Battle Creek

Journey home eclipsed by eclipse and West Michigan Nice

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.

NOTE: All photos are courtesy of On the Ground Photographer Fran Dwight who traveled to Wakeman, Ohio with friends to watch the eclipse on the path of totality.

Monday’s eclipse provided a unique experience for each person who witnessed it and while those of us lucky enough to watch it were alone in our thoughts, we were not really alone. We were part of a group of millions and that is what made it so much more meaningful for so many of us.
Some of us traveled to Mexico, Texas, Ohio, and Cleveland staying in hotels that engaged in a fair amount of price-gouging — American capitalism at its best. I guess this was their way of observing the eclipse.

Susan Hochman, a New York City resident who for seven years had been planning to travel to see the solar eclipse on April 8, spent $650 for a one-night stay at a modest hotel room in Saranac Lake, New York, which was in the path of the so-called totality. Hotel staff told a CBS News reporter that room rates at the same hotel hover around $99 during busier times. Hochman called the inflated lodging prices “kooky crazy.” You could say that the money made by the hospitality industry on this rarest of occurrences eclipsed the actual eclipse.
But there were those eclipse watchers who opted to stake out a spot at campgrounds in the path of the eclipse. They spent far less money and likely had opportunities to befriend people they may never see again while waiting for the darkness to envelop them.

Friends who accompanied photographer Fran Dwight to Wakeman, Ohio:. (l-r) Greg Orr; Mike McMinn; John McClaflin; Cathy McMinn; Sue McClaflin; Patti Ann McNulty

There’s a lot to be said for this. They weren’t concerned about who you were supporting in the upcoming presidential election, your sexual orientation, or your religious beliefs, caring instead about the universe’s power to awe.
I myself was on a plane to Detroit Metropolitan Airport after visits with my daughter and my mother.
It was a Delta flight, not one of the two sold-out eclipse flights offered by the airline. Sadly, no eclipse glasses for me and my fellow passengers.

From my vantage point in the middle seat, I thought I had a pretty good shot at viewing the prelude to the eclipse. My hopes were dashed when the woman occupying the window seat pulled down the shade even before we were airborne. Who selects a window seat if they don’t want to see the view from thousands of miles above the ground?
I was able to watch televised coverage of the eclipse, but it just wasn’t the same. I wanted that collective experience.
Yes, the 'shade shutter' did get a dirty look or two from me when were disembarking from the plane.
That’s when my eclipse moment happened among a group of people who had gathered under a window near the ceiling in the terminal. They were wearing eclipse glasses and staring through the window across the tarmac at the sun which would soon be covered by the moon.
I wormed my way in, put my backpack down, and began to look up without said glasses when a woman said “Don’t” and offered me hers. For about 10 minutes these fellow travelers from different parts of the country and the world stood together not thinking about their next flight, retrieving their bags, or finding a rental car.
Their faces were tilted up towards that window where they eventually saw the sun become a sliver of itself. We didn’t witness totality, but we did see the lightness in one another as we shared a few brief moments of near darkness.
O.K., there were one or two people who yelled at us to get out of the way because they had places to be causing one eclipse-watcher to say, “It’s once in a lifetime.” These are not the moments I’ll be remembering.

I like to think of what I saw and witnessed from these total strangers as a perfect example of West Michigan Nice even though it happened on the east side of the state. Oprah Winfrey coined the term during a sit-down with voters in 2017 after the most recent presidential election.
I never asked my fellow eclipse-watchers where they were from. I think they represented many different areas of the United States. Their kindness and expressions of awe and delight over what we saw together got me to thinking about Oprah’s take on us West Michigan Nice Michiganders.
The act of nice can happen at any moment that calls us to be our best versions of ourselves.
Let’s not wait until the next eclipse in 2045 to have our own unique experience in communion with each other.

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Read more articles by Jane Parikh.

Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.