Tag Archives: road trip

Road trip to totality

My kids both wanted to see the eclipse and I said “that sounds fun but it’s too far” and I kept thinking about it and thinking about it and finally, Saturday night, I looked inward and asked myself is there really a reason we can’t do this? And the answer was no.  Or rather the answer was “it might be the case that it’s totally impossible to find a place to sleep in the totality zone within 24 hours for a non-insane amount of money, and that would be a reason” so I said, if I can get a room, we’re going.  Hotel Tonight did the rest.  (Not the first time this last-minute hotel app has saved my bacon, by the way.  I don’t use it a lot, but when I need it, it gets the job done.)

Notes on the trip:

  • We got to St. Louis Sunday night; the only sight still open was my favorite one, the Gateway Arch.  The arch is one of those things whose size and physical strangeness a photo really doesn’t capture, like Mt. Rushmore.  It works for me in the same way a Richard Serra sculpture works; it cuts the sky up in a way that doesn’t quite make sense.
  • I thought I was doing this to be a good dad, but in fact the total eclipse was more spectacular than I’d imagined, worth it in its own right.  From the photos I imagined the whole sky going nighttime dark.  But no, it’s more like twilight. That makes it better.  A dark blue sky with a flaming hole in it.
  • Underrated aspect:  the communality of it all.  An experience now rare in everyday life.  You’re in a field with thousands of other people there for the same reason as you, watching the same thing you’re watching.  Like a baseball game!  No radio call can compare with the feeling of jumping up with the crowd for a home run.  You’re just one in an array of sensors, all focused on a sphere briefly suspended in the sky.
  • People thought it was going to be cloudy.  I never read so many weather blogs as I did Monday morning.  Our Hotel Tonight room was in O’Fallon, MO, right at the edge of the totality.  Our original plan was to meet Patrick LaVictoire in Hermann, west of where we were.  But the weather blogs said south, go south, as far as you can.  That was a problem, because at the end of the day we had to drive back north.  We got as far as Festus.  There were still three hours to totality and we thought it might be smart to drive further, maybe even all the way to southern Illinois.  But a guy outside the Comfort Inn with a telescope, who seemed to know what he was doing, told us not to bother, it was a crapshoot either way and we weren’t any better off there than here.  I always trust a man with a telescope.
  • Google Maps (or the Waze buried within Google Maps) not really adequate to handle the surge of traffic after a one-time event.  Its estimates for how long it would take us to traverse I-55 through southern Illinois were … unduly optimistic.  Google sent us off the highway onto back roads, but here’s the thing — it sent the same suggestion to everyone else, which meant that instead of being in a traffic jam on the interstate we were in a traffic jam on a gravel road in the middle of a cornfield.  When Google says “switch to this road, it’ll save you ten minutes,” does it take into account the effect of its own suggestion, broadcast to thousands of cars in the same jam?  My optimization friends tell me this kind of secondary prediction is really hard.  It would have been much better, in retrospect, for us to have chosen a back road at random; if everybody injected stochasticity that way, the traffic would have been better-distributed, you have to figure.  Should Google build that stochasticity into its route suggestions?
  • It became clear around Springfield we weren’t going to get home until well after midnight, so we stopped for the night in David Foster Wallace’s hometown, Normal, IL, fitting, considering we did a supposedly fun thing that turned out to be an actual fun thing which we will hardly ever have the chance to, and thus may never, do again.

 

 

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Road trip!

Steve was talking about the future of poetry at the Twin Cities Book Fest this weekend, so CJ and I hopped up for the weekend to see him and his family.  A few notes:

  • Priceline works!  I’ve never used them before, I suppose because it’s rare I’m traveling not for work and not staying with relatives.  I worried there’d be no free rooms Saturday night with a Twins-Yankees playoff game the next day; but in fact Priceline found us a $60 room at the Holiday Inn Metrodome.  Why were there still rooms available next door to the stadium?  Because, as Steve explained, the Twins reserve most playoff tickets for locals, with only 3,000 seats available to New York fans.  I both approve of this practice (on grounds that it sticks it to New York fans) and disapprove (on grounds that stadium owners extract all kinds of concessions from cities and states with the promises of massive hotel, bar, and restaurant sales to visiting fans, and surely the city of Minneapolis forwent a pile of revenue from Yankee fans who would have been staying in CJ’s and my hotel room, had they been able to get tickets for the game.)
  • The crowd in the lobby Saturday night was about equally mixed between belogoed Gopher fans, the afterparty from a hotel wedding, and ravenous zombies.  Lots of aggression between the beeriest groomsmen and the most in-character zombies, which looked like it might get physical; rather than witness this CJ and I tucked ourselves into our big comfy bed and watched the Discovery Channel until we fell asleep.  We learned a lot about walnuts.
  • You probably already know this, but if you’re driving from Madison to Minneapolis you should stop at Norske Nook in Osseo and get pie.  They sell other food but it’s little more than an unneccesary delay of pie.
  • I never found out what the future of poetry was, but if it has one it will surely involve Minneapolis-based Coffee House Press, which, per the chatter at the book people party Saturday night, is one of the few literary entries everybody in po-biz endorses and admires.  Buy some books!
  • We made it back to Madison about 15 minutes before the start of yesterday’s all-ages They Might Be Giants show at the Barrymore.  It’s twenty years, to the month I think, since I first saw them play.  I thought there would be a lot of eight-year-olds there but the crowd actually skewed younger than CJ.  Maybe the eight-year-olds were up in the mosh pit.  Spirited short set, almost all drawn from the kids’ records — very nice, though, to hear a bit of “The Famous Polka.” Assertion:  the songs from the standard TMBG catalogue that read as kids’ songs (“Istanbul not Constantinople,” “Particle Man,” “Why Does the Sun Shine?” “Dr. Worm,” “Older”) are better kids’ songs than the official kids’ songs.  Discuss in comments.
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