Saturday, Aug. 19
11 a.m.: “Well. First I thought Thursday was gonna be the worst. Everyone’s gonna get the same idea about a three- or four-day weekend and they’re all gonna hit the road at the same time, congesting our highways from every which way and everyone’s gonna think, well, we gotta do it early in the morning because so many people are gonna do it later in the afternoon thinking they’re getting a head start on the evening traffic and the early Friday traffic, which, oh, THAT’S gonna be MURDER, and ANYWAY, they’ve gotta make sure those reservations are still good because I heard some FUNNY STUFF IN THE NEWS about what some hotels are pulling, so in case the pulls get pulled they gotta give themselves enough time to find new arrangements, like a motel or a farmer’s field or a parking lot or an Airbnb or even a youth hostel either in the city or the next city over because there’s gotta be room somewhere, RIGHT, they’ll be here, RIGHT, and we wanna show them we’re all about convenience and hospitality and getting ’em to spend their MONEY and JET before we get tired of ’em, because we’re all capitalists here, America effyeah, heck, we’ll stuff ’em inna custodial closet s’long as the checks clear, but then I got to thinking Friday was gonna be PEAK AWFUL, because not everyone’s taking Thursday off, it's unrealistic, a work ethic thing, plus it’s an odd day to start a vacation; it’s all about getting as close to the weekend as you can, you know, staring the devil in its cold, dead eyes then thumbing your nose in its face before the jaws snap shut. Everyone’s gonna get off work — the earlier, the better, with gear and kiddos and furbabies loaded, like, slide right into the driver’s seat as their SUVs coast past their cubicles and off they go, and that procession in league with our usual interstate rush hour and country festival madness is gonna reduce flow to a perfect-storm stop-and-start, but Tripcheck said it was clear sailing all day, yawn from border to border, and yeah, that makes sense in retrospect, like, DUH, so I’m like Saturday, SAAAAATURDAY, and, see, it makes sense, because who wants to spend day after day in some strange state to watch a two-minute phenomenon when you can just reach your destination, chill out, get a good night’s sleep, but, nope, the map was all green this morning, so I’m thinking Eye of the Storm, and this afternoon we’re gonna get hardcore slammed with tourists and it’s all media hype, anyway, whatever, to sell a bunch of papers to sheeple who ain’t me and so, whaddaya want on your sandwich?”
12:30 p.m.: Walking through downtown Albany before my shift, I decide for funsies that every passerby in a blue shirt is an eclipse watcher from out of state. By my calculations, at least 12 have landed already, and one has handed me a flier for a free film screening at the Pix, something about the eclipse being a sign of our times. Otherwise the streets are largely empty, save the farmers market a few blocks away.
An aproned teen emerges from the Brick & Mortar and calls out a series of names. No one responds.
11 p.m.: The newspaper’s gone to bed, totalitied to its lungs. As I’m riding home with colleague Jim Day, he asks what he should tell a mutual friend who believes sunglasses provide ample eclipse protection. “Prove it,” I suggest.
Back at my apartment, I see Little Caesar’s Pizza is still open (Safeway and 7-Eleven are truly your only options at that hour, and hey, I have scruples), so I purchase an entire pie and devour it while waiting for my card to clear, a lesson for budding young scriveners everywhere: Journalism makes you fat, angry, and old.
Sadly, because of my work schedule, I don’t make it to the theater to learn the eclipse’s true intentions, and later, while mourning the late Dick Gregory through a riveting spoken-word album he released last year, I imagine the eclipse as a painted tunnel through which may escape Wile E. Coyote, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (in matching blue shirts, of course), or the next Beyonce album. I do not sleep for a long, long time. Eventually, I activate “The Late Great Townes Van Zandt” and am out before "Pancho & Lefty."
As far as I can tell, traffic’s still fine. No sign whatsoever that I’ll have to walk through somebody’s hatchback to get to my upstairs shower.
Sunday, Aug. 20
9:22 a.m.: Second City’s Joe Flaherty and I are seated at a picnic table in Central Illinois. As we eat our sandwiches, I tell him I’m a fan of Floyd Robertson, his straitlaced newsman foil to Eugene Levy’s purrily unctuous, sports-coated Earl Camembert, in large part because it offers such a contrast to Flaherty’s other, more absurd “SCTV” characters, particularly soused talk-show host Sammy Maudlin and network head Guy Caballero. He thanks me and I launch into an extended rave on the famous fried chicken museum nearby — can’t remember the name offhand, because the famous Central Illinois fried chicken museum doesn’t exist, nor have I ever met Joe Flaherty. Also, I preferred his midnight movie emcee Count Floyd to his Sammy Maudlin, whom I’ve always found too phony-showbiz uncomfortable to enjoy (which is the point, yes, but no fun to watch unfold). And anyway, I was wearing a ski parka in August, a curiosity that fazed neither Mr. Flaherty nor me. And anyhow, it was interrupted by a rhythmic chukka-chukka to my left and my hand instinctively swiped for its source.
“Hellooooooooo,” I croak into my cellphone.
“Hey, man, it’s Toby. Did I wake you?”
“Oh, hey, no, no, no, man, I was just, like, urrrrrrr,” I reassure him. Then I spend the next two hours riffing slipshod on the previous evening. Toby, ‘cause he’s a true-blue amigo, successfully redirects us into discussions of Donald Trump, new movies, and Bratmobile.
And of course, we talk about the eclipse. Neither of us remember the one in ’79, we deduce, because neither of us were in Oregon yet (we didn’t meet until 1982). Toby was a 6-year-old keeping it real in Idaho’s finest head shops; I was a 6-year-old Southern California boy blowing weekends in Nixon Country discotheques. So, no beloved memories of making pinpricks in boxes or spray-painting “HONK FOR TOTALITY” onto our aunts’ Dodge Darts.
Before we hang up, I tell him about my Joe Flaherty dream.
“Oh, cool,” he says. “Joe Flaherty from ‘SCTV’?”
This is why we’re friends.
1:30 p.m.: I’m too late for “Logan Lucky,” so I begrudgingly shell for “The Hit Man’s Bodyguard” at the Regal. I love Samuel L. Jackson, natch, but my friends and I have dismissed Ryan Reynolds for years as the poor man’s Jason Lee, even though, unfortunately, the former’s more bankable now, thanks to his eventual star turn in “Deadpool” after a century of cowflop romantic comedies, horrorshow stiffs, and superhero floaters. I’ve tolerated him since “Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place” (what I suffered for Traylor Howard) and his whiff-job cameo in 1999’s “Dick,” but homeboy couldn’t carry a motion picture if motion pictures were empty duffle bags with handles crafted specifically for his grip — and that includes “Deadpool.”
Same noise here: by-the-book straight man to Samuel L.’s untethered irreverence, a squalid cocktail of “48 Hrs.” and “Midnight Run” spilled into the same bordello Dumpster. Also, remember when Gary Oldman villains demolished scenery and spat out cameramen’s bones? Sadly, he’s played the staid Commissioner Gordon for far too long. Saving grace: Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City,” which I hum all the way home.
4 p.m.: I’ve gotten over my blue shirt obsession, because the real tourists have arrived at last in matching “Eclipse 2017” hats and are setting up their recreational vehicles behind the mall. License plates abound from California and British Columbia. In exchange the mall’s booked evenings of free entertainment, and I can hear ’em from my upstairs window: covers of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” and bro-billy sudsers recorded post-2012.
But the predicted swell has yet to materialize. Instead of breathing a sigh of relief, the locals are getting angry, feeling duped and hoodwinked by “experts,” officials and news reports. They’d drained gas stations, overspent on groceries, listed their extra bedrooms at inflated rates to no apparent interest, and wasted energy obsessively consulting real-time ODOT traffic maps. The eclipse, to them, is a cheap, convenient hype perpetuated by the media to instill panic for revenue. I know this because I hear it everywhere. “It’s what the media does,” I am told.
This eclipse can’t come soon enough. There may be blood.
11:30 p.m.: Another great episode of “Twin Peaks.” Can’t believe it’s almost over. The summer’s passed too quickly. Nine hours until that other event of the year.
Monday, Aug. 21
9 a.m.: This is it. And my day off too. I peel my mortal remains from the couch and grab a pair of cardboard eclipse glasses from a coffee table pile. Kicking a path through debris (I’m a very busy guy), I stumble out the front door, disheveled and rank, with my only working camera: a tablet. Although I’ve presented a blasé front to the outside world — even telling my friend Toby, “Aw, it’s just a buncha media hype to sell newspapers and nasal sprays” — I’m ridiculously giddy about witnessing my first total solar eclipse.
It’s a warm day. One of the many well-meaning emergency alerts I’ll receive confirms this. I’m also reminded to prepare for stopped traffic and not to look directly at the sun (our president apparently deactivated his notifications). No problemmo. Heck, I'll even wear clothes.
I stop at the sidewalk outside my apartment complex, turn around, put on my glasses and oh, there she is, that majestic sphere: our sun, amplified in a darkened void. And in the top right corner, the moon is visibly beginning its descent. I adjust my tablet and take a selfie to proclaim to the social universe, “I am here, and I am watching.” Unfortunately, I’m watching in sweaty sleep-tangles of hair and an awkwardly sunburned neck, so I take another photo. Then another. A third. A fourth. Shot 5 is the least embarrassing, so I crop the hell out of it and post it online.
My landlord passes. “Is it happening yet?” he asks.
“Yup,” I reply. “Just a little sliver.”
“Oh!” he says and rushes off to prepare.
Many of my neighbors are already standing outside. We’re of the same tribe now: Glasses and Wonder. We’re that photo of a gape-mawed audience at a 3D film, experiencing a phenomenon communally. Except what we’re witnessing is a thousand times more compelling than crude spaceships or rubber alligator suits. This is natural, awe-inspiring, a breathtaking symphony of space and time.
I remove my glasses, and as if summoned by an unknown force, begin walking toward the mall, barefoot, reeking of the previous night’s sleep. The parking lot remains somewhat empty. Parts are cordoned off with tape. Watchers are scattered throughout, reclined in lawnchairs, relaxing on tailgates, listening to music but mostly watching the sky.
I cross back behind the old Sears, where campers had set anchor only an afternoon earlier. More lawnchairs. Cameras of varying shapes and sizes pointed toward the blue. Perfect strangers were casually discussing the event. What would it be like to see the eclipse from the moon? Tell me about your camera setup. Have you ever seen one of these before? A father from British Columbia passes string cheese and Cokes to his children sitting atop the family RV. An alert German shepherd stands guard beside his Washington crew. Someone from the mall’s staff is taking pictures. The tourists are taking pictures. I’m taking pictures. We’re all taking pictures of each other as if desperate to document every last moment.
10:15 a.m.: The sky’s getting darker, more solid somehow. Ridges of worry dent its surface. The parking lot lights begin flickering to life. A wind has awakened, sweeping a chill into the valley.
Ca. 10:22 a.m.: It all happens so fast.
“Look!” someone shouts. “Looklooklooklooklooklook!”
“Oh, my God!” another voice laughs in disbelief.
Cardboard glasses hit asphalt. We don’t need them now. Our own wide eyes are enough. The moon is seconds from dead center, devouring the sun, looking exactly as it did in every newspaper illustration, but here it is, actually happening, and as the moon draws its curtain, a tumult of voices begins to rise, involuntary, uncontrollable, until finally, at the moment of totality, embers edging the dominant orb’s shadow, we erupt with the universe in cheers: Oregonians, Californians, Washingtonians, British Columbians, the world. For only a moment, we’re children once more, suspending our cynicisms, believing in beauty, delighting in magic.