I drove cautiously to the edge of Highway 101 as if driving into a war zone. Would I see an impenetrable line of cars? Would tourists crowd the roadsides, strewing trash and lit matches into the salal and blackberries? Could I possibly get to Newport in one piece? Judging by what I was seeing on the news and reading on my computer, no.
But yes. Yesterday, already suffering from cabin fever, I ventured to the post office and the jetty, and it was fine. The gulls and cormorants bobbing in the blue ripples of Yaquina Bay did not know or care that the solar eclipse is coming on Monday. The surf lapped against the rocks, fishing boats cruised in and out, and the sun peeked shyly through the morning clouds. The only unusual sight was a truck delivering portable toilets to the area where the jetty meets the beach.
Eclipse-o-mania. Depoe Bay, just north of here, is supposed to be the first place in the continental U.S. to see the moon completely cover the sun when the eclipse happens on Monday morning. The “path of totality” will continue southeast through Oregon and on across the country. Over a million people are expected to come to this state, thousands of them to the coast, to see the eclipse. Officials predict traffic jams and shortages of food, gas, and cash. Eclipse-watchers will stream onto private property looking for places to camp. We may lose electricity and cell phone coverage. Or not. Will this be like y2k, when nothing really happened?
For weeks, we have been warned to stock up on supplies and plan to stay home from Aug. 17-21. The roads will be impassable, we’re told. Businesses and government offices are planning to close on Monday. Stores, restaurants, and motels that serve tourists are putting their employees on extra shifts and urging them to sleep over so they won’t get caught in traffic. Police and firefighters are working overtime. The National Guard is on standby. The county has declared a state of emergency.
It’s as if a tsunami, a snowstorm and Woodstock were all happening at the same time. The eclipse will begin at 9:04 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. Totality, starting at 10:16, will last for two minutes. It will get dark. The birds will hush. Night animals will come out. And then it will start to get light again. By 11:15, it will be all over, except for the traffic jams.
Meanwhile, life goes on. When the moon slides over the sun, my dad will be on his way to Kaiser Hospital for a doctor’s appointment. Other people will be at work and not even see it. Me, I’ll probably retreat to my office and write.
We don’t really know how many people will come to the coast for the eclipse. If I were traveling to see it, I’d go somewhere else. We have a 50 percent chance it will be too cloudy to see anything. Whatever we can see, I’ll be able to watch from my backyard with the eclipse glasses I picked up at the community college. Don’t look at the sun without them, ophthalmologists warn. The glasses are so dark the sun is the only thing you can see through them. It looks like a little orange dot.
My father can’t understand why people would travel great distances to see the eclipse. Neither can my 96-year-old friend Doug, who says he’s seen them before. No big deal. The next eclipse will be in 2024, and it won’t be here. I hope to see it, but I’m not making any extra trips out of South Beach. I vaguely remember a previous eclipse in 1970. It got dark, it got light. No big deal in San Jose, not like the craziness happening here. I don’t even know if we got out of class to see it.
The mania had already started last week when I went to the Fred Meyer store to buy groceries. It was a madhouse, jammed with people stocking up for the big event. Yesterday, a friend posted pictures on Facebook of empty shelves where the milk should be. Did I stock up? I have bagels, grapefruit, tea and cookies. Annie has two boxes of Milk-Bones. We’re ready.
I have seriously thought about walking to town if I can’t drive. Four miles to the bridge, three more to church. News outlets are showing photos of bumper-to-bumper traffic, but not here. Not yet. Maybe not at all.
The eclipse will happen. But whether the crowds will come and whether it will be cloudy or clear, we don’t know. The human show may turn out to be more mind-blowing than the one in the sky. Meanwhile, the gulls bobbing in the bay and the dog at my side don’t know or care.
Has eclipse-o-mania hit where you live? Would you travel to see the eclipse?