Op-Ed

My revealing eclipse-watching experience

The partial solar eclipse photographed at 2:25 p.m. at the arboretum in Lexington.
The partial solar eclipse photographed at 2:25 p.m. at the arboretum in Lexington. cbertram@herald-leader.com

There’s an old saying that when the end of the world comes, better to be in Kentucky because we are always 10 years behind everybody else.

After experiencing a total eclipse of the sun, I would have to agree, at least on the marketing of this worldwide phenomenon whose centerline, among others, ran through Hopkinsville.

One person I asked if they were going to watch the eclipse, asked me, “How much does it cost?” Another, asked if they had to go to Nashville to see it? A neighbor, who knew of my interest in the eclipse, showed up to see it, wearing a pair of regular sunglasses he said he had just bought at Speedway.

One woman reading a magazine at a Shell station warned me that if a person watched the sun without the right glasses it could damage their “rectum.” Trying not to embarrass her, I said, I don’t know about that, but I have heard it can damage your retina, part of your eye. “Yeah, I heard that, too,” she said without looking up.

Another friend, who had toured Mammoth Cave and later viewed the eclipse, put down the entire affair with a cosmopolitan air, with, “The cave was OK, but the eclipse was not total. It was not even total.”

I had prepared all week for a busy day at the little park by my house in South Lexington, a perfect place to see an eclipse, when not a soul showed up, with or without glasses, to see it. The scarcity, or absence, of protective glasses might indicate that Kentucky might be behind the times, at least in marketing strategies.

For several days before the eclipse not one pair of eclipse glasses could be found in any store in Lexington. (If I missed some, you might hold on to them as another eclipse is due in seven years.) But, Kroger said they had been out for over a week. When they sent me to another store that supposedly had them, they, too, had been out for days. Wal-Mart said they had not received any from headquarters, but had their marketers been on the ball they could have sold every pair at $5 a pop.

Starbucks, who will give away a cup of coffee at the drop of a hat, said they had not had any for sale or giveaway. I did get two pairs a couple weeks before the event from some forward-thinking manager at Carmichael’s Book Store and Coffee Shop in Louisville, without which I might be hurting from one end of my body to the other.

Perhaps, the most successful marketer of the eclipse was a woman in Hopkinsville who turned her farm into a campground for eclipse seekers of the totality at $1,000 a site. Due to her vision, restaurants were full and every room taken, raising the specter that even a lovely town like Hopkinsville for a single day could turn into Louisville’s month-long ripoff of Derby-goers.

Even Donald Trump eventually donned a pair of high-fashioned eclipse glasses to alert Americans to the dangers of watching the sun without protective lenses and No. 10 sunblock. Others were more concerned that Trump’s fired and fired-up friend, Steve Bannon, months ago might have replaced his boss’s protective lenses with Ray Bans.

Frank Ashley of Lexington, a former Courier-Journal reporter, served as press secretary for Govs. John Y. Brown and Brereton Jones. Reach him at famedia@aim.com.

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