Citizens Report American Irish Culture

Another Eclipse Tale With Danahey on the Loose

Solar eclipse t-shirts
Official t-shirt of a solar eclipse party.

 

WARNING: Another eclipse story. This one is almost as long and meandering as the ride home from the April 8th event was. Cue up Road to Nowhere by Talking Heads.

It’s been a week since the solar eclipse, and my eyes still hurt. Or not.

Actually, I almost didn’t venture toward the path of totality down Carbondale way. (Path of Totality would be a good name for a  Rush or Yes rock album.)
There were no apricot scarves to be found. My Lear jet was in the shop. While I’ve been known to give up, I don’t gavotte

If you understand any of the above, Carly Simon probably wrote a song about you. That makes you old. Or a Taylor Swift fan. She covered You’re So Vain. That figures. It’s the template for a lot of her material.

With that old earworm stuck in my head, I packed my new look for spring. Track pants and short pants. Sweatshirts. A few fitting- for-an eclipse t-shirts with Star Wars themes. Star Wars underwear even, from a long time ago, made in a galaxy far, far away. Or Indonesia.

Best fest buddy Tom brought along his Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon tee and sweatshirts. An eclipse requires such bold fashion sense.

We loaded up Tom’s brother Mark’s Subaru and hit the road the Saturday before the sun’s and the moon’s big day. 

Sun = star. Moon = rock. That makes an eclipse the original rock star event. The TV coverage would have you believe so.

Back to the drive to southern Illinois, which was pretty much uneventful. Well, there was the guy Tom spotted precariously hanging off a pole holding a wind turbine on which he apparently was working. 

Wreck on I-55
Semi rollover along I-55

Somewhere south of Bloomington, we did see a semi rolled over on its side, like a metallic possum. Nobody seemed to be hurt. 

A guy who may have been the driver looked a bit like the Tiger King. Mullet. White tank top. Facial hair of some sort.

If I believed in the eclipse conspiracies spread by online loons, this could have been a sign. Of what, I don’t know. Apparently there were signs everywhere. Alex Jones knows! IDOT knows. The shadow knows.

Olga's Kitchen, Alton
A taste of Detroit in Alton, Illinois
Olga's gyro
An Olga’s Kitchen gyro, with curly fries

 

Omens or not, for lunch we stopped at Olga’s Kitchen in the Alton Square Mall. Olga’s is a small Greek restaurant chain based in Michigan. The well-lighted mall is mostly empty, like way too many malls in America. Damn you Jeff Bezos!

Tom and Mark lived not too far from Alton light years ago, when the mall was booming. Nostalgia is as good a reason as any to get a bite to eat. The gyro I had was tasty.

Not far from where we would be staying, we hit a woodsy park and played a few holes of disc golf. Since you aim for a round metal container, the phrase should be a few baskets of disc golf.

The course was poorly marked and muddy. I kept seeing cars pull into the park’s parking lot with drivers staying in their cars. 

Woods with strangers make me nervous, mostly because I think I am prettier than Ned Beatty. Or mouthier. One of those. 

Woods with Strangers wouldn’t be a game worth playing. Too many snakes, so to speak. Or possibly poison ivy.

While we golfed, Mark’s sons and their friends played pickleball. Pickleball is everywhere now. These courts were by a church. 

That was a good sign. Because the game became so popular so fast, I worried the Prince of Darkness might be behind it, not Prince racquets. 

We checked into our hotel, a pleasant enough Super 8 in Greenville. The duvets on the two beds were very 1970s. Circles within circles in those shades of orange and avocado green that dominated kitchen decor decades ago.

Come to think of it, they were eclipse-like. Well played, Super 8!

 

Super 8 duvet
Super 8 duvet – eclipse themed?

 

Copper Dock deck
The view from the deck at the Copper Dock Winery

 

Next, It was off for some quick alfresco dining at Copper Dock,  a local winery along the banks of a prettying-up-for summer lake. 

Then it was time to take part in a partially eclipse-themed  trivia contest, a benefit for the local library.

I used to be relatively good at these sorts of things. Not so much anymore. I felt like the worst member of any team that played UConn in this year’s March Madness.

I had forgotten what little I knew of Dewey and his decimal system. Who can remember the names of the world’s five tallest buildings? Do you know which novel – set in Mississippi and involving time travel, but not Doctor Who – won the 2017 National Book Award?

Our team was good at a round where you had to figure out the name of cities based on two photos serving as clues for each. We only missed Austin – the Australian flag + a guy in a tin foil hat. Dopey me thought the flag was New Zealand’s. Look up the two flags yourself. It’s an easy mistake.

I admit to being crabby at first, frustrated by how little knowledge I could contribute. I was out of my league in a room filled with librarians and library lovers.

Not really a pub quiz, this was more of an ice cream social. It was held in a place called the Milk House. It did not bring all the boys to the yard, but offered pretty good dairy products.

 

Milk House 411
Does your Milk House bring all the boys to the yard, for trivia?

 

Eclipse and Orbit gum
Eclipse and Orbit gum, just like the ancients chewed!

 

Moon Pie display at Greenville IGA
Moon Pies for the eclipse at the Greenville IGA

 

Sun Chips at the IGA
Sun Chips in stock at the IGA in Greenville

 

Moving this story along, we started Sunday with a stop at the local IGA. I needed to pick up some Moon Pies and Eclipse gum. No, not to appease the eclipse gods. These trinkets were gifts  to appease  Tom’s grandkids upon return home.

I bought some Sun Chips at the IGA the night before. I had a trinity of eclipse related brands, just as the prophets would want. Or every other person cracking wise on social media.

Past the IGA, we headed to Cahokia Mounds. 

 

Cahokia 411
Information board at Cahokia
Skarsgård at Cahokia
Stellan Skarsgård heads up the steps at Cahokia Mounds.

 

The ancients here had a culture with a layout of their city tied to the sun and the moon. We climbed the 156 steps up and down the tallest mound, the sun pyramid.

Human sacrifices apparently took place here. Tom tried to lure me to look over the edge, much like he had done at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. I kept thinking I should have brought along a goat.

The view from the sun pyramid is spectacular. You can see why the ancients chose it. St. Louis is not too far, so Cardinal games would be easy to get to. The interstate is right there, so you could see who was coming to visit, be they friend , foe or Amazon.

For some reason, the visit also inspired me to think of new aliases for Tom and me. He’s StellanSkarsgård. I’m Notsohansum Skarsgård. We’re brothers. Acclaimed character actors. Not Huck Finns, but from Sweden.

 

World's Fair Donuts, St. Louis
World’s Fair Donuts in St. Louis

 

The walk made us hungry for World’s Fair Donuts. The tiny storefront was once run by  folks  so old they might have known the ancients of Cahokia. Or maybe Enos Slaughter and Rogers Hornsby.

In late 2019, they sold the business to some way-younger people who apparently now also run a late night spot cleverly called Up Late out of the donut shop. The logo for Up Late is the moon. There was a sun on the window at World’s Fair, next to an Easter Bunny.

OMG! All these suns and moons and circle shapes! Starting with Olga’s gyros and the lunar-like pita, even!!

Either way, I saved my donuts – sans a bite, Sansabelt, Zanzibar – for Monday morning and breakfast. After all, we were on our way to brunch at Evangeline’s. Yes, our pre-clipse was turning into an eat-clipse.

Evangeline’s doesn’t take reservations for parties bigger than five folks. So we sat at the bar.

Seeing pickleball Saturday inspired me to try a Bloody Mary made with pickle juice vodka. For the second and final one I switched to garlic infused vodka.

They had a lot of infusion type bottles on shelves behind the bar. They looked like something you’d see at the Museum of Science and Industry. 

Evangeline’s Sunday brunch  featured the swing jazz and barrelhouse piano stylings of Miss Jubilee and the Yas Yas Boys. The menu is quite New Orleans.

 

Jambalaya breakfast
A bowl of sunny jambalaya for brunch at Evangeline’s in St. Louis

 

I had the jambalaya. The mound of rice in it next to a sunny side up fried egg reminded me of Cahokia and an eclipse. More circles. They were everywhere!

Our bellies full, we headed out to the free-to-visit St. Louis Zoo. The skies had cleared making it a great day for walking off a meal. 

The zoo was decorated with figurines made of a light fabric. They are illuminated at night for visitors to take a paid tour. Why do I keep noticing circles and light on this trip? What’s going on here? Round and round I go.

 

Inflatable dragon, St. Louis Zoo
Enter the dragon, St. Louis Zoo-style

 

Since the zoo is free during the day, I visited the gift shop. Spending money on stuff I don’t really need was the least I could do to support the nonprofit.

I bought a Beary Potter t-shirt because I look a bit like the bear, because it is like one of my cornball jokes and because Tom wound up buying the same shirts in way smaller sizes for his three grandkids. Now we can form a band, like the Partridge Family. But bears – which might make me Goldilocks. Or Oldie Lack of Locks.

I purchased a plastic cane with a skull on top of it, too.  Tom sometimes walks with a cane, because, hey, we are all getting old. So I told him he can borrow it. As to why the zoo was selling such a cane and not at Halloween, I forgot to ask.

I also thought the walking stick might make for a good prop at an eclipse gathering. You know. Just in case there was some sort of voodoo ritual, I could lend a hand. Or a head on a stick.

I probably should have waited to buy the stuff until just before we left. Instead I lugged it about the zoo in true tourist’s fashion. 

But I figured if a reptile, panther or bear should run wild, the souvenir gave me a fighting chance. Being the slowest in our party I had to think that way.

Our wandering complete, we headed to a Scarlett’s Wine Bar for a pre-dinner beverage. They also have a back patio where you can smoke cigars. The other guys did. I gave up cigars for Lent. In 2019.

 

Sample platter, Broadway Oyster Bar
Sample platter, Broadway Oyster Bar, St. Louis (and raw oysters, too)

 

The good times rolled over to the Broadway Oyster Bar for dinner. This place isn’t too far from Busch Stadium. In fact, the free lot the restaurant has for its customers charges $30 for parking during games. 

BOB has live music, crabshack ambience and pretty good Louisiana faire on its menu.

I opted for the sample platter – gumbo, red beans and rice, jambalaya and etouffee. Again, there was a Cahokia mound of rice served with my meal. 

How could this be more than coincidence?!!! Well, easily. But when there’s an eclipse, it’s a story. Thank you social media. And morning TV shows. 

From those reports I learned that zookeepers in Akron would be keeping an eye on the Galapagos tortoises there to see if they would be humping, as they reptiles had done during the 2017 eclipse. (They didn’t. Unless you’re into being watched, who would/could?)  

Personally,  I chose not to spread the  rumor about the New Madrid fault opening, causing an earthquake with its epicenter at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale during the totality, just as Nostradamus predicted

Finishing off our day, we searched for Crown Royal Blackberry. Mark tried it on a business trip. I recently learned that the Diageo-owned Canadian brand put out a limited run of that flavor in early spring. It’s pretty much all gone.

I wish the ancients or Alex Jones  had let us know that. 

We went to bed early. Were we like kids before Christmas, excited about Santa leaving us gifts. Nah. Just rapidly aging  guys with CPAP machines. 

Besides – aside from the items I already mentioned and we already had –  what would you buy anyone for an eclipse?

Come eclipse morning, the TV chatter was all about the eclipse and where the clouds would be.

They weren’t by us, thank the gods.

Packed for the trip home after the eclipse, we hit Route 127 for the greater Carbondale area. Traffic wasn’t too bad, but for slight delays through some small towns. They had cops there directing traffic. Probably a smart thing to do, given how people drive distractedly and at high speeds.

We visited Hardee’s for breakfast, because that’s another nostalgic eatery for Tom and Mark. I refrained. Tom had a Philly cheesesteak breakfast burrito, which brought back memories for him later in the day.

The toilet in the men’s bathroom at a gas station was out of order. That was an issue we’d encounter throughout the out trip.

We stopped at a Kroger to get a charcuterie pack and some beer to bring to the eclipse gathering. 

The atmosphere in the grocery store and along the road reminded me of a holiday, in a good way. Pretty much everyone seemed in a happy mood. All the collective endorphins were kicking in, or I was projecting my mood on everybody else.

With a little time to kill, we went to a park to play more disc golf. Round stuff again. I couldn’t get away from it.

People were gathering in this park for the eclipse. Again, everybody seemed in good spirits. We even dropped some disc golf knowledge on a group who asked us about the game. I was tempted to make up a story about how the ancients somewhere played a similar game before solar eclipses, with severed heads, in what is now Silicon Valley. I refrained.

After all the above, it was time to hit the house party where Mark’s sons had been invited for the viewing of the eclipse.

 

Eclipse party house
A gorgeous place for viewing an eclipse

 

Eclipse viewers
Eclipse watching at a gathering in southern Illinois

 

Eclipse signature board
Eclipse party signature board

 

The home is tucked away on a good sized lot on the outskirts of the Shawnee National Forest. It was a beautiful day and a perfect place for viewing an eclipse – a fairy tale setting, replete with morel mushrooms (maybe), blossoming trees and possibly rattlesnakes, lost off Snake Road.

The hosts had a tent set up with food and beverages. Mark’s son Adam and his girlfriend brought eclipse-themed cookies.

I put on SPF 1000 Irish sunscreen, if just to protect the public. My Marvel superhero name is Chrome Dome. If I don’t spray myself, light’s reflection off the top of my head can kill people 100 miles away from me. 

With everyone now safe, people sat in their camping chairs on the lawn, sometimes wearing their safety glasses as the eclipse had begun.

New crowd, new audience for me.

Tom says I am like a Run DMC rap. I talk too much. He’s probably right. This piece is already around 2,300 words long, as but one example.

My shtick began with mentioning why I wore red shorts. I had read that red looks different during totality. No, it wasn’t to get people to stare at my junk, legs and/or Irish lack of ass, hecklers to the contrary.

I may have mentioned Tom and I considered wearing welders’ masks instead of the special glasses. We were going to deejay, like Daft Punk. I think the kids call this cringe comedy.

 

Tom at the eclipse party.
Stellan Skarsgård in his Pink Floyd shirt, pre-eclipse somewhere near the Shawnee National Forest.

 

Blossoms prior to eclipse
Let’s call these blossoms eclipse-lyptus flowers.

 

Eclipse cookies
Eclipse themed cookies

 

On a darker note, I mentioned a story about the dreadful Christopher Columbus. Columbus tricked some natives in what’s now Jamaica before a lunar eclipse. He told them if they didn’t give him the supplies he needed, God would be mad and take the moon out of the sky. Such an asshole.

Speaking of dark, around 2 p.m. the totality happened. This was the second time Tom, Mark, his sons and I had seen this.

The first was down by winery in the same general area we were this time. We promised ourselves we’d return. Seven years went by fast.

Even if you’ve seen one before, a full solar eclipse remains incredible to see.

The light changed. Crickets began chirping. Relatively quickly. T he sky went black, and there it was- the totality. 

This time the ring around the sun had a little red dot or two about it. It reminded me of the “record” button light on any number of devices, as if the sun was watching us back. The spot turned out to be a prominence.

This totality lasted about twice as long as the last one we saw. As it ended, there was a burst of bright white light. As faux night turned back into day, things took on a tone a bit like being under a blue light.

For a moment or so, this natural occurrence, this indescribable wow once again brought back a sense of wonder. 

I was impressed by my own insignificance, but at the same time felt part of a vastness. Most likely I will be gone long before this solar system’s sun is done with its run and myriad more eclipses happen.

Apparently the sun has a few billion years left – or the collective age of all those celebrating April birthdays at Shay Clarke’s recent bash. At least nobody at that soiree swallowed up planets, like the sun is set to do.  

Burn out or fade away. Same difference. Maybe Neil Young can write a song about it. 

Wonder wanders from our daily lives. We take so much for granted, our senses dulled and jaded by the information overload without context our lives all too frequently are. 

Besides, I would have been fine with any sort of rapture  happening during the eclipse. Here we were, hanging out with nice people, most of whom I just met, in a lovely setting, taking in the wonders of nature. Kindness and science. Friends and family. Guinness and snacks. What this guy said.

What a way that would be to go!

Of course, reality hit with the long and winding ride home. Ours took from 3 p.m. until about 1 a.m.

Mark had the idea we should head west toward Cape Girardeau, Missouri to get to I-55. That would be quicker.

It was. For a little bit. Then a big city-like traffic jam happened. And continued. 

I was in the back seat. The pilot and his co-pilot decided to try alternate routes.

Contrary to John Denver, country roads don’t take you home. Even those moved at a gas-powered snail’s pace.

I was tempted to try a gas station empanada at one of our pitstops, but refrained once again. I snacked on what was left of the Sun Chips and some dip from Kroger.

 

Crossing the Mississippi
Heading across the Mississippi in the Cape Girardeau, Missouri area.

 

We wound up crossing the Mississippi at least twice.

I did get to see pleasant looking small towns I most likely would not have ever seen but for this. In Missouri, we drove so slowly we had closeup views of armadillo roadkill.  

We did not see any of the military personnel the internet rabbit hole dwellers warned would be out for nefarious reasons beyond helping direct traffic. If there were, I would have been ticketed by now for peeing behind a dumpster at a gas station that had long lines for their loos.

 

Post eclipse traffic
Traffic on a back road in southern Illinois, post-eclipse.

 

The towns passed included Red Bud, home of Southwestern Illinois College. And Chester, home of the maximum-security Menard Correctional Center.

More refraining, like a long song from Catholic Mass. That is, I couldn’t bring myself to eat pizza or other food offerings at a gas station near Belleville, not far from Our Lady of the Snows. A lot of praying would have been in order to consume those goods.

By 9 p.m. or so we were past Collinsville. In the air tonight and take, take me home –  just like Phil Collins foretold.

We foolishly thought we were done with traffic jams. Nay. In its infinite wisdom, IDOT had crews out on a project along 1-55 south of Bloomington late that Monday night. 

That brought things full circle to our trip’s first traffic jam.

I am sure my grumbling was at its apex by then. Luckily, when it was light I had free publications I picked up over the weekend to keep me occupied. My phone kept me busy, too. 

My cousin called me about his eclipse adventures with his dad at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. I scrolled and joked on Facebook, read the news, kept up on sports, particularly the UConn – Purdue game.

The score updates made me glad I was in the car and not at home watching the Huskies dominate an opponent once more. 

Mark drove past the churches, the steeples, the laundry on the hill, the billboards and the buildings, the memories of it still, keep calling. Sorry. Now I owe Squeeze money.

That’s ok. The last McDonald’s and the gas station store near it on our last bathroom break were basically closed. So I had some cash to spare.

Bladders empty, we drove the last leg of our journey.  

Good thing we made it. On Tuesday morning I had to meet with some underworld spies and the wives of some close friends. (See Carly Simon reference way early in this piece.)

So I will end here with two things.

The most out of the ordinary thing I read about that happened during the eclipse was eight babies being born at the same hospital in Mount Vernon during the event. Remember, though, that there were/are only four apocalyptic horsemen.

Then there is this photo my cousin took on his trip. 3,500 words later. Nuff said.

Totality of eclipse in Indiana
Solar eclipse totality from Greencastle, Indiana. Courtesy Dan Danahey.

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