Our hunger for be­ing there

The Packet (Clarenville) - - EDITORIAL - Russell Wanger­sky Eastern Pas­sages Russell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 35 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetele­gram.com — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

We drove into Dou­glas, Wy­oming last Sept. 10 un­der the big­bruised sky of a western sun­set, watch­ing ever more des­per­ately for deer as the road dark­ened, the sky fad­ing through pur­ple to blue to black.

There were three Poles ahead of us at the check-in at the Su­per 8: fa­ther, mother and son, try­ing to check in to their sin­gle room. The fa­ther with­out a word of English, in a beige vest with a big Amer­i­can flag on the breast, wear­ing 1970s sun­glasses with ear­pieces that wrap right around his ears like they’re meant to stay on, even in a bar fight. The mother un­speak­ing, but clearly with enough un­der­stand­ing of English to word­lessly pro­vide more credit cards, ID — pursed lips like she’s used to ex­pect­ing trou­ble and doesn’t want to be the one to start it. The son in a brown T-shirt, try­ing to prob­lem-solve through lan­guage bar­ri­ers and de­clined credit cards.

And the ho­tel phone ring­ing, ring­ing, ring­ing, with the nag­ging in­sis­tence of a fat cir­cling house­fly. Just an­other check-in in Dou­glas.

The clerk’s son is at work with her, flit­ting around fran­ti­cally, mess­ing up the desk, and the whole place is su­per­charged.

The next morn­ing I found out why.

The same clerk was work­ing, her son eat­ing ce­real from the nar­row front lobby break­fast bar, and she’s try­ing to solve an over­book­ing prob­lem, go­ing through ev­ery ho­tel in Dou­glas, through nearby Casper, look­ing for rooms, find­ing none. When she puts the phone down, it rings again: “No,” she says when she picks it up, “We’re fully booked.”

“For tonight?” I won­dered, cu­ri­ous, know­ing the ho­tel had been al­most empty overnight.

“No,” she an­swers, “For next year. For the eclipse.”

Mon­day’s to­tal so­lar eclipse will travel al­most di­rectly over Dou­glas, with “to­tal­ity,” the point where the whole sun is cov­ered by the moon, ar­riv­ing at 11:25:45 a.m. Moun­tain Time.

The to­tal eclipse will last a mere two min­utes and 22 sec­onds — barely a third of the 6:59 it took to play Bon­nie Tyler’s orig­i­nal ver­sion of “To­tal Eclipse of the Heart” — and so many peo­ple have planned to be in Dou­glas that there was not one sin­gle ho­tel room left in town even a year in ad­vance.

I won­der what our at­trac­tion is for big things, for big events, for “mark­ers.”

Why do we bench­mark our lives by say­ing “I was there” when some­thing unique or as­tound­ing oc­curred? Why do we spend some­times thou­sands of dol­lars to be at a last concert or a farewell tour? Why do we seek out the big­ger than us with such re­li­gious fer­vour? Why do we quest to be present for rare birds, for great walls com­ing down, for mas­sive marches?

It’s like we’re de­lib­er­ately hang­ing our own pic­tures in­side the frames of world events.

Maybe the truth is we’re all just bar­na­cles, try­ing to an­chor our­selves to some­thing with enough weight or heft to hold us fast. Does be­ing there, be­ing part of some­thing, ful­fil some need in us, some need to fit in the fir­ma­ment? Are mu­tual touch­points an af­fir­ma­tion of shared hu­man­ity? (I know the eclipse is sig­nif­i­cant — I’ve saved the in­for­ma­tion for this col­umn for a whole year.)

But I can’t help think­ing: Mon­day, math­e­mat­ics and plan­e­tary mo­tion and our largest satel­lite will com­bine in what’s be­come an ab­so­lutely pre­dictable way, and to­tal dark­ness will de­scend on a crowded Dou­glas.

The same to­tal dark­ness that there was when we drove into town last Septem­ber. The same to­tal dark­ness that sim­i­lar plan­e­tary mo­tion brings at least once ev­ery sin­gle day.

Hu­mans. We are such in­ter­est­ing, in­ter­est­ing crea­tures.

RUSSELL WANGER­SKY/THE TELE­GRAM

North Platte River at Dou­glas, Wyo., Sept. 11, 2016.

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