‘Once in a lifetime’: Thousands in Charlotte stare at the skies

The first sign in uptown that the eclipse had started was when Sam Bethea stopped shouting.

The street preacher – who works the Trade and Tryon intersection each day shouting “Jesus saves!” – paused, took out eclipse glasses (which God gave him, he said) and took them over to the two men running the Halal food truck.

As soon as the eclipse became slightly visible, people stopped at the intersection’s four corners and began to share glasses.

A couple of blocks away, at Romare Bearden Park, spots in the shade quickly filled up, and people ducked out to peek at the sun. It was 16-year-old Mitchell Magas’ first eclipse: “Hey, it looks like the sun is the moon.”

Three women had scheduled a late lunch to share glasses; one of them, Von Kinloch, said: “It looks like Pac Man.”

They said their lunch was “boss-approved.” There was a lot of that: Whole groups came out of their offices wearing glasses provided by employers, saying they’d been told to work outside.

One group from Duke Energy clustered together on the lawn, one of the seven waving Duke-logo’d glasses, saying, “Duke is very big on safety,”

Four men from Accenture came out with laptops in tow, saying they’d walked out of a meeting. About two dozen people also could be seen lining the top-level balcony of the Ascent building overlooking the park.

All over Charlotte, people paused at midday to look up.

Ballantyne: ‘Waiting since July’

At lunchtime, about 2,000 people waited in line at Ballantyne Corporate Park in a last-minute attempt to get viewing glasses.

About half were turned away, including Sharon Peacock, who lives in Waxhaw and works at the corporate center. She said she had only herself to blame for not getting a pair sooner.

“Shame on me,” she said. “This was once in a lifetime, right?”

Wingate University provided the glasses for free.

Many people began watching the eclipse around 1:30 p.m. on parking decks, parking lots or on grassy areas in the park.

Valerie Secker, director of marketing and promotions at Wingate Ballantyne, said the idea came around six weeks ago when an astrophysicist on staff talked to faculty and staff about the eclipse and thought it would be a good idea to throw their own party.

“I think it’s exciting that people actually want to be part of science,” Secker said.

Mitch Patel took in the celestial spectacle with son Shiv, 13, who had been anxiously awaiting the moment for months. “I’ve been waiting since July,” he said.

Discovery Place: ‘We’re nerds about this stuff’

Cynthia and Todd Striegel of Fort Mill brought their three boys to Discovery Place, where they joined other eclipse watchers for a sold-out event.

“I’m really excited to be here with them,” Todd Striegel said after they’d each looked through a high-powered telescope on the roof of Discovery Places parking deck.

“We’re nerds about this stuff anyway,” said Cynthia Striegel. “This is something we can look back on when they grow up.”

Rosa Graves, 68, called it “awesome.” Watching from the Discovery Place parking deck, she felt the air cool as the moon nearly covered the sun.

“The closer it got to 98 percent you could definitely feel the difference in temperature,” she said.

Jeremy Joy of Concord and his wife Golda brought their two boys – and a box of Moor Pies. “It was very cool,” said Jeremy. “The last time I saw one was in fourth grade.”

The airport: ‘Son, hurry ....’

At Charlotte Douglas International Airport, some passengers literally ran from arriving flights to go outside and look up. Many did not have eye-wear.

One man and his son ran out the door, both tugging rolling luggage.

“Son, hurry,” the father said. “This is once in a lifetime. We cannot miss this.”

They got out front, put on their glasses, and the little boy jumped on his father’s shoulders, craned his neck and pointed up.

Sidewalk crescents

Duke Energy workers swarmed out of their building after 2 p.m., filling the sidewalks and plaza near the Mint Museum uptown.

One man was so busy looking at the sky that he nearly fell down a set of steps outside his office doors, but several people pointed out the danger in time. Cooperation ruled the day, with employees sharing glasses and tips about how to photograph the eclipse.

One Duke Energy worker showed her coworkers how the sunlight filtering through her crossed fingers showed up as a series of crescents on the sidewalk, while another woman carried a shoebox kitted out with aluminum foil and tape.

She said it had taken her only five minutes to turn the box into a pinhole viewer.

Three workers at the former Charlotte Observer site on Tryon and Stonewall passed around a black object – probably a welding helmet – to see the eclipse.

The Interstate 277 overpass at Tryon Street attracted a few office workers hoping to avoid the crowds. Right at 2:41 p.m., a red truck on the interstate paused and then started driving slowly in reverse. No one hit it.

Everyone’s ‘getting along’

Fifty yards west of the rooftop, a drone hung against the skyline and photographed the party underway at Fahrenheit restaurant uptown. The footage would show a variety of people, ages, colors and stations in life, all linked by a varying degrees of awe, like one of the snapshots taken in a ‘50s’ movie theater when everybody is wearing 3D glasses, gaping at the wonder of it all.

Sandra Simon, who was the first resident of the Hyatt building, nursed some kind of rum drink as she talked with Ed Jensen and Melissa Praseuth. The threesome gazed periodically skyward, counting down the minutes to the moon’s maximum coverage.

Asked if she, like Primrose, had a wish for the moment, Simon got protective. “I can’t tell you my wish,” she teased, then relented.

“Look around,” she said. “Look at all the different kinds of people. Look at how they’re all getting along.”

“Yeah,” said Jensen, sounding a bit stunned.

“Weird,” Praseuth added.

“I like that,” Simon said.

Panthers’ Olsen sings ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’

Tight end Greg Olsen and the rest of the Carolina Panthers were pretty excited for Monday’s solar eclipse. After practice, the team hurried out to the game field at Bank of America Stadium, donned their eclipse glasses, and waited.

And, in the case of Olsen, sang a rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” while head coach Ron Rivera played it on his phone.

But like many in Charlotte, Olsen was left a little disappointed when the sky only darkened slightly as the eclipse passed. “It’s like a snow day that doesn’t come!” he lamented.

Whitewater Center: ‘Was that it?’

At the U.S. National Whitewater Center, west of town, hundreds of eclipse-watchers clustered on embankments, on rocks next to the rapids, and in half-shade at the Pumphouse Biergarten.

A young boy used hardened clay to write “I love the solar eclipse” on the sidewalk near the water as the sunlight started to finally fade. A group of men drinking Olde Mecklenburg Copper ales joked about it feeling cooler for the first time in weeks.

But as 2:41 p.m. came and went, there were a lot of murmurs of “Was that it?”

“Little bit underwhelming,” said Tyler Beekley, 24, of Charlotte, who had taken the day off with co-workers to enjoy the show. “98 percent, but it didn’t seem like 98 percent. ... I thought it’d get a little bit darker. I heard you were supposed to see stars or hear crickets chirping, but I didn’t hear any of that.”

I-77 rest stop: ‘I’m glad we came’

Along Interstate 77, southbound traffic was steady, as drivers pushed on to get a better view from more southerly points like Columbia, which was in the eclipse’s “path of totality.” Signs along I-77 in Charlotte warned motorists not to stop along the highway for their viewing.

Just south of Carowinds, dozens of drivers stopped to watch the eclipse at the South Carolina Welcome Center. Several people were handing out eclipse glasses for free.

The Ulian family from Boston had dropped their daughter off at college in Pennsylvania on Sunday, then made the seven-hour drive down to Rock Hill at the request of 12-year-old son, Aiden. He had made a book with facts about the eclipse for his parents – when information like when it would take place, and how much would be visible in different locations. “It wasn’t for school,” Aiden said. “I just really like astronomy.”

Ronnie Weaks II, of Charlotte, has worked at the S.C. Welcome Center for about a month and said Monday brought a slightly larger crowd of tourists than usual, though nothing extraordinary. “I thought it was going to be darker for longer,” said one person in the crowd.

But Aiden wasn’t disappointed. “I’m glad we came,” he said.