I will smother the whole world in the dead blackness of midnight; I will blot out the Sun, and he shall never shine again; the fruits of the Earth shall rot for lack of light and warmth, and the peoples of the Earth shall famish and die, to the last man!
— Hank Morgan
In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Mark Twain weaves the tale of Hank Morgan, a late 19th century weapons manufacturer from Hartford, Conn., who is hit over the head and transported back in time to 6th Century England.
Hank’s first encounter with medieval man results in his being captured and hauled to Camelot, where his strange appearance provokes derision and an order that he be burned at the stake. But Hank reaches into his apparently immense bank of trivia and recalls that there was a massive solar eclipse at 12:03 p.m. on June 21, 528 — his scheduled execution date.
He warns King Arthur that he is a great magician and that if he is executed, he will blot out the sun. And as darkness begins to fall over the land and the great magician Merlin orders the torch lit, Hank warns that he will also send lightning down to destroy his captors.
Panicked by the darkening sky, Arthur orders the execution halted and begs Hank to restore the sun — which our hero does in return for being made prime minister, a post he uses to bring 13 centuries of innovations to Camelot.
What I always found so mind-boggling about the story wasn’t the idea of time travel but the idea that the time traveler would recall the precise time and date of an eclipse that had occurred 1,300 years earlier.
Today in South Carolina, despite wall-to-wall mainstream and social media coverage, we have people who will be caught as unaware by the eclipse as King Arthur and his court.
State emergency officials are worried about those people.
They’re not just worried that they’ll scorch their retinas by looking directly at the sun (as will plenty of people who know we’re having an eclipse but who also know you can’t believe what “experts” tell you, and aren’t about to miss out on such a great view). They’re worried that they’ll endanger others. Specifically, they worry about what the eclipse-uninformed will do when they’re driving down the highway as midday turns to midnight.
I have no doubt that they’ll cause problems. But they’re not the ones who have me worried. The ones who have me worried are the entirely informed: The ones who know that’s an eclipse and know they want to see every second of it — no matter where they are or what they’re doing as we approach and then encounter totality.
“South Carolina emergency officials prep for eclipse, urge drivers to keep moving or stay off roads,” read a recent headline in Charleston’s Post and Courier.
That headline wasn’t the result of a reporter misunderstanding what someone said; it wasn’t the result of an off-the-cuff quip or an attempt at humor.
It’s right there on the S.C. Emergency Division’s two-page “safety tips” handout: “If you are driving during the eclipse, KEEP MOVING. Do not stop your vehicle along interstates or any roadway.”
Now, there was a time when I would have thought it was utterly ridiculous and downright condescending to assume that anybody needed to be told this.
How stupid do they think we are?
But then … texting while driving.
Now, when we don’t have to look hard or for more than a few minutes in traffic to see another driver staring trance-like into the phone, frantically typing out that life-and-death urgent message: She said what?!? … No way … B there in 20 …LOL.
Now, I’m pretty sure the emergency folks are right to worry.
Of course, dear readers, I know that no one who is as brilliant and beautiful as you would be so self-centered, so clueless, so ignorant as to stop in the middle of I-26 to stare (unfiltered) at the sun. Or to text while you’re driving.
But even the most brilliant and beautiful know people who are neither. So if you know such people — less than brilliant, I mean, as beauty is not relevant to this particular discussion — please pass along the warning.
And if they’re the sort who only believe what they read on the internet — or, worse, who believe everything they read on the internet — then don’t just warn them face to face, as if anyone still talks to other people that way any more. Email them a link to my column, which, handily, appears on the internet.
Better still, post the link on their Facebook page.
But since those acquaintances are the sort of people who really only believe the things on the internet that they want to believe, the smarter course for you, and for all of us, might be to keep ourselves off the roads as much as we can, at least after, oh, 2 p.m. Maybe 1.
We might also want to follow these other tips from the emergency officials: Fill up your gas tank and buy your groceries and do any other errand running before the crowds descend on Columbia, because it’s going to be so crazy crowded. Everywhere.
Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at email@example.com or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.