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THE GREAT NOTHING-BURGER OF 2024

Updated: Apr 10

"NOBODY GOES THERE ANYMORE; IT'S TOO CROWDED."

(Yogi Berra)




A Total Solar Eclipse is a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience... more than once, if one's birth year is timed correctly. Mine was-- in July of 1963 when I was just four, my family rented a camper and traveled to northern Maine to experience one. (HERE is an article about that one.) What a trip that was! We got to see lumber logs hurtling down a giant slide into the upper Kennebec River, and we watched black bears foraging a garbage dump after dark, illuminated by our headlights. From a high mountain ridge we witnessed a violent thunderstorm that featured spectacular chain lightning, and we saw what we ostensibly came for-- a total eclipse of the sun.


Fast forward six decades.


My nearby city of Rochester, NY sat smack in the middle of the "region of totality" for the Great Eclipse of 2024, and the predictions of social disruption were dire-- the cities of Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse would be so jammed with visitors as to constitute a genuine crisis, threatening our safety and even our very infrastructure. Stock up on food, they said. Make sure your gas tanks are full. Blah, blah, blah.


And just like the "breaking news" predictions of life-threatening snowfall that winds up measured in single-digit inches rather than multiple feet, these predictions were astonishingly wrong; indeed, it seems that would-be visitors "stayed away in droves," as the ever-quotable Samuel Goodwin once put it. Either the predictions were off because people actually believed them and changed their plans, or they were simply way wrong to begin with.


For the best possible rant/explanation of the 2024 Eclipse and the implications of all the ridiculous hype, your Grumpy Old Mansplainer turns to one Mr. Bob Lonsberry, Upstate NY's well-known raconteur and socio-political observer--


BOB LONSBERRY (from the WHAM 1180 AM website)

April 9, 2024


We live in an era of error.


The experts are seldom right, the journalists are seldom diligent, and the truth is seldom told. That was shown in government policy about covid and in similar government predictions of eclipse visitors. Ignorance and arrogance breed certitude among those who hold power or the public’s attention.

 

That is true of the governor in the embroidered windbreaker and the anchor in the tailored suit. And it was true of almost everything we were told about what people would do during the April 8 eclipse.

 

For a year and a half, meetings were convened and plans were made in response to a false premise unquestioningly held by those who didn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground.

 

In Buffalo, there were to be a million visitors. In Rochester, it was to be a half a million. And in Syracuse, it was to be between 500,000 and a million. Ultimately, all of those predictions were off by more than a factor of 10. What was at first hundreds of thousands became tens of thousands and ultimately just thousands, and realistically in most places it was few of those.

 

For Syracuse, it was less than an average day of the state fair. For Rochester, it was about a day of the old Park Avenue Festival. For Buffalo, it was a Bills game or a Wednesday at the Erie County Fair.

 

For all of upstate New York, it was a failure of leadership, it was a disappointment by delusion.

 

Not that the eclipse wasn’t amazing, or that the events weren’t wonderful, or that the people – from near or far – weren’t great, but that the predictions and assumptions upon which government acted and media spoke were fundamentally and completely wrong.

 

Which cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and showed once again that trust in public officials is misplaced.


For a year and a half, hospitals planned for a surge, police agencies prepared for Armageddon, transportation officials anticipated a shut down. Society would be overwhelmed by an influx of eclipse viewers, lemmings crowding to their doom, and the warning voice was raised.

 

The governor told us to stock up, the state officials reminded us to buy medications and food, the roadside signs blared that we could be trapped for hours or days. The sky was falling and it was falling hard and every night at 6 o’clock we got another serving of crap, repeating with earnestness the preposterous assertions of communications majors at the tourist bureau.

 

There was no divergent view, there was no attempt to verify, there was no pointing out that the emperor had no clothes. It was lockstep, the company line, like masks and boosters and grandma dying alone in the nursing home. This is what someone said into our TV camera and that makes it real and catch our special report Tuesday at 7:30.

 

While it was all a bunch of crap.

 

It was all a baseless, hyperventilating fake, whipped up by people with too much time and too little sense.

 

And so the helicopters hovered overhead and the state police came in from outside of totality and they brought in the Probation officers to provide extra security.

 

But “better safe than sorry” only goes so far, it only covers so much incompetence.

 

Leadership is accurately envisioning risk and need and charting a course that avoids the one and satisfies the other. Allaying fears, instead of creating them, is what real leaders do – in the halls of power and on the evening news. In the insane miscalculation of the number of eclipse visitors, and in the daffy reactions to fantasized problems, government and tourism leaders, amplified by the press, showed the public again, even on something as ultimately inconsequential as an eclipse, that they have a tendency to incompetent idiocy.

 

And that destroys public confidence. And public confidence is the glue that holds a society together.

 

When the people in charge are idiots, those of us who are supposed to do the following lose faith. And while the list of things the people in charge are wrong about grows, the confidence and peace of mind of the people shrinks.

 

That’s what we thought about while we drove home last night, over empty roads that were supposed to be choked with hundreds of thousands of eclipse visitors.


Although this piece isn't exactly "reprinted with permission," I sincerely thank Bob Lonsberry for his thoughts as well as for the typing and googling he saved me. Mr. Lonsberry can be heard weekday mornings on Rochester's WHAM 1180 AM from 9:00am-12:00 noon, and in Syracuse on WSYR 570 AM on weekdays 3:00 - 6:00pm.

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