Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The East Coast Quake: Why Earthquakes are Unawesome

I've often wondered, at the very moment I crush a bug, what it would be like to be that bug. We humans think the crushing is instantaneous, almost humane--as if the bug is alive one moment and then thrust into the afterlife the next. Flying up through the clouds, plucking a miniature harp with its forelegs. But that's probably not right. Probably, in the millisecond before the sky comes tubling down, microscopic pieces of dirt fall on them from your shoe, alerting them to their imminent death, and then intense vibrations buffet them from all sides, throwing a cold, depthless fear into them. But still, I didn't know for sure...

Well, I don't have to wonder anymore. I was in an earthquake yesterday. Which is weird, because I live in Washington, DC. It was a pretty sizeable one, from all accounts. 5.9 magnitude and with its epicenter a mere 83 miles from DC, this thing shook nearly the whole Eastern seaboard and then some--a friend in North Carolina said it rattled her cubicle and I heard from someone I know in the Midwest who said everyone's cubicles were shaking. So all in all, it was a big cubicle-shaker. For a good half hour it seemed like all cell phone coverage was lost within DC. Everyone was standing outside of their office buildings, looking up to see if huge chunks of masonry would fall to the ground. Tourists held each other tight.

Needless to say, it was ridiculously scary. I had three initial thoughts: A.) The Libyans are attacking, which gave way to B.) my office building's boiler is about to explode to C.) the construction work that's been going on to the exterior of my building hit some load-bearing wall and the whole building is falling down crap crap crap crap crap!!!!

As I made a beeline for the exit, looking back, the menacing fear mainlining through my veins must've been similar to that a bug experiences it at the moment of splattenation. It was only after I hit the third floor at an insane sprint that I heard someone mention "earthquake" and my reptile brain relented a little and I remembered the 3.0 quake that had hit Maryland the year before. By the time I got outside, it was confirmed: a big earthquake had just hit Mineral, Virginia.

This has nothing to do with writing, by the way. In case you were waiting with bated breath to see how I was going to equate my (not quite) near-death experience with writing, I'm sorry to disappoint you. There is no comparison. The rattling only lasted 45 seconds, but it's the closest I've come to thinking I was going to die. It beats the hell out of the time I totaled my car on an interstate, doing a complete 360 as semi trucks barrelled past me on both sides and then I got smashed by a huge 4X4 hauling a car behind it. That was nothing compared to this. I thought a building was about to be delicately inserted onto my head.

Anyway, I'm fine. Everyone I know is fine (as far as I know). My takeaway here is to never take anything for granted, because you could end up in an improbable natural disaster. I mean, what's next? A tsunami in Missouri? A blizzard in Mexico City? Listen, if an earthquake can hit D.C., anything can happen. My advice is simple: appreciate the good things and try like hell to forget everything else.


  1. I'm glad you're fine.

    The East Coast had a double whammy last week with the quake and hurricane.

  2. Thanks! Yeah, I know. it was crazy, but we barely felt the effects of the hurricane. Hopefully we've earned a respite from natural disasters for a while.

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