I had just left my office building for some light exercise, a couple of laps around the building with a friend. The next sequence of events is a little uncertain: a car alarm went off. The ground shook, as if a truck was driving past. My friend was stepping into the parking lot, shouting at two men who were coming towards the building – or perhaps moving away from it – who were shouting. I looked up: the building was shaking, the windows were flexing.
I remember quite clearly thinking: “Well, this is weird, I didn’t realize I’d been drinking today.”
And then it was all over. I went over to my friend, and we met up with the two men deeper in the parking lot. I don’t know their faces, but I recognize them as working in the same building.
“That was an earthquake.”
And then the doors to the building opened and everyone started flooding out. I jumped on Twitter. “Earthquake in Bethesda?” Pretty soon info started coming in from the USGS – a 5.8 (later upgraded to 5.9) earthquake out past Richmond. Tweets mentioned damage to buildings in Penn Quarter.
“I’ve gotta get my kid!” one of our IT guys said, his brow furrowed as he tried to get in touch with his wife. His boss was on the phone with the CEO trying to figure out if we needed to close up shop early.
I ventured back into the office because while I had my phone and my keys with me, my bag with my iPod, flashlight, and book – currently Bill Bryson’s In A Sunburned Country – were all upstairs. I wound up heading in with one of our business analysts, Nina. “This is like the beginning of one of those disaster movies,” she said as we opted for the stairs.
“I promise you that if I have to kill you and eat you to survive, I’ll feel really bad about it.”
We walked into an office that seemed …
… bizarrely normal. People looked up at us. “Oh, you came back?” Nothing had toppled over. Lights were on. The computers and phones were working. My team leader just snorted and shook his head as I came back to my cube, as if to say, “Please, this shit is nothing.”
That’s a sentiment I heard repeatedly throughout the night from people who come from California. To which I say: “I’ve heard that when it fucking drizzles out yonder you assholes are all losing control of your cars and smashing into store fronts and looting the shit out of stuff.”
No sooner had I settled back to work, then word got passed around pretty quickly that building management wanted the building evacuated so they could do some inspections, kick the concrete, whatever it is they do to ascertain that the building wasn’t going to go ka-poof and fall in on itself, and then over on itself, and whatever.
So I grabbed my stuff, begged a ride to the Metro off a coworker, and was off.
I was supposed to work my part-time job at the Cinecave, but I still had seen no word if the place would be open or not. And tweets about books falling off shelves had me worried. Really worried.
I own a lot of books. I buy a lot of books. My apartment is very small. Bookcases almost literally crawl up my walls, stacked on top of each other, loaded with books and knick-knacks. I had a vision of my apartment: posters knocked off the wall, bookshelves smashed into each other, the floor strewn with books, broken gadgets, and crushed cats.
My original plan, sans earthquake, was to Metro downtown, watch The Future, and go to work. My amended plan was to go home, make sure the cats were okay, clean up my apartment, and then make a decision about going to work or not.
My coworker, K, dropped me and Ginger off at Grosvenor, we waited a few minutes, and jumped on a train. And maaaan did it crawl … right until we got underground, at which point it picked up speed. And passengers. We were packed by Woodley Park, which is where I jumped off. I made the walk to my apartment with a certain amount of dread. Broken bookshelves and smashed TVs, fine, that’s one thing. I can deal with that. I just didn’t want smooshed cats, which would’ve broken my heart.
My building seemed okay. I’d sort of pictured walking up and being told by a maintenance guy that it was closed for inspection or something. But I got in, took the stairs, and hesitated outside my apartment door, with the key in the lock. I took a deep breath, turned the key and the knob, opened the door and …
Stepped in something wet. I looked down. I’d first smeared fresh hairball across the foyer with the door, and then stepped in it. Nice. The cats were both on the foot of the futon, looking at me like, “Hey, dude. You’re home early. ‘sup?”
My apartment was fine. An artist’s doll had stumbled off a top shelf. Some books had pushed a bookend to the end of the shelf and collapsed upon each other.
The lesson I take from this is this: man, I stack bookshelves and books really sturdy.