall: An important episode for Trill stuff but maybe a little contrived in the setup and payoff, and some of the symbiant stuff was a bit hokey and convenient. They kept saying how dangerous it was to swap a symbiant or use a phaser on someone with one, but then whey went ahead and did it anyway. 3 out of 5.

S2E5, “Cardassians” (writers: Gene Wolande & John Wright)

I always really dug Worf episodes in TNG as a way to frame culture clashes, postwar reconciliation, or racism, and we’ve got a similar setup here. The Bajoran/Cardassian situation might still be a little raw to have an actual Cardassian crewmember aboard, but there is Garak, a Cardassian shopkeeper on the station, who apparently has continued to have coffee meetups with Bashir. This is presented like a regular thing but I couldn’t remember when he’d even shown up before (it was only once) and had to look it up. It was back in the third episode, when he got friendly with Julian, and helped the crew ferret out a Klingon/Bajoran plot (it was an early episode I waited to long to recap and skimmed some details). Bashir still vaguely suspects him of being a spy, without any reason other than that he’s a Cardassian, because I guess their coffee meetups are made more interesting with a hint of racial profiling. Garak seems to shrug it off because he seems to enjoy hiding whatever it is he’s hiding.

The story centers around a Cardassian war orphan that had been left behind on Bajor. He was adopted by Bajoran parents and has been raised to hate Cardassians. Understandably, the Cardassian kid is pretty messed up from a lifetime of hearing that Cardassians are evil criminals by nature. When Garak gives him a friendly greeting he’s rewarded with the kid up and biting a chunk out of his hand, the news of which spreads quickly and brings attention to the whole orphan abandonment issue at both Federation and Cardassian higher levels.

The episode forks in two directions, and like the best Trek, simultaneously covers both an intricate plot and more subtle cultural ground. An elaborate Cardassian scheme is unraveled by Bashir and Garak, but mostly Garak, whose detective instincts are so accurate one might suspect he knew exactly what he was looking for. Bashir can barely keep up and isn’t getting anywhere trying to figure out what Garak is really all about. The episode resolves itself but Garak’s role doesn’t. I suspect we are going to see more of him.

The victim in all this is the Cardassian boy. It’s hard to know what to make of him though. He hates Cardassians, but of course, he is one. He loves Bajor, but is spewing all this Bajoran spiritual rhetoric he’s been indoctrinated with. I mean, none of this can ultimately be good for his mental health. No matter how much his parents love him, they’ve also pretty much warped him. Keiko takes charge while he’s on the station, and one has to think he’d have a lot better off with a little more Keiko-style no-judgement authority in his life. [Keiko for president.] Sisko is set to arbitrate a hearing to determine whether it’d be better to keep him on Bajor or return him to Cardassia. Then — I was sort of shocked by this — we barely see any of the hearing. Instead the poor kid’s fate is glossed over with some Captain’s Log narration that amounts to: “Oh yeah we decided to send Rugal back to Cardassia.” That is some stone-cold resolution, Sisko. Maybe they just ran out of time in an otherwise busy show. Though I was kinda wondering if Keiko and O’Brien would somehow end up adopting him as a neutral third party. I’d have liked if they did. Pretty ripe for material and he could get in on some Jake & Nog schemes.

Endnotes:

  • Enjoyably vile scene of Keiko preparing some Cardassian food, thinking it would be a nice gesture for Rugal. It looks like some sort of blue stew. O’Brien and the Bajoran-raised Rugal both hate it.
  • Like Armin Shimerman for Ferengi, Marc Alaimo is totally owning the role of Gul Dukat, and has entrenched himself in my brain as the prototypical Cardassian. Now I have the same problem I do for poor Armin Shimerman in that I think Marc Alaimo just looks like a Cardassian. He does have an exceedingly long neck that they factor into his makeup and costume.

Overall: Felt like the resolution with Rugal was a bit cruel, but otherwise lots of good stuff here, with some rich plotting. I did get a bit confused by the rapidly shifting revelations, and it’s quite probably I didn’t even catch everything, as intriguingly hinted at by Garak. This might be one to re-watch later on. 4 out of 5.

S2E6, “Melora” (writer: Evan Carlos Somers)

Definitely not limited to Trek, there’s a standard TV trope where a character looks forward to an opportunity to meet someone they know only by reputation. Naturally they’ve built this person up into an amazing, brilliant, wonderful human whose work has demonstrated that, finally, this will be someone who GETS IT, who understands them, who represents all of their hopes. Then they meet…and their hero turns out to be a jerk.

We recently finished a watch-through of Frasier and they went to this particular well so many times I think you could build a whole season of that show solely out of episodes with this setup. As it happens, Bashir is a bit of a poor-person’s Frasier: he’s also a cultured doctor who views himself as a naturally charismatic ladies’ man, but in practice, his smarmy courtship persona ensures he will be forever trapped in a comedy-rich cycle of excruciating dating failures.

Bashir’s object of interest is the eponymous Melora Pazlar, who has been assigned some work at DS9, but is from a race that evolved on a low-gravity planet and as such, requires accommodations to work in standard Earth gravity. They have to retrofit DS9 with accessible ramps and build a wheelchair for her–apparently regular Earth accessibility needs have been completely solved with medicine or other technologies. In preparing for her arrival, Julian has become rather smitten with her through her work and ability to overcome handicaps, which brings us around to our trope & setup. The payoff pretty much follows the formula: her tough exterior is, of course, a cover for feeling vulnerable about being dependent on others, or ever being perceived as unfit for her work, but Julian sees through it and recognizes her for who she is, eventually eroding her defenses through persistence and charm.

Despite the familiar feel, as a whole, “Melora” is a success. It’s maybe the first real glimpse past Bashir’s oily surface to understand that he’s a genuinely caring and thoughtful person. Melora isn’t just a bland foil for him, either–she’s cultured, enjoying both pleasant Vulcan classical music and horrifying Klingon cuisine, and she’s complex, learning to understand how she can work and play well with others, even if that means recognizing she occasionally needs help. I really liked how they addressed the larger ambiguous question of whether or not she should accept medical treatment to improve her adaptation to Earth-strength gravity. There’s no right answer. Damned if you do, etc.

Also someone from Quark’s past is trying to revenge murder him. It’s probably unnecessary since like, that’s probably SOP for him. But it does serve as a good vehicle for some Odo editorials about Quark’s overall negative contribution to society, and it moves the plot along.

Endnotes:

  • Greatly enjoyed the Klingon chef and musician. Klingon food and music is exactly as one would expect.
  • Standard Trek ending to a romantic story: the guest character is reassigned and (probably) never seen again. Welp.

Overall: I think writing up a review made me appreciate this episode more. Watching it felt pretty familiar, I feel like I’ve seen a million stubbornly independent characters who eventually admit some variation of “no man is an island”, but it’s a quite well-crafted skiffy example with lots of good character stuff. 4 out of 5.

QuarkWelp, I was already pretty far behind on my DS9 recaps anyway, then we went on vacation for a week, and I spent another week catching up on inessential non-DS9 aspects of my life, such as employment. So I’m going to crank this one out to get caught up.

S1E18, “Dramatis Personae” (writer: Joe Menosky)

TOS had multiple episodes where some kind of space madness would take over the ship and the only ones with immunity were Spock, because he wasn’t human, and Kirk, because no space disease could overcome the force of his sheer bold willfulness. Maybe you can’t always have a Kirk around, but you can at least have an insurance non-human aboard. Odo, you got the ball this time, buddy. A telepathic space virus or some damn thing overtakes everyone else, which causes them to lose their minds and start conspiring against each other, going a little feral, or in Sisko’s case, makes him weirdly obsessed with clocks. (It’s played sort of non-seriously but it’s a neat way to portray the emperor losing his sanity.) The non-humanoid Odo is immune and left to sort things out. It should also be noted that Quark, who is ready to turn on anyone at any time, and having never suppressed a primitive urge before, is also unaffected by the virus.

It’s a throwback plot with a throwback effect: which is to say it’s sorta boring. Lacking the usual complex plot DS9 episodes are going for, it’s a gimmick episode for the characters and their interrelationships. Some of their underlying feelings are emerging, e.g., when it comes down to it, Kira thinks she ought to be in charge. And it’s fairly fun but a few weeks later I barely remember how each of them changed.

Note for future reference: we learn that Bashir doesn’t have the first clue how to provide Odo with medical care.

Overall: 2 out of 5. Some fun touches but the setup is a little flimsy and contrived, and mostly I just got sleepy. I’ve seen this before and this time we didn’t even get to see a shirtless Sulu running around with a sword.

S1E19, “Duet” (writer: Peter Allan Fields)

This is the kind of thing that’s hard to rate because it’s decidedly not delightful. “Entertaining” is not the word I would use to describe a grim dissection of the horrific reality of wartime. The episode was indeed great. But it’s also about the aftermath of suffering Bajoran war prisoners and a low-ranking Cardassian military guy’s distress over his inability to do anything about it. Jake and Nog, where are you when we need you.

It’s framed as a mystery about the Cardassian’s real identity and Kira’s interrogation of him the comprises most of the plot. It’s well-done, we’re not at all clear who he really is or what Kira has gotten herself into, and the reveal is satisfyingly meted out as they get closer and closer to the truth. Along the way we learn more about Kira and some additional details about what the Bajorans have gone through under the Cardassian regime. Crack performance by Harris Yulin (a classic That Guy) as the Cardassian.

Overall: 5 out of 5. But I’m not watching it again.

S1E20, “In the Hands of Prophets” (writer: Robert Hewitt Wolfe)

I’m already tired of the battle for political/spiritual leadership among the Bajorans. It combines my disinterest in fictional political intrigue with my disinterest in fictional religious fanaticism. (I find even their nonfictional counterparts extremely pointless, so this is not a template for successfully garnering my interest.) So we’ve got the extreme conservative faction headed by Vedek Winn, who busts into Keiko’s school with some “wormholes are actually spirit temples” nonsense and proves that even in deep space they still have flat-Earthers. Keiko’s not about to knuckle under and drop the science curriculum aboard a bloody space station. [Keiko for President, fwiw.] But the Bajorans on the station get huffy and stop coming to school and work over the dispute, and Sisko tries to head things off by calling on Vedek Bareil–also an influential Bajoran leader, but at least one who has joined the 23rd century. But he’s got political considerations to worry about and can’t take too firm a stand against Winn, and if this ain’t a parable for modern politics I don’t know what is. And it’s just as frustratingly destructive, complete with the fracas erupting into some domestic terrorism.

Overall: 2 out of 5. Not a bad episode, if a little tiresome. But that could just be me, plus an episode about the scourge of regressivism is just really the last thing I want to think even more about these days.

S2E1, “Homecoming” (writers: Jeri Taylor & Ira Steven Behr)

S2E2, “The Circle” (writer: Peter Allan Fields)

S2E3, “The Siege” (writer: Michael Piller)

Ambitious three-parter to kick off season two. Following up the events of “In the Hands of Prophets”, we see that vying Bajoran factions are getting increasingly vocal well beyond the scope of just the station. Without recapping the entire three-episode arc, I can discuss the major players:

  • Li Nalas, the extremely reluctant Bajoran folk hero. Circumstances once forced him to fight off several Cardassians but he ended up a prisoner, and Kira (with an assist from O’Brien) rescues. In the meantime the stories about him have grown into legends. It’s hard to pull off a good reluctant hero, too often they basically end up being, well, Harry Potter/Luke Skywalker/Katniss Everdeen/every American saga forever. Li Nalas is a good one, though. He doesn’t morph into a Jedi badass, he just tries to be useful.
  • Jaro Essa, Bajoran governmental minister trying to re-establish provisional leadership. He barges in to DS9 and reassigns Kira to Bajor, replacing her with Nalas, which neither of them are happy about. I would describe this character as effectively hateable.
    • This leads to the best scene of the arc, when Kira is packing for her reassignment to Bajor, and all the regulars keep showing up on some flimsy pretext to say goodbye to her. Some good farce here, as pretty soon the entire cast is in her bedroom somehow. And for the first time, she claims some allegiance to them. Awww.
  • The Circle, a group of Bajoran extremists whose influence has started to appear on the station in the form of obnoxious graffiti that Odo or someone has to clean up. (I bet he gets Morn to do it for like, next to nothing. Cost of the cheapest swill at Quark’s.)
  • Some militant Bajorans, including an extremely wooden and forgettable performance by fellow ’90s TV guy Steven Weber, who I guess just had an off-week over at Wings or something and wandered over to the DS9 set, so they slapped a Bajoran nose on him for a cameo.

Eventually the larger conspiracy that’s agitating the Bajoran rift is unraveled and things go back to normal after some zap-zap phaser battles around the station. Good job everyone.

Overall: 3 out of 5. Lots of Bajoran background and some larger themes covered but the execution is a bit meh. Two tighter episodes instead of three, padded out with zap-zaps and silly bellowing Bajoran Bad Guys, would have been better.

I am an astronomy dude but I don’t remember exactly when I learned a solar eclipse was going to be visible from the United States in August 2017. I knew about it by at least ’09 or ’10, Kristen says she remembers me bringing it up when we were still dating. But it was far enough out that despite my excitement, I couldn’t actually even get the exact year it was happening straight. Just a mysterious “sometime in the future” year, which is any year that is sufficiently far enough out to seem mildly fantastic. (Did you know there will be a year 2024? Wow! Amazing.) At some point I internalized that the eclipse would happen in 2017, when I would be 40, as if either of those things was ever actually going to happen.

Well, as it turns out, they both did.

What follows is a travel recap of our trip to see the eclipse and subsequent Tennessee/North Carolina mountain vacation last week. Read it…or don’t!

Vacation stops

Vacation stops in western NC and eastern Tennessee, including shaded path of 21 August eclipse (from eclipsewise.com).

Eclipse Pre-gaming:

We solidified plans to travel to see totality last year, booking something off VRBO in Highlands, NC. Our general plan was to find a good place to see the eclipse Monday the 21st, then spend the week in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Asheville, NC. We landed on Highlands because (a) it was quite close to the center line of totality–how far you are from the center line determines how long totality lasts, much more so than where you are along the length of the path–and (b) we actually found an available place there. It wasn’t extraordinarily hard to find a rental, but it was our third or fourth try before we got a confirmation. This was last fall–the eclipse wasn’t at all on the national radar yet but my fellow astronomy peeps were obviously already on it, and rental proprietors were starting to get wise. The mild difficulty prompted me to get some eclipse glasses ordered as well.

Because I am not smart, none of that got me thinking there might be crowds or traffic for this first-time-in-four-decades phenomenon. So in the months leading up to it I figured we would just drive from our base to wherever good weather might be that day. That presumption slowly shifted to anxiety as dire predictions of cataclysmic traffic or record crowds turned up in the news. But I went back and forth on worrying about human factors. The media thrives on disaster porn, but ultimately it was hard to believe conditions would be especially awful. I saw a few different maps trying to show the nearest point on the eclipse path from anywhere within a day’s drive. (This was an especially thorough estimate.) Since it crossed the entire continent, there were not going to be any real pinch points. It also became clear that oft-quoted figures like “200 million people within a day’s drive” didn’t really mean anything. It’s not like all 200 million were going to go. Or even 20 million. The estimate at that link thought even 2 million would be a lot, but probably getting down to the right order of magnitude at least. (Some cursory internet research suggests no major sources have bothered to follow up on putting together actual numbers, presumably since no one died or was stranded in traffic for two days or something else horrific. Also it’s just hard to figure out.) I mean, I am the kind of guy who’s into this sort of thing, and I am friends with a lot of people who are into these sorts of things, and maybe 1 person in 20 that I knew was going to travel. It’s still a lot more than a normal day but actually probably less than a busy holiday.

In spite of this coldly reasoned logic, I definitely experienced what a friend of ours termed “eclipse anxiety”. What if the estimates were wrong? What about the weather? Traffic? Gridlock? What if the towns are unprepared and there’s no food, no parking, overwhelmed plumbing, gas shortages, looters, eclipse-crazed bears? Another person we know was taking four days’ worth of food along just in case. I mean, none of this seemed reasonable, but when nothing’s definitive, anything’s possible.

Sunday, August 20: Pre-eclipse Day

Most of that worry seemed misplaced when there was no traffic or any real crowd impacts Saturday. We still packed enough food and snacks to cover us for at least a few days, but didn’t bother to leave especially early Sunday or anything to beat a potential rush.

The bulk of this day was a relatively boring drive from Raleigh to Highlands. It took longer than anticipated, but that’s just because I had never driven further west than Asheville while I’ve lived in The NC, and my mental model of the state is that it pretty much ends there. It doesn’t! It’s actually quite a bit longer, with several more hours of mountainous slow-driving state beyond. But traffic was light and we made pretty good time.

Our place was cool, a nice little rental above a garage called the Treehouse. Our host Mike gave us a bunch of good food recommendations and also vouched for the quieter-than expected atmosphere of the town over the weekend, mostly easing our concerns about traffic or parking for the next day. We were about two miles up a mountain from downtown and were thinking we’d even walk in if necessary, but it wasn’t going to be.

After dinner we took a drive into town to get familiar with the layout and scout out a good eclipse-viewing spot. They were setting up something called EclipseFest in a park, with a band and various tents, but with no assurances on the quality of the local band, we settled on a small, quieter lake close by with an unobstructed southern view. We took a hike up to a local attraction known as Sunset Rock, which as the name implies is a good place to watch a sunset. Basically it’s a big rock at the top of small mountain, under half a mile hike but moderately graded, that faces west. But it’s pretty cool. It was certain to be a fantastic eclipse-viewing spot but would likely be overcrowded, and also you’d be spending all day on a big rock with no cover, so we ruled it out.

Having arrived in and returned safely from town, with no evidence of mounting apocalyptic local or national conditions and an improving weather forecast, I went to bed with optimism for eclipse day.

Monday, August 21: Eclipse Day

We woke up to a less optimistic forecast, but clear skies to start. Clouds were expected to roll in starting about mid-day, with 30-40% coverage expected during totality, up to rain in the evening. Nothing really mattered after 2:38, though. This was our eclipse timetable:

Start of partial eclipse (C1) :
2017/08/21
1:07:14.3 EDT
Start of total eclipse (C2) :
2017/08/21
2:35:56.4 EDT
Maximum eclipse :
2017/08/21
2:37:13.3 EDT
End of total eclipse (C3) :
2017/08/21
2:38:29.9 EDT
End of partial eclipse (C4) :
2017/08/21
4:01:24.9 EDT

 

A bit of clouds wouldn’t be a huge issue. Most of an eclipse is pretty long, actually. Almost an hour and a half of the moon slowly subsuming the solar disc, before just two and a half minutes of totality. Then another hour-plus of the moon sliding off. So the full experience requires most of the afternoon. If clouds come and go, no problem. As long as you get a break at 2:35. This is what I told myself as cover for my seeping anxiety.

We had brunch in town–it was very quiet, plenty of parking, no crowds at all. EclipseFest was being set up and all the townies had some spiffy tee shirts for sale marking the occasion, but I couldn’t get one because they were down to the dregs of the youth sizes only. We set up camping chairs after that, maybe around 11am. Still plenty of space to be had but people were starting to stake out turf so we did the same and settled in to wait for a few hours. By noon or so, a large enough crowd of idle bandwidth users had gathered that phone service started degrading and we could only get blips of weather or news updates. This was a problem because it coincided with the clouds starting to get pushier. They overtook the sun at some point, and only got worse from there.

By first impingement, a bit after 1pm, things were looking grim. We had almost total cloud cover except for a spot off to the west. Clouds totally obscured the sun. There was no need for eclipse glasses. There was barely a need for sunglasses. I even felt a couple of raindrops. Bitter, teasing raindrops. I began mumbling about the hugely wrong “30-40% cloud cover” prediction; admittedly I lost my cool, as I usually am a steadfast defender of the science of meteorology (one of the laziest willfully ignorant jokes I can think of is the one about how weatherman is the only job where you can be wrong that much and still keep your job–they ARE right! they are using models and that’s the most right they can be! conditions change, is all). Basically I was angry at the atmosphere. Anyway K and I started wondering if we should take some action by heading west to try to get out from under the clouds. Of course, that being balanced with the haunting thought that we could go west, the clouds might just follow us, leaving brilliantly clear skies where we had waited around all morning. I mostly still couldn’t get any data on my phone, but managed a meager blip of updated radar data that made it seem like we should go for it, and the roads were clear. So we made the call.

We got out of the greater Highlands area and saw some blue skies from a Dollar General parking lot maybe 10-15 minutes away. In fact, they sky started looking promising enough that we finally actually needed the eclipse glasses. We tossed our layin’-about blanket onto some nearby grass and got our first glimpses of the eclipse happening, at about 50% coverage. We promised that we would patronize the General afterwards for use of their space. (Not that they cared. The employees were outside themselves, smoking cigarettes in a roped-off corner of the lot.) The parking lot started filling up as other cars materialized from the same cloudy direction, although conditions were already deteriorating again, and some people went further west. One guy bought ice cream bars at the store, but had extras since he could only get a minimum of a whole box rather than individual treats, so he shared with anyone nearby, including us. So at least, if we stayed cloudy, at least we scored some ice cream.

We overhead someone say that they had a GPS radar and it looked like the patch was blowing over, but that seemed hopelessly optimistic, the sun was completely gone again and things weren’t really improving. We had about 15 minutes left until totality, but with no phone signal, all we could do was guess what might happen. I proposed that rather than continue to chase the sun, we go back to Highlands, or hopefully even somewhere clear along the way, with the hope that maybe if the clouds were moving west, going back east they’d pass right over us. (Also I didn’t have a good handle on how much further west we could actually go and stay in the zone–although I determined later that we were nowhere near the edge. From the map above I think we were basically right at the NC-Georgia border.) At the very least, we’d rule out the potential humiliation of hearing that Highlands had gone clear without us. Kristen agreed, but mostly had fallen into despair. On the way back she likened the situation to the Carolina Panthers’ tremendously disappointing defeat in Super Bowl 50, when they rolled in with a 17-1 season record plus playoffs, only to play a thoroughly shitty game when it meant the most. So was the season worth it after all? Was anything? It was hard to disagree.

No good spots turned up on the way back, so at about 2:25 we found ourselves in a small parking lot back in Highlands with a bunch of other people hoping for the best. There was nowhere else to go, nothing else to try. It didn’t look good. Kristen couldn’t even muster the enthusiasm to get out of the car. We were going to have to settle for the darkening, but nothing else.

Totality

It’s easy to recall times when things went terrifically wrong. You remember with painful clarity when you dropped your phone off a bridge, but not the 4,000 times you didn’t. A lot of people in the North Carolina mountains planned as much as us, did everything right, are good humans, wanted to see it just as much. They could have been ten miles north, south, east, west, and had very different experiences. Our neighbors traveled separately to a nearby town: they didn’t see it. Maybe we’d have seen it fine from the Dollar General parking lot, maybe our decision to head back saved us. I don’t know if the eclipse chasers we intersected with there ever made it to sunlight. I don’t know what happened to the nice man who gave us ice cream. Many of them likely didn’t get to see totality.

We did.

With less than five minutes to go, the sun peeked through what had been an imperceptible gap in the clouds. It was down to a narrow sliver of light only, though town hadn’t gotten much darker at all. That was maybe one of the bigger surprises to me about the whole thing. I imagined it getting darker throughout the eclipse, then gradually lighter as the moon cleared away. But really nothing seemed to change until just the last few minutes, when it suddenly faded to an eerie mid-day twilight. All the bugs perked up and started into their nighttime chirping routine.

The moon choked off what was left of the sun, and we were at totality. We saw it happen. We did it. Dark moon, gauzy solar corona. I felt like I could hear a hum, which is ridiculous, or if anything it was my dangerously high blood pressure. My arms went up like the Panthers scored that Super Bowl winning touchdown that never actually happened.

The two-and-a-half minutes of totality went by in about ten seconds. I looked at it. I looked at Kristen. I looked around. I looked back at the sun. Repeat. I knew all our iPhone pictures would be trash but I took them anyway. We did get some good ones of each other in semi-darkness. A random woman nearby didn’t realize she could take her eclipse glasses off, I told her it was OK. (She probably was going to do it anyway.) She volunteered to take a picture of us, and she kindly took what was by far the worst picture ever taken during an eclipse. Then, the flash of the diamond-ring effect, and it was over. Glasses back on, moment gone forever. Someone in the parking lot had been playing Revolver and timed it so that “Good Day Sunshine” came up just at that moment. Not exactly right in concept but well played, IMO.

To be continued. But that was the best part.

Coming up: eclipse aftermath, the Smokies, the postmodern horror of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville, and home.