NEW KENT — The moon just happened to pass through our view of the sun on Monday afternoon, yet travelers came and went through central Virginia along Interstate 64 like any other day.
Not everyone could watch the unforgettable sight of the eclipse from a special place, but something about the oddly dimmed sky persuaded a handful of drivers to stop at the rest area in New Kent County and get a better look.
And some people, like the author, were at the rest area after being caught in traffic, unable to watch the eclipse from where they wanted to.
The sounds of delighted reactions managed to break through the din of passing trucks.
“That’s unbelievable,” gasped members of a Pennsylvania-bound family as they glanced through eclipse safety glasses for the first time. “That’s unreal.”
As the peak of the eclipse approached at 2:44 p.m., cars filed into the lot at a steadier pace.
Instead of heading straight for the bathrooms and snack machines, people emerged from their cars to cluster around pairs of safety glasses and smartphones.
Barney Mecom, an attorney from Christiansburg, gazed at the crescent-shape sun and then handed his glasses off to another man along the sidewalk.
“I figured someone else could see it, too,” he said.
It was easy come, easy go.
“I didn’t have glasses,” said Mecom, who began his day working in Virginia Beach. “Kind of a funny story, I stopped at a store and a couple of the employees had an extra set and checked to see if I wanted to have them.”
The eclipse didn’t come as a surprise, but many of the travelers didn’t know where they would be when it was time to observe the solar spectacle.
Electronic signs above the highway admonished:
SOLAR ECLIPSE TODAY
NO PARKING ON SHOULDERS OR RAMPS
That tree-lined trip suddenly didn’t seem so mundane once the eclipse started to spread a faint shadow over the state.
Katrina Horton and her family heard the reports of the eclipse on the radio as they were heading home to Northern Virginia.
“It started to get kind of dusky looking outside,” Horton said. “Let’s come back and see what was going on.”
Mahrukh Hussain of Maryland had never seen such a sight.
“We were actually looking for a clear space,” Hussain said. “Through the trees we couldn’t see.”
Her family was returning from a trip to the Outer Banks, and every store they stopped at along the way was sold out of eclipse glasses.
“My name actually means ‘face of the moon’ in Persian,” she said.
Some pondered a journey to see the totality of America’s next solar eclipse in April 2024, which will spread a shadow from Texas to Ohio to Maine.
“Yeah, actually I probably will go,” Mecom said. “I would almost guarantee it.”
By 3:15 p.m., the sky got a shade brighter and the parking lot of the rest area turned a bit emptier.
The Earth kept spinning, the moon went along its way, and the travelers rejoined the 70-mph stream of cars and trucks, going west with the sun.