When I got home at about 2:15pm on the afternoon of August 23rd and looked at the sprawling, breathless hive of life’s leftovers on the internet, I felt as if everyone else in the state had had a huge party without inviting me.
Later I read that Northwest Philadelphia, due to its solidly rocky geological foundation, experienced less shaking than other areas. Apparently some people in their cars also missed the trembling. From my SEPTA bus in Manayunk, I didn’t have a chance.
Curse you, SEPTA, for robbing me of this experience. Usually life’s tumult is inside the bus, as overheated riders scream obscenities at each other and the cheeky children of low-income families turn the seats into a jungle gym. I never thought public transit would shield me from a wildly unusual and unsettling event.
The earthquake had entered the Facebook feed tentatively. “Um, anyone else feel what seemed to be a small earthquake in Philly?” “Did anyone else feel that little earthquake?” “Um…house shaking??? Why?”
There were some unnecessary judgments on others’ states: “Pentagon evacuating?? Pansies.”
Exalted or frightened realizations set in.
Philadelphia: “Time to scratch ‘survive earthquake’ off the ol’ bucket list…”
Pittsburgh: “never thought i would feel an earthquake on the east coast!”
New York: “Holy earthquake NYC”.
Philadelphia: “The green fingers of sweet wasabi death” (ok, maybe I wasn’t the only one who missed it).
Virginia: THAT WAS SCARY! Wrong time to move to Virginia. 5.8 earthquake. I’ve never felt anything like that before. Whole apartment building vacated to the streets. Now I’m picking up everything that fell over. Man.”
Maryland: “I grabbed the dog and ran outside and watched the truck sway back and forth and looked at the water in the pool slosh back and forth. Pictures crooked, boxes fell off the shelves in garage, and the back door doesn’t close easily – weird.”
North Carolina: “In a school of 1400 kids, it feels like the earth is shaking every day! Didn’t notice anything unusual…but I’m sure it was followed by ‘Ya’ll need to quit bouncing around and be still’!!!!”
Washington, DC: “Earthquake cocktails!”
Apparently downtown Philadelphia had a similar response to my friend in DC. After flocking out of their office buildings to exclaim over the quake, everyone forgot about work and streamed into the bars to get down to the business of discussing Where They Were When It Happened.
Except for me. I had a deadline on the news story that took me to Manayunk. As soon as my cell phone would work again, I began making calls to get an interview I wanted.
I wanted to talk about construction on a new community center. He wanted to talk about the earthquake.
I felt more left out than ever.
But perhaps it’s for the best. I have a low tolerance for natural disasters. At least, I’m pretty sure I would if I lived in a part of the world that had natural disasters. In fact, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t live on the United States’ mid-Atlantic coast.
In Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, a foot or two of snow brings panic to supermarkets everywhere. Five days of temperatures above 98 puts the fear of death in us. Earthquakes are mild and almost unheard of, tsunamis unknown. By the time hurricanes reach us, they’re nothing but windy, depressing rainstorms. One time a small tornado hit my parents’ hometown outside of Philadelphia. My grandparents lost a gutter and my mom spent the next ten years pointing out a few trees that had been scarred to anyone who would look.
When the terrible tornado hit Joplin, MO earlier this year, I made the mistake of watching a YouTube video someone had made from inside a gas station when the tornado hit. I shivered and wept. A long string of nightmares began in which howling columns of wind bore down upon me while I tried to take shelter in skyscrapers.
On Facebook, the lucky, plucky ones who felt the earthquake tried to comfort those who napped right through with the possibility of aftershocks. I am of two minds about this – one mind out on the sunny streets, and one mind in a dark bedroom on the third floor of the house where I am staying all by myself except for one poodle. It’s like watching a heinously scary movie: sounds like fun during the day, but is a terrible idea when you need a drink of water at 2:30 am and all the lights are off.
I am craven enough to say that I’m glad I live in Philadelphia, a city not built on a tectonic fault-line, where two feet of snow is the apocalypse and people shrug at tornado watches.
“Earthquakes strike suddenly, without warning, and they can occur at any time of the year, day or night. Forty-five states and territories in the U.S. are at moderate to very high risk of earthquakes, and they are located in every region of the country,” the Red Cross told me yesterday in a breathless e-mail. I’m going to hazard a guess that, at worst, Pennsylvania is at the “moderate” end of things. I’ll continue to make donations for earthquake relief in Asia or Haiti, and thank the fates that I live here.
So for now, I guess I can make my peace with missing the Great Earthquake of 2011.