Friday, August 25, 2017

An eclipse roadtrip, recapped.

Well, I spent six days on the road and the following things happened:
  • the Tigers lost a bunch of games, but at least got into three bench-clearing brawls in the same game (which they won) (against the damn Yankees)
  • saw a bunch of live music, mostly great
  • many beers were consumed, including one by the passenger in a moving car which I was driving (legal in Tennessee and a few other states, FYI)
  • took a picture of two Confederate flags for sale, one which had "HERITAGE NOT HATE" on it, the other "I AIN'T COMIN' DOWN"
  • shot guns for the first time in my life
  • the sun disappeared behind the god damn moon
A day-by-day summary follows.


Drinkin' Buddy Dave (DBD) and I set out on Saturday morning to Detroit; I dropped him off at an art gallery and I went off to the baseball stadium. We met up afterward -- he took the opportunity to explore an abandoned warehouse with a total stranger (not the safest of ideas, I don't imagine) -- and stayed in Toledo that night.

Since we didn't have any bars handy, but there was a grassy, slightly dark space in front and slightly beside the hotel in Toledo, we got our camp-chairs out of the trunk, set up shop on the grass, and had some beers and cigars we'd procured earlier. (Did you know that Swisher Sweets cigars are 2 for 99 cents?! I love you, America.)


"Let's see America," DBD suggested. So, I hauled out the map and plotted a course from Toledo to Cave City, Kentucky which mostly stayed away from the interstate highways.

"Wow, there's a lot of corn."

"Soybeans, too."

After lunch in a small town in Indiana which had a town square and county courthouse straight out of central casting, we made our way to Cave City. After learning that Cracker Barrel (or "the Cracker-Fuck Barrel," as Lewis Black is wont to call it) doesn't sell booze, we picked up some 2-for-$3.50 24-ounce Icehouse beers at a gas station, ordered a pizza, and settled-in to watch some Fox News and other assorted disaster-porn. (DBD doesn't watch much TV, so when he gets in front of one, he's pretty spellbound.)


The big day. Our original plan was to watch the eclipse in Carthage, Tennessee -- a little east of Nashville, and coincidentally Al Gore's hometown. But late the night before I'd gotten an email from a friend who decided, along with his wife and a friend of theirs, to head down to see the eclipse themselves. They said they were off to Portland, a town a little north of Nashville, and had already set up shop in a parking lot of the biggest park in town. I sent back a message saying sure, we could join them, and so we did.

The eclipse itself was pretty damn amazing. Here are some things that I recall.
  • Seeing the sun through special eclipse shades was pretty cool when I first tried them on a couple of months ago. (I plan ahead.) You get the sense, with the rest of the sky blacked-out, that... wow, there it is, a ball of glowing plasma in the darkness of space, hanging together by gravity, fueled by fusion.
  • Seeing it with a bite taken out of it is phenomenal. We had the glasses on, and kept asking each other, "Do you see anything yet?" Eventually, yes, a bite was taken out of the sun, at about the 2-o'clock position on the sun's disc. The moon had made its presence felt.
  • With the sun about half-covered, we noticed that the ambient light in the park was... off. You know what the outdoors is supposed to look like on a sunny day, and it wasn't right. Eerie, you could say.
  • Eventually it got to the point where I could take off my sunglasses. I normally wear pretty dark glasses -- my eyes are fairly sensitive to light, so I'll wear them while driving pretty much all the time in the daylight, even when it's cloudy -- but it was very comfortable to not have them on.
  • The last couple of minutes before totality, there was a buzz in the park... both in terms of the feeling amongst the people, but also within the cicada community. Those suckers are loud down there, and they honestly thought it was nighttime, so they fired it up and made the trees sing.
  • As totality took hold, the ambient sky wasn't as dark as I thought it'd be. You could easily see Venus and Jupiter; Mars was a little tougher; I wasn't wearing my glasses so I couldn't make out Mercury.
  • The thing looked like a black hole. (I know a black hole wouldn't look like this, but that's the thing that first jumped to mind.) It was the strangest thing I'd ever seen in the sky... "Hey, shouldn't the sun be there? Whoops, it's a round black disc and a hazy glowing thing around it, hot damn, that ain't right."
  • I tried taking pictures of it, but my camera is terrible. Luckily, one of the group that we met up with has a fantastic camera, and he got some amazing pictures that I'll totally steal (but give him credit for, obviously).
  • It got a LOT cooler during the eclipse. We noticed the temperature had dropped significantly starting when the sun was about half-covered; it was shaping up to be another hot Tennessee summer afternoon, but in the lead-up to totality, it got nice and comfortable. Heated back up afterwards, of course.
After the eclipse people started leaving the park, and we did too as it was time for lunch. There were police at the park's exit, handing out water bottles to anyone who needed them (how nice of them). We found a barbecue place in Portland and tucked-in, and then took backroads into Nashville as The Googles told us the interstate was a mess.

The Airbnb we stayed at was adorable. It's in East Nashville, which was described by our walking-tour guide as "Nashville's Brooklyn," and I thought that was pretty apt. But apparently a few years before it was a pretty rough part of town, so hey, hooray for gentrification here, I guess.

We saw a pair of solo-acoustic-guitar people at one joint, decided it wasn't for us, and went to another bar that had a stupendous, huge band doing all Bruce Springsteen covers. One of the lead singers (they rotated 'em throughout the set) was this huge guy with a bushy beard and glasses, and I've never seen a dude on stage amp-up a crowd and hold them in the palm of their hand like this guy did with his version of "Rosalita". DBD was jumping around like a damn fool, so he fit right into the crowd.


We decided to walk to downtown Nashville to meet up with our walking tour; Google Maps said it'd take 45 minutes, but it was longer than that and we missed the pre-tour meetup. We asked a guy sitting beside the Chet Atkins statue where the group was to meet if they saw a tour depart recently; he said "they went that way," and we found them around the corner. Walkin' Nashville was a fantastic tour; the guide has an encyclopedic knowledge of the city and of music, and it was definitely worth the money.

After lunch we hoofed it up to the Tennessee state capitol to see the bust of a Confederate general amongst the other notables, who apparently was a giant prick, aside from being a good battlefield tactician and, oh yeah, a traitor to the United States. No wonder they had the area of floor in front of the bust velvet-roped-off, unlike the other busts on display. Funny country, that America.

Back down to Broadway we went to take in some afternoon live music, and then up to the north end of the downtown to watch a Nashville Sounds baseball game... or, we would have, if one of the most impressive thunderstorms I've ever seen hadn't washed the game out. Ah well.

We wanted to take a cab back to East Nashville, and I figured there'd be a taxi stand right outside the stadium. We asked one of the workers there where the taxis were, and it was as if nobody asked that before... so we wandered out to a main street and waited a while for one, then started walking. In hindsight it was kind of a sketchy part of town -- very industrial, pretty desolate in spots -- but hey, we made it back alive for some more live music and $2 beers.


The next day we had lunch at Prince's Hot Chicken -- the original Nashville Hot Chicken place, in a very nondescript spot in a strip mall off the main street of its neighbourhood -- and then eastward towards Knoxville.

On the outskirts of Knoxville we stopped by a gun range and, after reading and signing a waiver and watching a safety video, one of the guys in the store was extremely patient with us and showed us how to load the magazine, how to flip the safety off, and always, ALWAYS, point the gun downrange at ALL times. DBD and I fired off a few rounds from a .22-calibre rifle, then a .22-calibre pistol; he'd had enough after the pistol but I wanted to try something bigger. We went back into the store and he selected a Glock 9-mm pistol, he grabbed a baggie of bullets, and a regular at the range (an ex-Army guy) showed me how to load the magazine.

The rifle had barely any kick to it; it felt like a toy, and yet it was a lethal weapon. The .22-calibre pistol did kick up a bit when I fired it, but again, not as bad as I thought. The 9-mm, though... that was a much more serious weapon. You could really feel the recoil on it, and apparently I didn't lock my wrists as much as I should have.

The first magazine I had with the 9-mm wasn't working right; I fired, but then instead of the next bullet going neatly into the chamber, it would "stovepipe" upwards and get stuck in the slide. This, naturally, freaked me out; I had visions of it exploding on me. I popped the magazine out, emptied the chamber, double-checked it was empty, and repeated the whole thing. It jammed again and again, so I came out and got the Army guy to see what he thought of it.

"Yep, it's the magazine," he concluded, and he took it in and we got a new one which worked great. As I was firing at the target, the thought came to me: "Wow, it is ridiculously easy to murder someone with a gun." I finished the ammo, we said our goodbyes, had some dinner, and schlepped it eastwards to Wytheville, Virginia for the night.


One of my stipulations, whenever I visit the American south (or anywhere close to it), is that I need to have at least one breakfast at a Waffle House. I'd scoped it out earlier: there was one right across from our hotel in Wytheville, so that was that. Delicious, natch.

We went through the hills of Virginia and West Virginia, and wow, is that pretty countryside. Heading north into Pennsylvania, around the outskirts of Pittsburgh it got a little less hilly, but still very picturesque. I've been to Pittsburgh a few times so this stretch of highway was pretty familiar; we had lunch at Primanti Brothers in Grove City, hit Erie, kicked east to Buffalo, bought cheap beer, and crossed back over the border with minimal wait or hassle from the Canadian border guard. As always, there's always a sigh of relief when coming back to Canada, and this was no exception.

All in all, a great trip and a unique experiece. Nashville is a fantastic town, and definitely warrants more than the couple of days we gave it.

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