Cheap eclipse glasses not a bright idea

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Hundreds lined up for free eclipse glasses at the Decatur public library Saturday. (Photo by me)

Since the dawn of history, mothers have been telling children they like to not stare directly at the sun.

Monday, millions of Americans, many of them in Georgia, will ignore that excellent advice and bet their future ability to see on free sunglasses.

I am clearly not qualified to offer career advice, but, if I did, there might be a burgeoning need for ophthalmologists come Tuesday.

Like many of you, I ordered eclipse viewing glasses from a trusted online retailer. Like many of you, I was disappointed.

I paid about $20 for a set of four with dapper plastic frames and what I assumed would be hard plastic lenses.

What I got was garbage. Each pair of specs came in a nice velvet pouch, but the clunky frames make me look like a short bus Buddy Holly.

The lens material is just dark film and so thin it fell out of the frames during shipping. Trying to put the flimsy lenses back in the frames resulted in a bevy of crinkles rarely seen this side of a Ruffles potato chip.

The website said the glasses were certified by a lab in Canada to meet the “ISO 12312-2” standard that allegedly makes it safe to stare at our solar system’s largest nuclear fusion reactor, but the glasses themselves say nothing.

They ought to at least say “Made in China” or “Good Luck Pal.”

They’re so insubstantial a homeless fellow I asked to wear them in a Wal-Mart parking lot refused to peer at the sun for two full minutes.

I trust these glasses less than I trust the bedraggled gentleman who attempted to sell me “alt beef” from the back of his pickup.

Anyone in the Atlanta area can blind themselves at will Monday during the partial eclipse, which runs from 1 to 4 p.m. The moon will cover about 95 percent of the sun at 2:36 p.m.

Those who want the totality experience are loading up their Subarus and heading for them thar hills, where the sun will be completely hidden by the moon.

According to scientists who may or may not be pulling the biggest practical joke in U.S. history, it is safe to look at the sun when the moon is blocking it completely.

How many people will be crowded up in the northeast corner of Georgia for the show? Estimates vary, but according to line of folks I saw lined up behind the Decatur library Saturday morning to get free eyewear I’d say a whole bunch.

The tiny town of Dillard, population 330, is expecting thousands of retina-risking visitors for the celestial show. They have parking for 325 cars, but may get as many as 20,000 tourists. Area hotels, campgrounds and RV parks are booked solid.

Up in the German-themed village of Helen, City Manager Jerry Elkins said they aren’t sure how many people will actually show up.

“As we say up here we are expecting somewhere between a heap and a bunch,” said Elkins, adding it is difficult to estimate a crowd for a one-of-a-kind event. “We are prepared for the worst but hoping for the best.”

It’s shaping up to be the busiest Monday Helen has ever witnessed. Weekend crowds hits 25,000 during Oktoberfest, but usually clear out Monday morning.

Traffic is probably going to be the biggest problem, because there’s only so much traffic the two-lane roads connecting mountain towns can carry. It’s likely to be worse Monday afternoon after the eclipse passes and a passel of folks who trickled in over a four-day period decide to leave at the same time.

Fortunately for me, this ain’t my first rodeo. As a wee lad I observed a total eclipse of the sun from a South Georgia stoop circa 1970.

I managed to not blind myself, but I sure wish mom had saved those glasses.


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