I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky

The Strong Museum of Play

Rumor has it that a total solar eclipse would be visible in 15 US states, Mexico, Canada, and elsewhere on April 8. People would make up eclipse playlists. I thought of Paint It, Black by the Rolling Stones, with the lyric, “I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky.”

As we traveled well together in Las Vegas, I conned my OLD friend MAK into a road trip to the Rochester area, where totality was projected. He picked me up c. 2 pm on Sunday. Immediately, he noted that a friend of his suggested we take Route 40 or Route 20.  It couldn’t have been 40.

“You want us to take Route 20? Okay.” I directed him to go one block south and make a right turn. We’re on Route 20.” As I described a decade ago, it is lovely. More importantly, it wasn’t likely to be as crowded as the New York State Thruway, I-90.  Once we got past the turn to Schenectady, it was indeed as charming as I remembered.

Bonus: When we turned onto NY-414 north, it was only a few miles to The Lux Hotel in Waterloo. It is 47 miles or 76 km, less than an hour from Rochester. We had a decent dinner there.

As is usually the case, I got up early. When MAK woke up, we went to the complimentary breakfast around 8:45. We got the last two pieces of sausage and ate pancakes.

Toys and games

We traveled to Rochester, avoiding the interstates (90 and 490) for a while. Our first destination was the Strong Museum of Play. It’s part history, part Toy Hall of Fame (sand finally made the cut in 2021), and a lot of interactive experience. MAK destroyed me in an oversized game of Battleship. I got the high score in Ms. Pac-Man (about 35,000; I used to be SO much better). Recommended.

Then we went to the house in Webster where MAK spent some of his high school years, a yuppie cul de sac neighborhood he mostly hated.

It was really overcast. I theorized that it might be less cloudy away from large bodies of water. So we headed back to Waterloo, with the GPS managing to avoid the interstates altogether.

The Western NY experience

We found ourselves in the Walmart parking lot next to the Lux Hotel at 2:53 pm. I wasn’t even sure where the sun was. About a dozen Walmart of young employees were allowed to try to watch the event. But it seemed it would be a bust. Then it wasn’t, as it got a powerful darkness in the western sky. I can’t explain it. But Kelly, in the equally overcast Buffalo area, tried.

“Those four minutes or so of darkness…? They were amazing. Truly, astonishingly amazing. For every cynic out there who has been saying things like ‘It’s just like at night, what’s the big deal,’ I can’t say it any other way than to simply say, ‘It’s not just like night.’ There was something qualitatively different about those four minutes…in how quickly they plunged over us… in how everything in my circadian-rhythm loving body was screaming, ‘This isn’t right.’ I can see how eclipses were terrifying moments for humans, for millennia, before we learned what they are and how to predict them and thus rendered them a thing of wonder.”

I didn’t take a picture. Someone on A Way with Words engaged in conversation about focusing on taking pictures “of significant events or situations (e.g., weddings, eclipses). Taking the picture becomes the focus, minimizing the event to the point that the event is missed.” Of the irritating “If there isn’t a photo, it didn’t happen,” I say BAH!

As MAK and I departed, he engaged in a conversation with a woman who had a car the same make and model of his previous car. She brought up A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I remember that scene.

We returned east. A lot of people were departing from The Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, so the police directed traffic. We started on Route 20 but ended up on Route 5, which was not so scenic. When we got to Syracuse, we missed a turn and needed our GPS, theoretically, to get back to Route 5, but we ended up on the Thruway, which was running smoothly for the most part.

People look north

I’m glad that Chuck Miller got his picture in Newport, VT. Here is the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse: Through the Eyes of NASA (Official Broadcast), three hours from various locations in Mexico heading northeast.

My friend Dan, who’s not prone to oversentimentality, wrote about his experience in Plattsburgh, NY. “When the totality began, most everybody in the park started howling like dogs, which in itself was awesome. It got dark for three and a half minutes, and the streetlights came on. Everyone was on their feet.


“You could look at it with the naked eye and… also see the planet Venus nearby. It was indeed a black hole in the sky with a fiery corona around it. You could also see red spots at the bottom of the disk, which were probably solar flares but may also have been the habitations of the very warm extraterrestrials that live on the sun.


“When the first tiny sliver of the sun peeked out from the moon, and we all had to stop staring and put on our glasses again, there was applause and cheering. Just before and after, the light around all of us spectators in the park in the middle of town was… weird. When the light returned, it honestly felt like some kind of transformation took place here on Earth.


“And that was one more awesome thing. How often do crowds of people gather to watch a celestial event?”


So I got really cranky when I turned on the TV that night to catch the UConn/Purdue basketball Final Four. It was halftime, and commentator Charles Barkley opined about the millions of “dummies” watching the cosmic event. I turned off the set.


For me, it was an adventure—or, to use a highly technical term, a cool experience.
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