Paul Hampton

What really happened when I put that @$#&* phone down

Solar eclipse

Outside of Makanda, Illinois, a 12-hour drive from the Coast, we see darkness in the middle of the day
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Outside of Makanda, Illinois, a 12-hour drive from the Coast, we see darkness in the middle of the day

Someone asked after I returned from a whirlwind trip to the Midwest zone of eclipse totality if I had a life-altering experience.

I wouldn’t know until the next full moon, I joked, if I had picked up the lycanthropy virus in the midday darkness. That full moon is Sept. 6 for those of you about to dash off to Google.

The total eclipse was spectacular and lived up to the hype. But it wasn’t the only singular event.

When I switched cell phone carriers a couple of months ago, I chose one that worked fine and cost less than the service I had. I know. Pretty smart. Except.

When I got to Southern Illinois, it seems coverage was spotty. And that was when it was working at its best. The rest of the time, it didn’t work at all. No calls. No texts. No, gasp, data. And that meant no internet.

By now you are thinking, just switch to Wi-Fi dummy. Except.

I was staying with my mother-in-law. Now she has many enviable and endearing qualities. Patience, for example. I have known her since grade school when she’d shoo me out of the hallways and back to class. I married her daughter. And I’m still alive. So, yes. Patience is a big one.

But when it comes to paying $75 to let a bunch of 1s and 0s march unannounced into her house on a wire? Forget it.

For the first hour or so, I kept pulling out my phone, expecting a flood of email unleashed by whatever demigod had gone to sleep and allowed my piece of the internet to crash. Nope.

I tried not to think about the panic in the digital world that my absence of a few hours had created. And I didn’t notice any fissures streaking across the ground, so I assumed the world wasn’t ending. (Bonus tip: For the love of all that’s decent, don’t Google “fissure” even if you’re not sure how to spell it.)

By then it was dark, the temperatures were dropping, and so we went for a walk. For an hour or so, we walked around my hometown, remembering who used to live where and what happened to the house where there was just charred grass and a foundation?

The next day we went to a family reunion in Murphysboro. My mother was born in the country south of town and some of her brothers, aunts and uncles spent most of their days there.

Riverside Park, where the reunion has happened every August for decades, hadn’t changed all that much. The family, though, is another story. We seemed a mite older than I remembered the last time I was there. And it had been only 40 years, give or take.

But we got it sorted out and had a wonderful visit. If I come back, though, I’m bringing name tags.

Outside of town, we stopped for eclipse T-shirts and glasses for my mother-in-law. They depicted the shadow of an apple, not the moon, moving across the sun. Murphysboro is the home of the Apple Festival.

The next day, we went to a friend’s house that happened to be very near the line of peak totality. It was a sort of Facebook moment. She had learned over the last few weeks just how many friends she had as they realized what an ideal spot she had.

But no one was buried in their smart phones. They came out occasionally for those who had service to check their eclipse apps and to snap photos and videos of the awesome moments of totality. Mostly, though, we talked. Strangers making friends. Weird.

So that is the life-altering knowledge I gained. I could forsake the digital world, at least for a few days. I might try it again in 2,400 and some odd days.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton