The Great East Coast Quake of 2011

Ok, so it wasn’t much of an earthquake. I have only experienced a handful of tiny earthquakes in my lifetime; usually just strong enough to make me wonder if someone bumped against my desk. Things might wiggle and sway the tiniest bit, but I’ve never witnessed pictures falling off walls or anything that dramatic. So, to a person whose general relationship to the ground is a stable one, a magnitude 5.9 earthquake is a serious thing.

I was having lunch at Panera Bread with a work friend, when the table started to wiggle a bit. I looked underneath the table to see if she was waggling her foot and making the table shake, but I didn’t see anything. When it didn’t stop, I looked again and was about to tell her to quit shaking the damn table, when the table started to shake. Like we were having a seance and the spirit was present and pissed off.

We both grabbed onto the sides of the table and sat there with wide eyes, staring at each other, very confused and a little freaked out. People started running outside, and I think I saw one Panera employee lunge towards the bagel bins to hold them in place, just in case. That’s Employee of the Month behavior, right there. You could hear the earthquake, too – I don’t know how much of it was the shockwave and how much of it was the rattle of the furniture and the building itself, but there was a low rumble that built into a rhythmic, train-like sound while the cutlery bounced on the plates. The shaking didn’t stop immediately, which gave us enough time to come to the realization that sitting directly beside a huge storefront window is probably number 1 on the “avoid during an earthquake” list, and so we got up and moved towards the middle of the restaurant.

Once it was all over and we could confirm that the shaking we still felt was coming from our own adrenaline-filled bodies, everyone was buzzing and nervous and frantically texting and dialing to reach their loved ones. I tried to reach my husband but my phone wouldn’t connect to a network, which was the same problem everyone else was having. He turned out to be fine, as did we, so it seems silly to make a big deal of the event, but I was scared when it happened. Scared and confused, because I didn’t know what was going on. The building was shaking and my brain did not know what to do with that information, which was probably why all I could do was grab the table and stare.

I think earthquakes have to be, on a primal level, among the most terrifying of natural disasters. The ground, that stable, solid thing you’re always on, and that holds everything up, is suddenly moving under you. Rivers and oceans are unpredictable, weather can change in an instant, but the ground is not supposed to move. It was a visceral squeezing fear with a feeling that something very wrong was happening, and this was a wimpy little earthquake that has the West Coasters laughing at us sissies. This was enough to make me decide that I do not like earthquakes. I think I’ll try to stay away from the Pacific Rim.

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