Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Day the Earth Didn’t Stand Still

Among my bucket list items is this one: experience an earthquake. No kidding. Not one that does terrible damage or injures anyone, just one that makes me understand what it feels like for the ground to move under my feet.

I also want to know what I would do in such circumstances. I never really thought this would be me, but George Costanza—yelling “fire” and knocking people down so he could be the first one out of the building—crossed my mind.

[Full Disclosure: At William and Mary, legend had it that you could feel unexplained underground vibrations at the local cemetery if you were there at the right time of night. In the dark we went, and we waited, and we listened, and someone said they felt something, and we all ran away. I never really thought that story was true, nor did I get any sense that something ethereal was afoot, but I ran just like everyone else. Fast.]

virginia-shake-mapAs of two days ago, got earthquake. Been there. Done that. Check.

I live and work on the East Coast, not all all that far from Tuesday’s epicenter in Mineral, Virginia. Sure, I’ve heard locals say that they have felt an earthquake here before, but I don’t think I really believed them because I didn’t experience it myself.

But I felt this one. At first I thought that a truck hit the building. Four stories up, my office overlooks a loading dock. The dumpsters get banged around a lot when they are emptied, but this felt like a big truck banging a big dumpster against the side of the building for what seemed like a big minute. I quickly knew that if it was a truck it would have to be Optimus Prime.

And here is what I did. I went to find my wife. Yes, while the building shook around us all I could only think of one thing to do. I didn’t panic. I didn’t yell, “earthquake!” I didn’t run out of the building. I didn’t station myself in a doorway. I simply found a path to the only thing that matters.

Where was she? Well, the logical and smart side of our marriage wasn’t walking around like I was, but she didn’t appear to be in her office either. And when I called out to see if anyone knew where she was, a familiar voice replied, “I’m under here.” My tall, lanky better half was neatly curled up under her desk and there she stayed until the shuddering stopped. Had there been room for a less-lanky gentleman to join her that’s where I would have been. Instead, I stood in her doorway so I could see her, and waited, too.

I didn’t like the way it felt. If there is anything in the world that you can depend on it seems like the earth as a stable platform is a good candidate. You can count on it. Mostly.

Even after the shaking stopped my legs felt wobbly. Outside in the parking lot where everyone gathered the look of choice was disbelief, not fear. I must have looked that way, too. I would later learn that this earthquake was amazingly widespread. The earth’s plates on the West Coast are more fractured resulting in localized events of greater intensity. Ours was mild, but affected a huge swath of this part of the country. Amazing.

So, if you can’t count on the earth standing still what can you count on?

That’s easy. Look under the desk.

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