Back when I was a young crime reporter instead of an old one, I lived in a mobile home off Sandfort Road in Phenix City, and worked 3 p.m. to midnight.
The second shift, we called it then, as we still tagged work hours by mill shifts. We had late print deadlines back in those days, and police beat was the latest.
It was a lot of pressure, at times, as people who want to kill each other often run late.
Caffeine was crucial, and after a night of stress, sleep was not imminent. So the late crew and I would go out drinking, usually to the Robert E. Lee Lounge, which was in the southwest corner of the Carpenter’s Building on Broadway.
If we got hungry, around 2 a.m., we’d run up the street to Top Hat chicken, and get a breast sandwich. Then I’d go home and stay awake even longer trying to watch TV.
I say “trying” because this was the early 1980s, and broadcast TV channels still went off the air, after playing the national anthem, and you had only three or four, anyway.
One sometimes played music videos, among them “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler. I saw that so many times I knew the whole thing, from the piano opening to the white-eyed “Village of the Damned” children at the end.
That song and that era come to mind now, because I missed something back then:
On May 30, 1984, a near-total solar eclipse crossed the Southeast.
“In Atlanta, where 99.7 percent of the Sun's surface was covered, street lights came on as skies began to darken some 20 minutes after noon,” the New York Times reported. “The temperature dropped six degrees, flowers closed their petals, dogs howled, pigeons tucked their heads under their wings as if to sleep, and the whole city was bathed in a kind of diffused light, not unlike that accompanying the approach of a severe storm.”
That really must have been something, huh? I bet you kids wish you were my age so you could have seen that.
Well, I missed it. Sort of.
First of all, I totally forgot about it. Also, we had been out late the night before, again. So I had a headache, when I woke up, in a trailer in Phenix City, looked out the window and thought, “Hmm … that is some weird light out there.”
The trailer sat on six acres of land, so the view out the window was a pasture backed by trees along a creek. The leaves looked gilded. The light was like the bronze glow storms can cast, but it had a deeper burnish, like a shadow made of gold.
“Huh,” I said, and went back to bed.
So I missed it. On the bright side, I’m lucky I didn’t stumble outside to investigate, and look directly into the sun.
Well, another eclipse is coming, and you sure can’t forget it now, with nonstop news and social media. Having missed one, I’ve considered going to the “path of totality.” Which by the way sounds like some method of reaching transcendence.
I can’t say where I’ll be Aug. 21, for security reasons, but I’ve plotted a course from there to the moon’s deepest shadow. And it’s 300 miles, much of it wilderness. (“I was lost in The Wilderness, until I found The Path of Totality.”)
I would have to get up early and get home late, and be stoked on caffeine to stay awake on a day-long drive, with an hour to stop in the middle of nowhere to see the eclipse. (“You must journey to The Middle of Nowhere to find The Path of Totality, my son.”)
I’m kind of old to be trying that now. Maybe I’ll just go back to bed.