I was listening to a playlist this morning and the song Gloria by Laura Branigan came on and it brought me back to the final few minutes in a van with Mike Lynch, Emma and Sophia after what had been a week long road trip the see the eclipse. We had just pulled off the highway over by the mall when the song came on and Mike had Emma blare it so we could sing loud and proud with the windows down in a mix of hysteria and celebration. For seven minutes we were screaming at the top of our lungs, because Mike requested we listen to the song a second time around because it is just soooo good. And I truthfully do not think I will ever experience the same kind of happiness ever again. That week was one of the greatest things I will ever be a part of. I’m feeling horribly nostalgic remembering it all now and even though it was only like two months ago, I feel like a fifty five year old woman reflecting on her entire life because it just meant so damn much to me.
When Emma texted us one night saying her dad was thinking of renting a car and driving us down to see the eclipse in Nashville because we wanted to go, I did not take her seriously. I mean come on, that’s fucking wild. But sure enough, everything fell into place and he in fact did rent a van and Emma, Sophia and myself got our bags packed and got ready to set out on the road 8/19 at 5 am. Shaelin was supposed to come as well but the cards didn’t fall into place for her. The first day was spent entirely in the car as the eclipse was going to happen on the twenty first so we had to move quick as we were traveling to Nashville to see it. Emma sat in the front with Mike, reading directions somewhat horribly, while Sophia and were lounging in the back seat. The trunk was packed with snacks, water and our bags. You know, the basics. The hours were filled with some conversation, some talk radio but mostly whatever station Mike would put on, since he was so ecstatic he paid for satellite radio for the trip. Our first pit stop was an exciting one, we stopped at a Wawa!! Which was a first time for Emma and Sophia, so it was pretty fucking intense!!! We went inside to use the restrooms as a way to celebrate. And then after that, we hit our very first rotunda. Which is why this post is entitled Rotunda Hunting because it is a journey Mike in fact took us on and refused to quit. If he knew there was a rotunda somewhere near us we went to see it because it is his favorite architectural structure. Which is something I both admire and find oddly hilarious. But after that we didn’t stop again until we reached Virginia where Mike decided to take us to an authentic German restaurant. Which was charming, to say the least. I’m not a big meat eater myself so I wasn’t thrilled with the food but it was pretty good. However, the dining experience itself was overly creepy. When I walked in behind Mike, he pointed to the wall when you walk in that had pictures of local celebrities, and he couldn’t stop laughing because we obviously didn’t recognize a single person. The waitresses were obviously dressed in full garb, but that wasn’t what set me off, every time you saw a waitress they had the biggest smile on their face. And not because they were overly happy people or anything, you could see it in their eyes, they were being forced to smile. And there was this one waitress who didn’t have any tables and yet always found a reason to stalk through the restaurant with a shit eating grin on her face but her eyes were absolutely dead. It was so unsettling and I have never felt more uncomfortable than I did sitting in that restaurant. After that deeply unsatisfying situation, we left to be on our way once again. Mike then wanted us to stop in Charlottesville, not only because of the recent protests, but because he wanted to see the University of Virginia. Which, admittedly, is one of the most beautiful college campuses I have ever seen. But the city itself was so charming. However, the air felt a bit weird down there because of the tragic week it had just endured and it was at times strange being there. Especially when we saw the mural in memory of Heather Heyer. But walking through the center of the city we passed an older looking theatre that had “Life is Beautiful”, which was advertising a showing of that movie, yet it felt like it was put up as a statement. Or a reminder for the people there, either way, it was a very moving experience for me to have seen that. Once it started to get dark we decided to head to our hotel for the night, as we’d be hitting the road early in the morning once again so we could make a few pit stops along the way.
Mike really wanted us to see the Greenbrier Hotel, which is in West Virginia. And apparently, if you’ve never heard of it, it is a luxury resort which houses the elites of America and the richest people in this country. Which is kind of fucking weird because it is the middle of nowhere and surrounded by a rather poor town. What was also weird was that they let us go inside because a) we were driving a mini-van, b) I was wearing a bandana on my head like a biker, c) Sophia was wearing her flowy-hippie pants and d) Emma was wearing ripped jeans. Saying we were underdressed would be a bit of an understatement, but we walked in the front door as if we belonged. Which, we in fact, did not. The place is very grand and over the top, and yet doesn’t look like it’s been updated since 1980, so I don’t understand how people with majority of America’s wealth haven’t put money into renovating it. But I suppose they lack taste. There were legitimate powder rooms in the women’s bathrooms which was startling to see. We didn’t see many of the guests that had been residing there but of the few we did see, they were exactly what you’d expect. White, pretentious and haughty. The entire time I was getting serious Get Out vibes. After surviving that nightmare, we had to eat something for breakfast so we stopped at a Bob Evan’s, because what else can you expect to find on a road trip down south. And we then once again, were on our way. Once we hit Charleston, Mike said he was taking us on a little detour because he was so excited we had stumbled across our next rotunda. We didn’t get to see the inside of this specific one but it sure was a beauty from the outside. After, we filled the tank once again and set out for another few hours. Until Mike disappointedly pointed out we in fact did not remember to bring eclipse glasses so we had to spend most of the day searching and driving for glasses. And by this I mean he had all three of us calling any store within two and a half hours of us now to see if they had any. Which is pretty comical thinking back on it now, the three of us frantically practicing the same speech for different places all the while Mike is talking over us about how we were careless for not getting them in the first place. We tried libraries, book stores, walmarts, supermarkets. We tried just about everywhere you could imagine until we found them at a strange print shop in Kentucky, so Mike said fuck it and we went to get them. I mean we had made it this far we couldn’t not watch the eclipse. After we found our glasses and stretched our legs for a bit, we set out on a journey to find a hotel room. And by the purest of circumstance of chance, we saw a hotel with a vacant room in Kentucky and it was close enough to the line of visibility for the eclipse. We later found out when we booked that room that the hotel had no vacancies until someone canceled their reservation minutes before we managed to book that room, which was a beautiful coincidence. I remember we got to the hotel a little before dinner so we needed to kill some time before we could go get food, and since we were virtually in the middle of nowhere with hardly anything surrounding us, we decided to play cards. What started off as innocent fun between me, Sophia and Emma became an intense, learning experience with Mike. He came down and was frustrated we weren’t putting the cards to good use. So he decided to enlighten us and teach us how to play what I think is called “hearts” but I could be wrong, so don’t quote me on it. The name of the game is unimportant anyways, all that mattered was we were not able to grasp the game as quick as Mike wanted and he quickly became like the old coach who used to be brutal and intense. Emma was getting incredibly frustrated and we were all beginning to crack under the pressure to not anger him by doing the wrong thing, which we continued to do without fail. Finally enough excruciating time had passed and we could go for dinner, we went to a restaurant which I can only describe as something out of a stereotypical midwestern movie. It was very quaint. When we finished dinner we headed back to the hotel rather early because we had to plan our big day!!! Mike had managed to find somewhere in Gallatin, Tennessee that was holding an event for the eclipse, so we wanted to head there the next day and it was only a few hours out of the way. Mike wanted us to head early to avoid any traffic so we jokingly suggested we leave at 3 AM to get there first, to which we found out in the wee hours of the next morning Mike had in fact, not taken it as a joke.
We got to what can only be described as a sort of sports complex for our viewing event at around 5 AM and sure enough we were not the first ones there, however, the place was fairly empty, so we got a good parking space and lawn space. We managed to snag a place beside these families who came with professional telescopes and were experts on eclipses and frequently travelled to see them, so we lucked out. When we first arrived, Mike went to scope out the field while we waited in the car and Emma and I began to serenade one another with the song Total Eclipse of the Heart, obviously, which was probably inconsiderate to do that early in the morning but in our state of exhaustion we couldn’t care less. (Our friends in the place beside us asked us later to serenade each other once again for when the eclipse happened, so it is safe to say, we’ll be taking our talents on the road soon enough.) Once Mike returned he told us that there was a stage and performers set to perform later in the day as well as food trucks a bit of the ways past us on the complex for us to check out while we waited in anticipation for the eclipse. Until then we decided to lay a blanket down on the grass and catch up on the sleep we had been deprived of in order to get here so damn early in the morning. We could’ve only slept for an hour two but when we woke up, the heat had decided to creep in. Because after having fallen asleep with a sweatshirt on, I woke up confused and sweaty. It was still early and Mike was asleep in the car so we decided to play Heads Up in an effort to pass the time. Sophia, without fail, let us down time and time again, so it was up to Emma and I to carry each other through each round. When we finally grew bored of that, we decided to venture out and explore the rest of the complex. And sure enough had the crowd multiplied by the time we had set off, there were more people there than I can even begin to explain. I imagine it was a record breaking day for Gallatin, as I’m sure people traveled near and far to check this event out. We were hilariously disappointed to see that they were giving away eclipse glasses at the event, and we had stupidly travelled four extra hours to acquire some in a panic the day before, but snagged new pairs anyways, for souvenir sake. We went over to the tents and food trucks and bought what had to of been a fourth of a watermelon for I think was $3, and then went to watch the performers. The big event of the day was scheduled for noon and she was a contestant on American Idol who was from Gallatin, our excitement couldn’t be contained!! However, her opening act was really where the party was at. He was an older gentlemen who was playing soft rock covers only and he was receiving no complaints from us. We were jamming. As the day continued to sink in, the heat came in waves, and was it overbearing. The humidity alone was enough to drown us out and when you consider the heat that went alongside with it, we were in puddles of our own sweat even when we were in the shade. Part of my soul died in that heat. We wanted to make sure we were going to have a good view of the eclipse so we headed back to where our car was, and the eclipse experts because they must know what they’re doing. For a few moments the clouds looked as if they were going to obstruct our view so as the minutes dwindled before totality, we were on the tips of our toes ready to take off in the car ay any second if we needed to get a better view. But alas, it was as if the stars aligned, or in this case the sun and moon ;), just for us and the sun was in nothing but blue with the clouds scattered around but nowhere close enough to cause panic. Totality was not instantaneous, which I suppose might be anti-climatic to some, but I don’t think I have ever been so unaware of time in my entire life. In the moments before the moon began to creep over the sun, we took our turn looking into the microscopes of our new friends and just sat back to admire what we were about to experience together. The complex became incredibly still in the moments before totality. There was not a head that wasn’t crammed uncomfortably back, looking into the sky. I’m overwhelmed even now, sitting here trying to retell what we had experienced when seeing the eclipse. And I’m sure I sound as if I am over-romanticizing it and speaking of it in this way in an effort to make it dramtic, but I know of no other way to describe than how it felt to me in that moment. With my head up towards the sky, I hardly noticed anything other than how quickly the sky seemed to move. I heard nothing other than staggered breaths, gasps, and mirthful laughter as totality began to hit. (Totality, for my uncultured friends, is when the moon totally eclipses the sun.) As the moon began to creep over the sun, it felt like the world around wasn’t real. Light and color began to dim and it began to feel cooler. It was if someone had just applied a filter to the world, but only where we were standing. We made sure to take a few moments scattered throughout that moment to take in our surroundings and is it was if time stood still in the few feet around us but everywhere else had been untouched. It wasn’t pitch black when the moon fully eclipsed the sun, which wasn’t entirely what I expected but I also hadn’t expected the dull light sorrounding us in that moment. Some people cheered, some cried, some laughed, everyone rejoiced. I found it harder and harder to breathe as I heard Sophia cry and Emma laugh, all my mind could focus on was looking into the sky and watching these two massive entities come face to face. It was the most at peace I had ever felt, and yet, at the same time I was completley overwhelmed. Mike kept speaking to us as the moon began to pass over the sun and totality ended but I cannot remember it all now. There had been conversations and exclamations made between us all but it was completely overshadowed by what we had just witnessed. I imagine seeing an eclipse is not unlike taking heroin, so if you hate needles, go chase an eclipse. There were so many other moments and exchanges made in that hour but none of it holds much significance now. Besides, with the state I’m in now I’d imagine if I keep talking about the eclipse now, it will be nothing but nostalgic nonsense, and I think I have burdened you with enough of that now. So, on to the next part of the trip!
Originally, our trip set out with the destination of Nashville, but with a few happy detours and magical circumstances, we had been derailed. However, since none of us had ever been, Mike wanted us to experience the country (I had originally acidentally spelt it cuntry but noticed when I had re-read to check for errors, however, I think it is too funny to not acknowledge the fact that even with that rather grotesque spelling it still sounds the same when you read it.) capital of the world. And when looking back on it, now that I am in a clear mind and not running on that post-eclipse high, I wasn’t in love with Nashville. Granted I am underage and can’t party and that’s a huge part of the Nashville lifestyle. But walkin around the city had been pretty nice, I mean it is an incredible place for tourism and parts of it are rather nice, but all in all, I was content with the few hours we spent there. When dinner time rolled around we decide to get some authentic barbeque and who else would we look to for help besides the ever-genius Guy Fieri. And boy did he not steer us wrong. I can’t recall the name of the place we went to now, I do remember it being slightly out of the city. Again, I was still riding on that post-eclipse high so I could be remembering this with a rose-colored lens but it was one of the best meals I have ever had. I mean damn. I ordered pork tacos but they were served with slaw and on a corn pancake with beans as my side and it was divine. I mean pure, unadulterated delicious food. I was overwhelmed. Once we had our fill of good ole’ southern comfort food, we set off once again on our journey back home.
For this second half of the trip, we had more freedom and time to roam. But Mike had set ideas on how to take full advantage of this time and freedom, so we let him guide us through these last few days. En route back home, Mike wanted us to drive through the Blue Ridge Parkway, which if I remember it correctly, you could drive from South Carolina to D.C., or something like that. We drove through it for around 4 or 5 hours, and let me tell you, it has some of the most breathtaking views you’ll ever find. Even when we were just sat in the car watching trees pass us by and flowers upon flowers in bloom that we merely passed by were enough to have me mesmerized. But when we stepped outside of the car and took the time truly take in the mountains, trees and flowers around us, it was awe-inspiring. It was almost hard to focus your eyes on one thing because everything around us just seemed never-ending. Mike grew tired of Sirius XM so I offered to play music from my phone, as I am currently engrossed in music from the 70’s and Mike lived his prime in those days. It was a real bonding experience for the two of us. Where he told tales of when he was in his youth, and taking drugs and sneaking into concerts. With the windows down and the music blaring, I couldn’t do anything but face the wind and bask in the light peeking through the trees. That was until some huge bug flew in through the window. I may fear many things, but winged bugs pretty much take up 50 percent of this list. And no one believed me when I told them that the bug had not just flown in and out of the car but was in fact stuck in my blanket. I almost shrieked when it came in but the parkway is a pretty windy road and I didn’t feel like dying just yet, so I didn’t want to startle Mike. Sophia and Emma kept trying to egg me on, and I was fine as long as the blanket stayed far away from me. However, the next time we got out of the car I wanted to be damn sure that we would leave this view point with no bugs in the car. So, I obviously had Sophia shake out the blanket, and sure enough, there was that freaky bug in the car! Just like I had said!!! We couldn’t get it to leave the safety of the van so we unfortunately had to kill out, for which Mike was incredibly angry with us about. But if that creature had stayed in the car any longer, it probably would’ve been me that had died from fear. With Janis Joplin blaring once more, we readied ourselves to exit the dreamscape that was the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Once we were through in there, we went to the highway once again. Which, as you can imagine, is a huge let down in terms of what we have to admire for views. And even though we were cramped and a little tired of being in the car we decided it best to drive straight to D.C., which was only a few more hours away. In order to pass the time without boredom, Mike had a podcast he wanted us to listen to together about the eclipse, and an article from Harper’s magazine he wanted one of us to read for him. The podcast about the eclipse described things in a way I’ll never be talented enough to explain let alone recreate, and felt almost as if that person described every single thing I had felt, gone through and saw when the eclipse happened. It was beautiful. Although the man who told his story was about more cynical than I, which is hard to imagine, and he didn’t have the same high hopes going into it as I did but, all in all, I could relate. When it came time for a poor soul to have to read for Mike, I obviously was volunteered as Emma refused and Sophia had earphones in and was either asleep or faking it. The article was fairly interesting, as it was about these crazy women who were Alt-Right conservatives. It was wild, to say the least. I highly recommend reading it, it almost feels as if it’s a liberal writing it out to be satirical. So it’s kind of amusing, albeit more scary than funny, to see that it’s a person’s real ideology. And though I was interested in reading it myself, there were many a words I did not know how to pronounce and it was an 11 page article so I was incredibly on edge and tired reading it aloud for Mike. Emma was vaguely awake for part of it but it did take me a good amount of time to read through it so I know she was dozing in and out. The rude bitch. After I suffered through those moments with him we turned my phone back on and sat in silence with Pink Floyd playing in the background. Mike rented us a hotel just outside of city because it was the one he normally stayed at when he does business there, and he was sneaking us in through the back so he wouldn’t have to pay extra for us. Which, to be fair, if anyone had paid attention to it, must’ve looked pretty seedy. But, alas, we flew under everyone’s radar. We got to check out their room that they set aside for business executives who go there to do business and let me tell you, it was some high class shit. They had a cheese spread, fruits, cookies, tea and coffee. And to keep the trip consistent, we were once again sorely out of place as we were the only people under the age of 35 and not dressed in business attire. The woman working there kept a stiff eye in our direction but she never did say anything to us, so bless her heart. For dinner, Mike took us to the “up-and-coming” part of town where there were shops, restaurants and townhouses. And it was incredibly nice but slightly off-putting because there was like one central part of town and then there was nothing else around it. We went to Nando’s and ate our weight in chicken with enough time to take a brisk walk around and then head back to the room so we could bathe and sleep off that long drive.
The next morning Emma, Sophia and I took the train into the city so we could go explore America’s capital while Mike stayed behind to do business. Once we got into the city, Emma had plans for us. Which still kind of shocks me, because of all people to make sure we have our shit together, I would have never pegged it to be her. Then again, not to give her too much credit, she had been to D.C. before and Sophia and I had not. Not to bore, though I am sure it is more than a little late for that, you with every detail I will give you a brief synopsis of how we spent out day here. Since D.C. is rich with National museums that is how we decided to live it up. We went to the Smithsonian, National Portrait Gallery, the Newseum, and I think it was the National Museum of American History. I’m not that big into art museums myself, which you might have gathered if you have read about the art class I took, but the National Portrait Gallery had some of the most beautiful things I have and probably will ever see. There was a painting there that I want to say was titled “Rural Concert” that absolutely took my breath away. The light in the painting alone was enough to catch my eye but as I stood and studied the picture all the details just really threw me. We meandered through the halls at separate paces, however, we would meet at the same painting every now and then and appreciated them together. Emma and I sat side by side and watched light hit the stained glass windows in part of the exhibit. It’s amazing how pretentious you can be when you talk about art, I don’t even mean to sound like an asshole about it, and yet here I am, sounding like an asshole. Once we had our art fill Emma made sure to take us to the Newseum which was fascinating. It cost us about $20 to get in, which was a drawback, but we were not let down. When we were purchasing our tickets the guy kept making sure to ask Emma her age and giving her a strange look when she refused to say anything other than 19. (If you were 18 or under you got in for free, and we don’t look much older than 15 so you can imagine how dumb the guy must’ve thought we were to lie about being a year older.) But to be fair, the museum was one hundred percent worth the cost. It’s huge to begin with, and the amount of effort and detail that went into picking news from years ago to now, it is amazing. (I’m running low on adjectives because I have yet to have a negative thing to say and doubt I will.) To close out our day in the city we obviously had to go see the white house, despite my current reluctance to accept who is living in it now, the Lincoln Memorial, MLK Jr Memorial and the Washington Monument. All of which was incredible to see. Later that night Mike took us to Georgetown, where I got to see the infamous stairs from The Omen, and the university. We stopped and had some damn good Irish food in a classy pub we stumbled upon.
The next day we were planning to explore Philly, as we had a day before Mike wanted us to hit New York and wanted to check out what it had to offer. And boy did Philly not disappointment. It is by far one of the nicest cities I have ever been to. We had no set plan or agenda, which was a nice change of pace for us, so we just strolled through the city. We went and did the Liberty Bell and saw Independence Hall, because you can’t not do it when you’re there. You guys get it, conformity. But for the most part we lied in the grasses of different parks and hung out in front of coffee shops for the better part of our day. We went into this one coffee shop that was in a way similar to Starbucks only more hipster and edgy, they even went so far as to have Modern Baseball playing. It made me slightly uncomfortable but I have to respect the amount of effort they put in to keeping up this vibe/look they had going for them. We split some really good mac and cheese later in the day as we sat in this park that had a stunning view of the city and the city hall. It was a blissful yet incredibly lazy day. As the night dragged in Mike took us to see the steps from Rocky and to get an authentic Philly steak and cheese. We went to a place called Geno’s, which was directly across the street from it’s rival Pat’s. And it was good. Which, I know, is anticlimactic but what do you expect. It’s a sandwich of only steak and cheese. However, things did get a little exciting when we saw a Tesla self-driving car! The doors opened all on their own, it was moving even when there was no one in the car, it was absolutely frightening! And unbelievably unnecessary considering the where we are but hey, you gotta love gratuitous luxury. With our stomachs filled with grease we cozied up in that van once more, making a quick pit stop to check out UPENN which was so nice I could’ve died there and been content, before hitting our hotel in Philly one last time.
We decided it was easier to stay a second night there a hotel rather than drive elsewhere, and by we I mean Mike, and who were we to argue with him on it. Early in the morning he had to make a conference call so we stopped in Hoboken, and since New York is just across the water we figured we could hit that right before we headed home. You’d figure at this point that we’d be sick of being around one another and maybe we would have been if we weren’t absolutely delirious and high from this past week. So when Mike dropped us off to hang out over by the water and we stumbled upon the nicest playground you could imagine, we had the absolute time of our lives. I mean, this park was like every child’s, or in our case, mentally stunted 19 year olds, dream. There was one contraption that looked like a frisbee only on an angle and you could spin forever on it, we tried to run on it but we did not have the skill or balance to stay on long enough. But we probably could’ve amused ourselves for hours on it, had we not begun to feel sick from being dizzy. We then got to go check out Carlos’ Bakery, because we’re incredibly cultured, at 10 am!! And made sure to get enough to make ourselves feel sick, to then go ahead and stop at a smoothie place. Which, was something I regretted later but in the moment, it was glorious. We were only going to New York to check out one thing, the Whitney, and then we were going to head home. I paid for the tickets, which was really only buying Mike’s because we were clever enough this time around to lie and say we were 18, which was probably the first real thing I paid for all trip and something I still feel guilt about now, lol. The Whitney was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip, which I say with little confidence because I find it hard to pinpoint any part of the trip being better than the rest, as it just offered so many different kinds of art and exhibits. There was a room in which we could lie in hammocks and listen to Jimi Hendrix in a room with no windows and images shown on the floor, ceiling and walls. An exhibit dedicated to political art, like Civil Rights art, LGBT art, art on different wars, that was remarkable. And to top it all off, we saw the Moises Arias there!! Which was a highlight of the trip for sure. Mike didn’t quite get the excitement of it all, but it didn’t distract us from freaking out about it. Before we finally got back in the car for the final stretch of our journey, we went and got our last family meal together at a burger place nearby. And who did we run into once more?? Our boy Moises!!! It was a beautiful way to end our stay in the city. (I’m being semi-ironic and sarcastic here if you can’t discern that easily from my way of writing. (If you can’t you’re probably uncultured and much dumber than I so I’m sure you hardly understand any of this at all.))
Emma got the AUX for the last portion of the trip, and she was bumpin’. We had ABBA, the Les Mis soundtrack, Wicked and female ballads only. It was glorious. We sang at the top of our lungs and were living in that moment only to annoy Mike. We sat through minimal traffic and the drive seemed to flash right before our eyes as we pulled of the exit over by AMC in Braintree and prepared to call it a night. But before we did, we had that sublime 7 minute sing-along to Gloria. It was almost a tearful experience when Mike dropped us off, as I didn’t want the trip to end and I almost didn’t want to say goodbye to all of them. However, I did want to take a shower in my own home rather than the unsatisfying ones we had lived through in our time spent in hotels. I wish I had the trip on tape so I could re-watch and relive it all, there are so many little instances that I remember so fondly now but they hold little significance to the trip at all. But I’m glad I sat myself down so I could remember all the details before I have the chance to forget them. I’m incredibly grateful and thankful that I got to have that week with Emma, Sophia and Mike. I’m also incredibly grateful and thankful I never once had the urger to kill Emma, Sophia and Mike, although we cut it pretty close with that game of hearts earlier in the week. I guess I’ll go cry and think about the fact that I lived this and will never experience much else like it again, at least not any time soon.
If you survived this, and read it all, I’m probably indebted to you for the time you wasted and even though this is free I probably owe you money for doing it too. But, hey, I’m a poor blogger, who writes for selfish reasons only so you’ll never get what I owe you. Till next time friends.