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County Hall Corner: United We Stand — Over a Blocked Sun

Our country today is not as much a United States as we are a various group of states that get united based on political convictions. Our fifty states are recognized as “red states” (Republican), “blue states” (Democratic), and those that are somewhat of a blend of the two or bounce from red to blue or blue to red. These are known as “swing states.” Lately, Pennsylvania is finding itself in this category, and as a result, we are getting a lot more attention in national media than we generally would get.

Yet, on Monday, April 8th, our country found something other than entertainment or sports events to unite us. Who would have ever imagined that the country would come together to see a blocked sun in a stretch of states from Texas to Maine? Much of America literally stopped in its tracks over this. Interstate roads became parking lots as drivers pulled over for the big event. Even the New York Yankees pushed a baseball game back four hours. The south-to-north pathway in the USA has some 32 million people who were estimated to have seen the full eclipse, and those who saw a partial eclipse were possibly another 40 million Americans.

It was in January of this year that I first became aware that there would be a full solar eclipse crossing the United States in April. I knew my youngest son Aaron would be excited about this, especially since his home in Columbus, Ohio, was in the pathway. When I called and asked if he was aware of this, he answered, “Dad, I have been tracking this thing for over a year and a half!”

I had no idea that this would become a massive American pilgrimage of space enthusiasts to the thirteen states that would be blessed with being in the direct pathway of the eclipse. My wife happened to be one of the eclipse junkies, and since this is our 50th anniversary year, I am doing my very, very best to make this year special for her. Thus, I agreed we should make the pilgrimage and see nature’s “now you see me, now you don’t, hide-the-sun” show.

As late as last month, we thought it would be a great idea to drive to Erie as this was the closest large city where we would be able to see the total eclipse. However, as the day got closer, I kept reading that local officials in that area were expecting the largest crowd in the history of Erie. We even heard about local hotels in the area auctioning off their rooms for over a thousand dollars a night! Picturing a hundred thousand cars and campers all heading in that direction suggested to me that we needed a good game plan not just to watch this no-sunshine show but also to come up with an escape route from the Apocalypse Eclipse coming out of the city when it was all over.

We came up with a whole new game plan, and thus, four hours before the expected event was about to begin, my wife and I came to park ourselves at a Sheetz station just outside of Meadville, approximately 20 miles south of Erie. There were already hundreds of people all around the surrounding parking areas. It felt like we were all waiting for a parade to start. Unlike a parade, though, no one had a better seat than anyone else as we were all just going to be looking straight up.

Total strangers were engaging one another, having nothing in common except a desire to see a solar eclipse. Families had spread out blankets; kids were running around, and everyone had the ‘special’ glasses and kept putting them on to see if anything was happening. Six teenage girls came by and asked if they could sit behind us, which was polite on their part. They provided a lot of comic relief before the eclipse, especially when it finally happened.

It almost did not happen for us, however, as there were lots of clouds that came in about an hour before the eclipse started. However, they slowly kept dissipating, and by the time the sun was totally blocked by the moon at 3:15, we had a clear shot. There it was! The moon totally covered the sun, and there was a perfect corona around the moon.

Up to that point, I was thinking that this whole thing was much ado about nothing. Yet, I had to admit, it was awesome. My wife Debbie was so happy she was crying. All around us, we heard little children laughing, teenagers screaming, and even hands clapping — literally, everyone seemed to be going bonkers looking up at the beauty of the eclipse. But then, an eerie sobriety came over the crowd as everything turned really dark. The eclipse caused me to completely forget to expect this and to be honest; it was a little creepy. It only lasted a few minutes, and the light was returning, and in the spirit of the Beatles from their Abbey Road album, I began to sing, “Here comes the Sun, da, da, da, da…”

With that, we quickly said goodbye to the six teenagers behind us and others in our area who were sharing the experience. We beat much of the Erie traffic, walking into our home just four hours later. Debbie and I enjoyed this so much that we are ready for the next total solar eclipse. It will be just one day before our 70th wedding anniversary — August 23, 2044!