As the minutes ticked down to the Great Jacksonville Eclipse I jumped in the car and went exploring. CNN was getting all the sun pictures I’d ever care to see but the real action was taking place on the ground. I sped up toward the center of town to people watch and found that the streets were mostly empty of cars. Everyone, it seemed, had parked to watch the moon blot out the sun for a bit and it reminded me of the tales I’d heard of the Jacksonville where people actually went outdoors. The weather was balmy, the clouds allowed us to see the big event at its apex, and people were literally everywhere. . . much like Arenzville when the power goes out.
Of course I had to interrupt my people watching to at least glimpse the actual thing and spied Dr. Sue Weller with her Eclipso-Glasses on the north side of the square. The only thing better than purchasing a pair of special specs to watch the event is having a friend buy a pair and loaning them to you. It was at orange sliver stage by the time I’d wrestled the dentist to the ground and snatched her glasses. Brushing myself off I handed them back to the doctor and apologized for running into her, then looked down at the sidewalk where a much more glorious show was taking place as each space in the Downtown Plaza’s leaves were projecting their own little slivers. Just a few feet away from me a young man seemed to be meditating. Not wanting to disturb his spirituality I crossed the square where the entire student body of Lincoln Land seemed to have been dismissed to gaze into the sky and to my right the entire office staff of Briggs Appraisals had crossed the street to appraise the eclipse.
I’d heard that the public library was having some sort of sun orgy so I toodled that direction to see a goodly number of folks who’d taken their noses out of books to gaze at what was left of the sun. Again, hardly a car on the streets as I headed toward Illinois College whose quad was spattered with what looked like most of the student body. It had been advertised as an Eclipse Party but instead of revelry I found mostly silence. I wanted to tell them that we partied harder than this is the sixties, but I had to check out the rest of the town.
Community Park seemed to be the place to show the local dogs the wonders of the universe as the sidewalks were littered with pet owners exposing their pooches to the event and one lady was mysteriously lying on her back, alone among the lawn mowers and dog droppings. I was afraid to ask what she was contemplating and dearly hoped that she’d rise up out of the earth before the John Deere’s got too close.
Block after block in Jacksonville found employees of the various businesses out looking skyward. An Ameren Illinois crew had parked behind the old Williamson Funeral Home, viewing the sun through their welding masks. A city cop had stopped on the Square to borrow a viewer’s glasses. County Market was nearly empty. Jacksonville has many wonderful events where we meet and greet each other in the great outdoors but this had a very different feel from a Pilot Club-sponsored gospel group or a Concert in the Cornfield. Things were quiet.
Two individuals stood out from the others on my Eclipsical cruise. One of our local science teachers was holding forth near MacMurray so I pulled my car over to get his scientific take on what was happening. All I’d heard from the peons I’d talked to were, “Wow!” and “Nice!” so I walked up to the former professor to be enlightened with more scientific language. I said, “Well, what do you think of it?” He turned to me and said, “Cool! This is awesome! Wow! Nice!” So much for a technical analysis of Jacksonville’s Eclipse.
But perhaps my favorite character in this cross-town jaunt was a lady sitting in her front-yard flower garden on College Avenue. She sat there wearing a housedress, planted in a lawn chair, with her head stuck in a cardboard box. If I remember my fifth-grade teacher correctly you’re supposed to put a pinhole in one end of a box then look through the other. I had no idea what this lady was seeing but I know what I was seeing. . . one of the funniest sights in the Elm City. We need more people in town sticking their heads in boxes. It enlivens the city and gives us character.
As it is wont to do, the sun came out again, the students went back to class, the guru on the town square got up to go meditate over a Bud Lite and I assume the lady took her head out of the box. There are worse ways to spend a Monday in Jacksonville.