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Muscogee Local News

Column: The Sun, the moon and the hype

Stocking up on black market glasses and souvenir T-shirts, the world is preparing for Monday’s total eclipse of the sun in a wonderful wacky way that brings back memories of Y2K — a ballyhooed event from 17 years age that was either a worldwide punchline, an elaborate hoax or a threat to life as we knew it.

I’m not putting down the science behind the eclipse. It is truly a natural phenomenon and, like many of you, I’ll be outside on Monday wearing protective glasses that are strangely similar to cheap 3-D glasses handed out at movie houses in 1953 when they were showing Vincent Price in House of Wax.

What I refer to is the unmitigated hype that has created a cottage souvenir industry and threatens small mountain towns in Georgia with traffic nightmares that will overshadow the jams that come every fall when the leaves change colors and local hotels turn on their no vacancy signs.

Richard Hyatt

This takes me back to New Year’s 1999 when doom and gloom forecasters predicted that public utilities would fail, military readiness would be compromised and an electronic run on our banking system would cause financial institutions to crash.

I was a newsman on active duty at the Ledger-Enquirer and I remember our preparation to cover what some goofballs would have called the last story of our careers. Our editor treated it like a full scale emergency. Cheap pizza was delivered and drinks were on the house.

Off-days were cancelled and everyone on the staff crowded into the newsroom, prepared to work an all-nighter. We would write the typical stories about New Year’s then, after deadline, we would stay around to report on what was known as Y2K.

The atmosphere in the room that New Year’s Eve had nothing to do with the holiday. It had the unmistakable buzz of college football Saturdays, or election nights where newspapers stayed up late and got up early in the name of news.

Behind this hoopla was an underground element that told us our government wasn’t telling us the whole truth that they — whoever they were — knew the truth and weren’t telling us. Such quoted the Book of Revelation and preached that the end was near.

One of the most outrageous alarmists was named Jim Lord — unheard of before or since. He compiled long lists of cities and towns whose public utilities would fail and where computers would get confused when their internal clocks discovered it was the year 2000.

Lord was part of a outlaw group known as NewHeavenNewEarth founded by David Sunfellow. They convinced some people that Armageddon was at hand. And if you wanted to be really prepared they would sell you Y2K protective packages for just $5.00 — less if you bought them in quantity.

Our Armageddon Team was mobilized and ready but we were not equipped with Y2K protective packages, just boxes of pizza and 2 liter bottles of pop. (I believe someone even broke the rules and produced some cheap champagne.)

We had our Y2K marching orders. Someone would check on hospitals. Someone would monitor the police radio for strange events. Someone would keep an eye on ATM machines, in case they got our of control.

I made fun of what we were doing but, just in case, I stocked up on bottled water, Double-A batteries and a few assorted snacks. I bought extra time on my pre-paid cell phone, filled up the gas tank in my car and stashed a change of clothes, a flash light and a blanket in the backseat — all the things we do if we think snow is going to fall.

We waited. We prepared. We planned. And the sky didn’t fall!

Now it’s 2017, and America is waiting on the Great Eclipse.

There’s been a run on protective glasses. Even a recall. (Unconfirmed stories report that some local schools are selling them for $20 a pair as a fundraiser.) Muscogee County students are being dismissed at noon and, fearing for the health of our convicts, we’ve postponed trash pickups after a certain hour on Monday.

Pet owners are concerned about how their animals will respond. (As a layman I suspect they will react about like they do when that other-worldly voice speaks and warning sirens are tested every Saturday at noon.) Teams of science students from Columbus State University are being dispatched across the country to study the eclipse.Public viewing parties are being thrown all over town. At the Columbus Tech party they’re serving Moon Pies. (No mention of RC Colas.)

All we need is O.J. in a white Ford Bronco.

Pardon my edge, but this hype takes me back to that night there was no news to report. Obviously the eclipse is very different. We’ll see an event most of us will never see again. We’ll see something that reminds us of a power greater than ourselves. Our children will add this experience to their growing resume and one day they will tell their children about the day it got dark in the afternoon.

But please.Can’t we do without the hype?

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