Situated on a busy thoroughfare and oh so romantically named, the 1st Interstate Motel in Casper, Wyoming, could stand improvement. Eight of its nine reviewers on Trip Advisor gave it the lowest rating possible, and they weren’t shy about their reasons. “Absolutely filthy.” “Two empty liquor bottles under the bed.” “Foul smell.” “Horrible smell.” “Hell hole.”
But you can snag a room this coming Sunday and Monday for only $1,211 a night, according to my recent search on hotels.com.
A bargain! No, really. The initially advertised rate was $1,346, for two queen beds. For a kitchenette as well, it was $1,616, later discounted to $1,454. Act now while supplies last.
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What the 1st Interstate Motel has in lieu of an endurable odor is an exalted latitude: Casper lies on the path of towns and cities from Oregon to South Carolina that are set to experience a total eclipse on Monday. And this eclipse is a total mind-blower.
I don’t mean astronomically – moon smothers sun, day turns to night, birds freak out, all of that. I mean entrepreneurially. What’s happening in the heavens is a bonanza here on Earth, in this money-minded patch of purple mountains, fruited plains and Donald Trump-branded properties called the United States.
Our response affirms that we Americans haven’t completely lost our savvy or our way. True, we failed to sniff out and stanch a presidential disaster in the making, and we’re stuck for now with a morally bankrupt plutocrat so defensive and deluded that he’s urging more nuance in the appraisal of neo-Nazis. But we still know a prime interplanetary opportunity when we see one.
The eclipse is precisely that. I’m not well versed in matters of the cosmos – I’ve never even made it through a whole episode of “The Big Bang Theory” – so I’ll describe its rareness in a vocabulary that I and most of you probably better understand. Envision a month in which the president didn’t golf. Imagine a sentence in which he didn’t brag. Fantasize a speech of his that made you proud. The eclipse is that rare.
Contradicting its name, it reveals rather than obscures many aspects of the American character. It’s a portal to the crafty, stagy, venal sum of us.
We Americans are marketers above all else. I wasn’t more than a few minutes into my eclipse research when I learned of the claim that Hopkinsville, Kentucky, makes to being “the point of greatest eclipse,” a reference to how long the eclipse will last there: 2 minutes 40 seconds.
To exploit this blessing, Hopkinsville has rebranded itself “Eclipseville,” built a snazzy website using that term and orchestrated an array of events. You can combine eclipse viewing with bourbon tasting, which didn’t surprise me, or with scuba diving, which did. When I think Kentucky, I somehow don’t think coral reefs.
You can of course purchase Eclipseville swag: fleece blankets, twill caps, T-shirts in sizes going all the way up to XXXL. We Americans merchandize, and we Americans swell.
We Americans splurge. For sale on a popular site for handmade crafts, there’s a $1,224 “solar eclipse diamond ring” with a series of gems that change colors incrementally from yellow to black and back again, thus evoking “the moon’s journey as it eclipses the sun.”
We Americans congregate. All along the eclipse’s path, there are small outdoor theaters and large outdoor stadiums in which eclipse watchers will come together, each with his or her own protective eclipse eye wear, of which there seem to be thousands of varieties. I’ve yet to order mine. We Americans procrastinate.
There are eclipse concerts, too. In Jefferson City, Missouri, a band will play selections from a particular Pink Floyd album, and if anyone out there is guessing “The Wall” or “Animals” and not “Dark Side of the Moon,” you’re eclipse-grounded and must stay indoors.
In Columbia, South Carolina, a philharmonic orchestra will perform the soundtrack from a certain intergalactic epic. Savor the “Star Wars Musiclipse.”
We Americans sometimes connive, if we’re being honest and not letting our vanity eclipse the truth. In Oregon in particular there have been complaints that hotels canceled or “lost” reservations made long ago so that they could jack up prices, then blamed … computer glitches! That’s my new preferred explanation for Trump’s election.
We Americans are resourceful – evident in how many are poised to wring dough from their domiciles. According to Airbnb, there will be more than 50,000 “guest arrivals” tied to eclipse viewing, in comparison with fewer than 11,000 in the same geographic area a week earlier.
A week after the eclipse, a room at the 1st Interstate Motel reverts to $63 a night. That’s savings of more than $1,000 from the eclipse rate! Amazing what a galactic phenomenon will do – and what we Americans will do with it.