Last year, on August 21, 2017, North America got to see a total solar eclipse.
My son made his first solo trip from Las Vegas to St. Louis to be in the path of totality for this rare celestial occurrence.
|Photo by Roger Lee|
Last summer my son announced he wanted to find a place to see the solar eclipse in full totality. Since last year’s eclipse was the first one in 38 years and another won’t occur in North America until 2024, I agreed this was a great idea. Here in Las Vegas, you could only see the eclipse with special glasses, but there was a swath across the middle of the country where the eclipse would briefly turn day into night.
I thought about what a fun trip it would be for the two of us, but August turned out to be a rotten time for me to travel. Instead, I helped him plan his first trip alone. I mean, it was time. He’s over 18, and the world awaits.
After checking on air fare to several cities in the path of full totality, we settled on St. Louis, Missouri.
Next, we had to deal with a few age-related issues. Although he’s over 18, he’s under 21.
For transportation, we quickly settled on a combination of public transportation and Uber. Car rental was out of the question because he doesn’t drive, and even if he did you need to be at least 21 to rent a car.
His first hotel choice was a place that required guests to be over 21 (no exceptions, he was told by a very unhelpful hotel manager), but we found a much better deal on Airbnb -- $100 less per night. I also liked the Airbnb because I thought it was better for him to have a homier place to stay since he was new to the city and traveling alone. Plus, he could get some insight from the hosts about St. Louis.
I asked him to write about his first trip, and here’s what he had to say.
My flight left at 0045 and arrived at 0830, with an hour layover in Minneapolis. The first leg of the flight was miserable. For the first 30 minutes, I couldn’t figure out how to recline my chair, and I was afraid to move around too much and accidentally bump into anyone. After a while I was able to figure out how to get that extra two degrees I so desperately needed. However, reclining the back of the seat moved the seat bottom forward, making the situation worse. Essentially it felt like holding the iron chair position for three hours and forty-five minutes.
He was not impressed with the Minneapolis airport.
Low drop ceilings, unnaturally humid, whole place smelled strongly of eggs, not in a good way. Rubbery, unseasoned, microwaved eggs. The men's bathroom had not been cleaned in 81 days according to the counter next to the door.
Next, onward to St. Louis.
My flight into St. Louis wasn't much better. They had a guy with just a crescent wrench and a pair of pliers fixing something on the plane right before takeoff, and the intercoms only emitted static. Very comforting when you're supposed to be flying 10,000 feet up and right before you take off they have to send in someone who looks more equipped to fix toilets, not airplanes. However, I lived with only minimal spinal cord injuries.
Upon arrival in St. Louis, he walked for what felt like a very long distance before finding the MetroLink train he needed. After successfully boarding his first public transportation of any kind (in any city), he was underway.
As the train ran along right beside the freeway, I was feeling pretty good. Then we got to our fist stop. A toothless woman, who was either old or had a drug problem (I would guess the latter), covered in what looked like a lot of surgery scars sat down across from me. She immediately began talking loudly on a cell phone about how stressed she was because she was trying to sell a bottle to Sarah, but Sarah didn’t show up. Or something like that. During her conversation, she stood up and sat down repeatedly. After a few rounds of musical chairs, she settled into what I would call an ambush crouch. I was very happy to get off the train and find myself in a nice university campus with bike cops and “no smoking outside” signs.
His Airbnb was in a historic home, circa 1895, and he was excited to see it. The hosts had agreed to let him drop his bags off before check-in time so he could go see the eclipse without his backpack.
I walked to my Airbnb to drop off my bags, but I couldn't get into the door for the floor with the storage closet. (Turns out it was actually a push door with a very strong return spring, not a pull door with a sh*tty handle like I thought. Apparently fire code regulations about which way doors open weren't around in 1895). I had to get going, so I just took my bag with me and called an Uber so I could go get some food before heading out to see the eclipse.
He had lunch at a place called Cafe Ventana, one of the restaurants recommended in his Airbnb’s house manual. Then it was off to Jefferson Barracks Park for the eclipse viewing party.
After a long walk from the Uber drop-off point, I got to the music and food trucks and found a hillside to sit on for a while.
I eventually found a spot right next to the stage, where two photographer dudes (PMT Photography) from Boston were taking pictures of the sun. I asked one man about his camera and we talked for a minute before I went back to the tree I had staked out. I relaxed until the eclipse was at about 75% then I moved out into the clearing next to the photographer. A random group of people gathered--a dude with a lot of tattoos, a guy and his girlfriend, me, and the photographers. We all watched the eclipse together.
Here’s Cameron’s video of the eclipse.
I headed back to Cafe Ventana for a cup of coffee and to contemplate what I was going to do next. I sat down in one of their giant, wonderfully comfortable leather chairs and looked down to discover I had no watch on my wrist. Immediately, I opened the Uber app and got a hold of the driver, who turned right back around and brought me my watch. That driver was one of the nicest people I’ve met.
After some deliberation, I decided to go to Pi Pizzaria. It was the best pizza I’ve had in my life. I looked out the front windows while I was eating, and I saw a sedan drive past with a dude sitting on the front passenger quarter panel, smoking a cigarette and pointing forwards. I wish I could have gotten a picture.
My room wasn’t quite ready yet, so I dropped off my left-over pizza at the Airbnb’s fridge and walked over to the Cathedral Basilica. I wandered around their mosaic museum for a while, then went back upstairs to take pictures of the mosaics on the ceiling, but mass started so I had to leave. Lucikly, my room was ready by the time I got back.
My modest room had a Murphy bed, a desk, and a wardrobe. It felt like I was in a Mark Twain novel.
Back at the Airbnb, he took a shower and watched some YouTube before falling hard asleep. I woke him up when I called at 8 p.m., and he was too groggy to chat for long.
His plans for the next day included renting a bike to explore Forest Park and spending some time at the St. Louis Arch before catching an afternoon flight back home. But, as happens when you travel, his plans changed.
I woke up at 0630 the next day to heavy rain. I was a little worried it might affect my flight back home, but the weather cleared up. It did screw up my bike rental plans, though. So, Plan B. I went to see the Arch.
At the ticket trailer outside the Arch, they told me the only tickets available were for 1700. I'd be long gone by then. Still cautiously optimistic, I went into the Arch’s underground visitor center/gift shop. A greeter asked me if I was there for a ride to the top. I explained that I couldn’t get a ticket, and he said since I was early, I might be able to still get on since I’d shown up right after they opened. So I talked to the ticket lady inside, who called the boss, who apparently said “no.” Plan C was to go to the Arch’s museum, but it was under construction. So I bought a horrendously overpriced umbrella in the gift shop and walked outside to see that the rain had stopped for the most part. For a moment I thought about throwing the umbrella in the Mississippi River, but decided against it since it was still raining a little bit.
Next, he returned to the comfy chairs at Cafe Ventana and came up with Plan D: visit the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park.
I took about 500 pictures there, so about 200 in focus. I hung out there as late as I could, and I still didn’t get to see everything in as much detail as I would have liked.
When it was time to leave, I walked around Forest Park for about fifteen minutes before attempting to call Uber. That’s when my phone decided to have no service, even after a restart. Luckily, public WiFi is everywhere now, so I was still able to get an Uber to the airport.
When the hubby and I picked him up later that day, he was tired and happy to be home. Returning home after an adventure is one of the best parts of a trip. You’re tired but full of things to share. When you travel solo, you also feel a sense of victory at having successfully made it there and back. It’s one of my favorite feelings.
Did you get to see the eclipse in 2017? Have you ever been to St. Louis?
Photos in St. Louis and video clip by Cameron