Today is the fabled eclipse day we have been awaiting for months. This is the first total eclipse to migrate across the United States coast to coast since 1918. To put this in human terms, my late father who fought in World War II was one year old when the 1918 eclipse made its appearance short after the start of the previous century.
I and my family are located in the eastern edge of western North Carolina. To give that location some visual anchoring, we are about 60 miles or so west of Asheville. School has not yet started yet here in NC, opening this coming Monday August 28th. Bored school children and their poor frazzled parents who made it this far have something to celebrate the end of the summer and mark of the start of school, “The Path of Totality,” of the Eclipse. My wife and teen son along with a couple of other teen boys will head off this morning as soon as possible, stocking the car with outdoor chairs, solar sunglasses plenty of bottled fluids, and of course sun protective goop.
One thing the reader unfamiliar with this part of the country is that North Carolina going went on the roads narrows down to a funnel ending in the Murphy area, where 21 years ago the 1996 Olympics bomber in Atlanta hid out in the hills, woods and mountains surrounding Murphy for more than 2 years eluding the hundreds of FBI agents saturating the tourist motels in Murphy, never catching him and finally leaving and abandoning the search, only to have Eric Rudolph the bomber being apprehended by a new deputy behind a small Sears outlet order store, dumpster diving and eventually collecting the $25,000 reward.
A massive caravan has been heading toward all of western North Carolina from approximately two days ago, increasing almost hourly in volume through today. There are several towns in the path of the partial (not quite total) eclipse: Murphy at the western tip of the state, coming east a very small town of Andrews that has a smaill hospital that has been closed for going on 10 years, the Nantahalla Gorge where the Olympic kayaking was held in 1996, then Sylva where Wester Carolina University is, Cherokee and the Qualla Bourndary Reservation is located if you take a left, then Waynesville, a somewhat small city, then Asheville.
In these areas people “from all over,” as we say in the South, are stuffing hotel only in Asheville), and motels, parks, ball fields of all schools (where there are fewer trees obscuring the view) tops of concrete parting structures, camping groups, public parks, sides of highways and roads and so on. Estimates on the news media and from law enforcement task forces (“The Path to Totality Task Force?”) range from 60,000 to more than a million. The merchants want more so they can sell whatever they have from food to tee shirts, while locals everywhere are renting out their yard space to overnight campers (with use of the hose and/or the inside home bathroom.
But “my money” is on the Port-A-John folks, that’s where the money is going to be. City councils in western North Carolina have been very lucky. There are no big athletic events yet, the festivals are taking a break because of school opening next week, so the entire area’s complement of portable houses of necessity will be available and in service over the entire western fifth of the state preserving public areas and offering needed relief to all who wish to witness this event that will not happen again until 2045.
But you can bet that the middle and high school students, in all their science courses, will be required to write papers and reports on the eclipse as their first assignment, but don’t tell them yet. It is better to let them enjoy the event without realizing its coming educational demand on their writing and observational skills next week.