It was perfect.

It was magnificent.

It was moving.

If you are Richard Swanson from Tehachapi, it was a perfectly magnificent way to celebrate your 70th birthday.

"We'd run out of things to get him," said his son, Brett, a lawyer for NASA and also a Tehachapi resident. "We thought this might do it."

It did. The totality, the complete solar eclipse. Today, in the Riverside Campground in Rexburg, Idaho, it might as well have been everybody's birthday.

Now I get it. Get why people go on the road for these things. Chasing solar eclipses is better than seeing Bruce Springsteen 49 times.


If you're ever in Rexburg, Idaho, stop by Paradise Donuts for an old-fashioned buttermilk doughnut. No way it's only a dollar, because it will take you to the moon, stars, heaven and back.

Celestial bodies are what drew us to Rexburg. Drew us for an opportunity to see the totality, a 100 percent solar eclipse. Listening this morning to NPR's coverage of the eclipse, warming ourselves with Dose SLC coffee, an astronomer described the totality as akin to falling in love, something people should do once in life, or maybe more.

Falling in love is something you can do when you take to the highway and see this beautiful country again. In this case, Nevada, a bit of Arizona, Utah and southeastern Idaho. Our trip, leaving Saturday morning, took 10 hours to Salt Lake. Heading east and north, we didn't encounter the massive traffic jams that were predicted.

People are nice in this part of the country. The country overall. You just have to get out occasionally and let them help like they want to help, which makes you want to help and suddenly everyone feels better.

Getting out. Road trips are about soundtracks.

Every trip has one song that stands out as the theme song, and, for this trip, it was Maren Morris singing "My Church." The gist of this song is put the key in the ignition, your hands on the wheel, Johnny Cash on the radio and salvation is not far ahead.

The soundtrack included The Desert Rose Band, Merle Haggard, ("Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man)"), Frank Sinatra ("I've Got a Crush on You" as we drove into Las Vegas) and Utah's own Donnie Osmond singing "Any Dream Will Do" as we passed through St. George.

The soundtrack is important and so are car snacks. Butter cookies, cheddar and pepper corn puffs and Coney Island Classics gummy ring candy.

You never know what's going to happen if things get rugged. The 10 gallons of water is one thing, along with sensible oatmeal and kale salad, but what are you going to do without car snacks?

I learned one thing. It was a rookie mistake, maybe due to being out of road trip shape. Reports said parts of Idaho might run short of gas so I brought a five-gallon container of gas. I packed it in the back of the car after triple-bagging it in heavy duty white kitchen bags.

It doesn't matter how many bags you use — coat bag, body bag — the gas smell wafts through. I noticed everybody else had their red plastic containers lashed to the top of the car or the back.

Gas or no gas, the trip across the desert is a drive that can make your soul right again. Everybody has that place where they reset. Reset and remember. Remember themselves when they were young and shouting at the top of their lungs in joy was not out of the question.

Sunday morning, we drove from Salt Lake to Logan — Sue's parents were born in Logan — to have breakfast at Angie's. Angie's is worth a road trip in itself. The French toast special — four slices of French toast, two slices of good Utah bacon and two eggs over medium.

Three hours later we were in Rexburg. No nightmare crowds yet. Just saintly volunteers from Rexburg and a mixture of baby boomers and young couples with kids. The boomers have done the math and realize it's not favorable and this is their shot. Younger couples with kids — how great was that?

"It started," somebody yelled. It was 10:19. The eclipse started at the top of the sun and soon looked like the Apple logo. Darn that Steve Jobs, he thought of everything.

No clouds in Rexburg. Clear skies. This is what happens on your birthday.

"Eight minutes away," said the older gentleman from Las Vegas, who shared his shade with us.

I could have used his sweatshirt though. Another rookie mistake. Don't pack the car too early because it gets cold when the sun goes away.

Three minutes to go. I was almost sweating, not because I was hot, but who knows what will happen when totality comes. Maybe my snacks would disappear and I would learn how to put up a canopy.

I had never seen a crescent sun before. That was something. Something I might not forget.

Ninety seconds, a wall of darkness to the west and then cheers as the sun disappeared behind the moon. Darkness, and now a brilliant outline — the corona — around the sun.

Why was I sobbing? Why was everybody else? We weren't sad. It was the opposite.

Off came the eclipse glasses. For a moment, a less-than-three-minutes moment, everything was perfect. The way it should be. The way it can be but, this being life, it was brief and just a taste.

"That exceeded expectations," Richard said, as we walked by him on our way out.

We got back in the car to drive home. First song was "Here Comes the Sun." A perfect birthday and it wasn't even over yet.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or (661) 395-7279.