2017.08 minutiae

  • It’s been a stressful month.  Horrors in the news, a heavy work schedule, worries about falling behind on so many projects.  Having OCD, I dealt with the stress by making an alphabetized list of every food item in my kitchen, cross‐indexed by quantity and date of purchase.

  • I heard rumors that a giant space goat was scheduled to eat the sun, so I thought I’d head up to Oregon and check that out.  A Portland resident of my acquaintance offered to put me up, so I thought I’d make a long weekend of it: visit folks who either lived there or were also visiting for the eclipse, sample some more of the local eateries, get bitten by Crango, etc.  But a few days before my planned departure this acquaintance dropped off the face of the earth, so I decided to just drive up, watch the eclipse, visit one person (a friend from high school whom I hadn’t seen in 19½ years), and drive straight home.  At first I thought I would go to central Oregon, because it was supposed to have the best chance of clear skies and because I anticipated that I‐5 would turn into a Beijing‐style multi‐day traffic jam and that I might have better luck on the back roads.  But the aforementioned HS friend said that the Cascades were on fire—​she was actually living in her office due to an evacuation order!—​so after seeing a weather report declaring that the Salem area would have clear skies, I decided to stay west of the Cascades to avoid the smoke.  I located a town near the center line of the eclipse with the auspicious name of Sublimity, Oregon, and decided to watch the eclipse from there.  Totality would begin at 10:17 a.m. on Monday the 21st.  That left the question of when to leave.  The normal travel time was nine to ten hours; initially, I thought I would give myself 48, just in case, and head up on Saturday morning.  But the traffic map was green, and I didn’t want to live out of my car for multiple days if I didn’t have to, so I put off my departure until Sunday morning.  On Sunday morning the traffic map was still green, so I decided to wait until the afternoon.  By 4:30 p.m. I thought I should get going—​this was still 18 hours out, but what if there were some giant snarls Monday morning?  I reached Sublimity around 4:30 a.m., the extra three hours attributable not to traffic but to naps.  The next order of business was finding a spot to park.  Sublimity turned out to be so small that there were no shopping centers with parking lots.  I did see a fair amount of curb space, but it was always in front of someone’s house, and I worried about angry residents discovering a swarthy random from California in front of their houses and chasing me away.  I finally found what in the dark looked like a designated parking space in front of a park.  After the eclipse I discovered that I had actually been inside a retirement community—​whoops!  But that is where I wound up watching the eclipse, and because this is the future I can even give you the precise coordinates of my parking spot:  44.82815° north, 122.78895° west. 

  • Conditions were basically perfect: clear sky, unobstructed viewing.  Of course, the problem with driving a long way to see a sight with my own eyes is that even with my glasses my vision is pretty shitty.  At totality it looked like there was a glowing band through the middle of the eclipse, but I don’t know whether that was an optical effect or just a sign that it’s time for me to get a new prescription.  It also looked to me almost like an annular rather than total eclipse, as there was a fairly bright ring around the moon; I had read that it would be about as bright out as during a full moon, but it was a good deal brighter than that, and the corona seemed a little washed out—​probably because I was comparing it to photos filtered to exaggerate the corona.  Finally, the eclipse struck me as pretty small, as the sun and moon always look smaller when they’re closer to the zenith than to the horizon.  So, surprisingly, I think what will most stick with me is actually the moments just before totality.  When the light got dramatically dimmer, yet the angle and sharpness of the light remained the same, it was very eerie!  And I wasn’t expecting the fluttering shadows on the ground just before and after totality—​when I finally had internet access again I looked up what the story was, and it turns out that this is an attested phenomenon whose explanation is currently unknown!  Wow!

  • I wondered what I would find myself thinking about during the eclipse.  Answer: not much.  Mostly I just tried to take in the sight.  I felt some satisfaction that I had succeeded in seeing it—​that I wasn’t stuck on a freeway unable to get out of my car and look up, or underneath a blanket of smoke rueing my choice of destination.  This will probably be the only solar eclipse I see in my lifetime, unless I live to age 71, and I did not miss it.  On the flip side, I also found myself thinking about the movie Melancholia, which is not one of my favorite movies but is one of the most memorable.  I gotta see that one again sometime.

  • So, let me back up.  I decided to see this eclipse many months ago.  And yet it wound up being very much an ad hoc sort of trip.  For months I had eclipse glasses on my Amazon watch list, waiting for a good deal (since Amazon prices fluctuate crazily!), but then one day they were all sold out, and I couldn’t find any in local stores.  I even went to welding supply stores looking for a pane of #14 glass, but no luck.  This was one of the reasons I anticipated that traffic would be a nightmare—​wow, so many people buying glasses to go see the eclipse!—​and it was only a day or two before the big day that I realized that, hey, wait: people buy the glasses in order to see a partial eclipse!  They’ve been selling to the people who are staying home!  Apparently everyone in the world instantly grasped this except for me.  Soon I will have to watch a DVD to show me how to get dressed every morning.

  • Another friend warned me to bring lots of water, so I bought a couple of containers, but as I was packing up the car, I discovered to my horror that the containers were not watertight—​the water sloshed out even as I was loading them into the car.  I went into my house and looked around for something that I knew would seal.  And that is how I wound up driving to Oregon and back with a gallon of water in my pressure cooker.

  • The first thing I noticed as I crossed the state line into Oregon for the first time since 2013: the signs no longer changed!  Oregon used to have these funky signs that looked like this:

    But now it’s just the usual signs like in every other state:

    I did see some of the old “SPEED” signs in small towns, but I guess those are just the ones that haven’t been replaced yet.  And apparently there are even counties where you’re allowed to pump your own gas now!  Except only at night, and not any of the counties I went to.  Still, progress!

  • Scheduling appointments, I found myself thinking, “Okay, that should be fine, since it’s after I get back from watching the eclipse. But wait, what if the eclipse gets delayed?”

  • My trip to Oregon wasn’t the only long drive I took this month.  I had two tutoring students in Sacramento and thus had to make that drive (about a hundred miles each way) several times a week.  To pass the time, I listened to the audiobook version of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  One phrase that stuck with me described the Homoousians and the Arians around the time of the Nicene Creed.  Both sides, Gibbon writes, “believed that if they were not suffered to reign, they were most cruelly injured and oppressed”.  I keep thinking about that line every time I see a Neo‐Nazi tweeting about “white genocide”.

  • On one of these drives I spotted a car some distance ahead that had this emblem on its license plate:

    I thought, “…Jesus? That’s not allowed on state‐issued identification!”  I stepped on the gas and got a little closer to investigate, and saw it more clearly:

  • In Sacramento I passed this gas station:

    Guess it’s time to look into getting one a’ them electric cars.

  • Closer to home, I happened across this:

    I rolled my eyes when I saw this, but I suppose I shouldn’t mock the Infinti.  It’s a fine automoble. 

  • Toward the end of the month I woke up to discover that my knuckles were bleeding.  I guess my nighttime alter ego started a fight club.

  • Thank you, Steve Nash, for ensuring that the celebrity whose birthdate is closest to mine is not Alex Jones.

  • I didn’t make an Australian dessert this month.  Instead, I made a Canadian one: Nanaimo bars!

    Peanut butter Nanaimo bars, to be precise.  They turned out very well—​as tasty as the best Nanaimo bars I had in British Columbia.  The one change I would make for future batches would be to make the base a little thinner.  This did match the picture attached to the recipe, but most other pictures of Nanaimo bars have layers of roughly equal thickness. 

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