Advancing age and audacity empower me to address “the emperor’s clothes” and the “elephant in the room.“ And so I will as regards to Carbondale Eclipse 2017. If you don’t agree, with my opinions, don’t bark at me — bark at the moon like Ozzy Osbourne!

First, allow me to establish my “cred” so my comments are taken in context. I absolutely love Southern Illinois. It’s very special, and I’m a proud Saluki and SIU alumni association member. I loved every minute of my nine years in Carbondale, where I worked full-time as a SIU laboratory researcher, earning bachelor's and master's degrees.

I even bought a home there, uncommon in 1980 for a single woman. I helped nonprofit organizations and developed my social consciousness there. I volunteered with political campaigns, Southern Counties Action Movement, Shawnee Solar Project, Peace Coalition, food cooperatives and taught yoga at Free School. I interned at Touch of Nature, Giant City State Park and in deep Southern Illinois.

I lobbied City Council and marched down South Illinois Avenue. Appointed by Mayor Fisher to the city’s Energy Futures Task Force, I helped create its Energy Division. I costumed up for 19 Halloweens, partied in Bucky Fuller’s dome and heard him speak on campus. I hiked the Shawnee and frequented bars, concerts and the farmer’s market. Since moving away, I run back there every chance I get.

Accordingly, I and my proud Saluki husband visited our ”center of the universe” for the big celestial event. We got hotel reservations early, warned by local friends to bring water and even a “potty” container in case we got stranded on the road to “Woodstock.” They and others steered clear of Carbondale, scared by the hype.

Our trek was 700 miles round trip. We arrived Friday and left Tuesday. We wouldn’t have missed it for the world, except we almost did during the Stadium “event.” Much work and coordination was evident, and kudos goes out to Mayor Henry, Carbondale, SIU, businesses, Main Street, and Tourism Bureaus for attempting to predict and accommodate such an event. Carbondale’s Strip looks wonderful!

I hope my observations help refine this 2017 trial run for 2024.

So, here goes. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday seemed pitifully bereft of activity on the Strip. We easily found parking places on Illinois Avenue. We’ve seen busier regular weekends … anyone remember the Strip closures? The dearth of visitors was made more obvious by the plethora of events seemingly everywhere — Shadowfest, Marketplace, Family Fun Zone, Stadium, Arena, Crossroads Festival, Arts and Crafts Fair, Homegrown Stage — not to mention events at wineries (Moonstock!), the Varsity, Bald Knob, and Pagan and Native American festivals. Too much spread too thin!

Music stages at SIU Arena, downtown and Shadowfest were overkill. There were only handfuls of people at Arena concerts — so few that the Mummies threw T-shirts to the crowd instead of having a sales table. The Boat Drunks likewise had few takers, unusual for them. The carnival seemed unnecessary — vendors had to give away food Sunday night.

We attended Max Kaplan’s live Planetary Radio Show, but there were glitches in the broadcast. The prize contest and question and answer segment was not videotaped (an SIU snafu). Kaplan sheepishly apologized on SIU’s behalf. This shouldn’t happen at a college with a renowned communications program given the preparation that undoubtedly went into it.

The Stadium “event” was disappointing. There was no dignitary or alumni recognition, little science and no printed program. The Arena and grounds events competed for attention at the same times. After the eclipse, no traffic control on McLafferty Road made us miss Tawl Paul’s performance because it took an hour to get downtown.

While Shadowfest was well attended, it was sparse enough that we parked in the same parking space in the adjacent lot two nights in a row. So much for the apocalyptic scene we were warned about. Speaking of the Apocalypse, I heard that 90 policemen were on duty that weekend. Really? Weren’t there just 12 policemen during the infamous 1970 riots? Perhaps the ghost of Halloween pasts spooked the city. One can’t be too careful with public safety nowadays, and thankfully, the weekend was peaceful … but isn’t that overkill? I’d vote for more eclipse day traffic control instead!

Food for thought for 2024 — less is more. Don’t scare locals and tourists away by optimistically over-predicting attendance or arrival times. While Carbondale saw more visitors by Sunday evening, surely the event did not live up to expectations. I hope that there was a net economic gain, not just intangibles. Reduce the music stages and events and concentrate activities. Provide post-eclipse traffic control and ditch the carnival. Design a better Stadium program. Produce and sell commemorative videos, pictorials and souvenirs of southern Illinois’ time in the sun.

Here’s to your next big gig — go Dawgs! See you there!

Valeri DeCastris is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale and currently resides in Northern Illinois.

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