My employer was kind enough to just call the day off and let a bunch of science nerds be true to their game and devote the time to witnessing an astronomical spectacle.
So I found myself with a rare weekday off sitting in my South City home, one of my happy places, contemplating what to do and where to go to witness the eclipse of 2017.
Always a bit of a cynic and media-induced hype-denier, I avoided getting too wound up about it leading up to August 21st. I usually need time to separate the art/event from the times/hype. I mean I'm just now mining through the Strokes catalog; too much hype at the time.
But you only get a couple minutes to take in an eclipse and St. Louis was just north of the path of totality. So I had to do this. I had options. I read up on it. The weather was perfect for a bike ride why not just focus on that simple pleasure? But where?
I recently got a Tower Tribune newsletter from the (Compton) Water Tower & Park Preservation Society that offered a bird's eye view from the top of the tower. I chose to ride my bike there and check things out; the park was activated, I counted ~50 people picnicking, sitting under trees in lawn chairs, climbing to the top of the reservoir or the stand pipe, or just walking around. It was great to see so many people in the park, but I didn't recognize any familiar faces. Climbing to the top of the tower wasn't the option I naively thought it would be, I mean the eclipse was at ~1:00, so the sun was nearly right above you. The sight lines weren't there. You had to take this thing in with your feet on the ground.
I got a timely text from my wife who was at her workplace just up the street at St. Louis University and she asked me what I was doing. I was kinda lonely, so I decided to hustle and ride to her place to be a bit more social.
This is where the sounds and overheard conversations of the afternoon added to the life-affirming sights of the eclipse.
First, KDHX was playing all kinds of riffs on the sun, from the most disjointed, unexpected angles...the obvious Bonnie Tyler number dare not be played left of the dial. I was enjoying the themes and newly discovered songs.
When I was at the park, I listened to a trio of retired guys with greyer hairs than mine at the water tower talking about the planning for the event. They were giving out free eclipse glasses to anyone who showed up, talking about the good deal they got on the glasses and a gentlemen with an Eastern European accent I couldn't place for the life of me walked up with what looked like a $15,000 lens on an even more expensive camera. He said he was at the airport this morning trying to track down eclipse glasses and someone sold him a pair for $20. I think he was a photo journalist on assignment.
What a great setting to take in St. Louis for the day in this beautiful park in the Compton Heights Neighborhood.
As I was unlocking my bike and getting ready to head to SLU, I overheard a young woman sitting by herself and talking on her cell telling the person on the other end of the line (signal ?) that the shadows looked creepy. I hadn't noticed, but it was different than it was a couple minutes ago. It was a strange sight and I might not have noticed it in the moment had I not overheard her conversation.
I headed north and then east passing veterinary workers in scrubs giggling and happy to have a 10 minute work reprieve. I passed little kids at a daycare laughing and screaming at elevated volumes, happy to be out of their routine and outdoors staring up into the sky.
It was getting darker.
I passed a young black dude walking in the street on Park Avenue and smiled and shouted as I passed: "World's coming to an end, better hurry up!", he yelled back: "This weird B, long as it ain't rainin'." I agree, it was weird, the animal instincts knew something wasn't as it usually is.
Got to my wife's place of employment and listened to her kibitz with workmates like workmates kibitz. For the occasion, she wore black to blend in with the eclipse. I love her for this (and many other reasons).
These sounds and interactions were in my mind and then as we were just mulling around, the male cicadas starting kicking up a little dirt and trying to get the female cicadas stirred up...at 1:00 in the afternoon. Then the slight swish of birds flapping wings in flight to get to the trees early/late/outta synch. They didn't know what to do for about five minutes, they were confused. Roost or fly on?
And then the near totality and the cheap sunglasses and the thing we were all there to witness...together. The sound of kind Midwesterners oohing and aahing and even some distant clapping.
Such a kind series of sounds. All helping form a memory that I'll hopefully take to the grave. It made me love life and my city just a little more.
The actual astrological event was stunning (hope to see you again in 2024).
For now, I guess I'll put my eclipse glasses back in their little plastic bag with the $1 price tag and place it in the box in the basement with my wheat pennies, rock show ticket stubs and 1970's 45's.
So, no reason to be cynical of pre-eclipse hype, the people of St. Louis made this more memorable for me than coronas, totality, slender slivers and shadow bands.
You'll see a million photos of the 2017 eclipse, these are the times we live in. Everybody's got a camera in their pocket and a thousand filters and tricks to make you think they know what they're doing. But it's the workday afternoon sounds and little conversations and city sights that'll frame this most memorable day for me.
Hope you were able to enjoy it as much as we were.