Thursday, May 7, 2015

I Felt The Earth Move

I know where I was. Just like the day JFK was shot, and just like 9/11, we're all going to remember exactly where we were and what we were doing last Wednesday. That was the day we all thought a truck had run into the building, right?

I've sorta kinda always wanted to experience an earthquake, just to know what it was like. Not one of the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964 kind of earthquakes, and nothing like what the poor people of Nepal just experienced, but one where maybe you needed to shopping for new wine glasses the next day. I'm sure it's just because I grew up never really knowing what it felt like for the earth to suddenly start shaking. Oregon. Ho hum. So boring and predictable.

Then I moved to Alaska, in 1989. The island I lived on was made up primarily of muskeg, a spongy, peat moss bog. I think I've mentioned this before in this column, but muskeg is like a meadow of semi-swampy land. Where bedrock makes it impossible for the 140 inches of rain that falls over the course of a year to drain, creating a swampy mess of decomposing trees and vegetation. The reason I'm telling you this is that most of the buildings on the island are built atop wooden pilings pounded down into the muskeg until they hit hard pan. Behold, below, a great example of homes in Petersburg built atop pilings. In some places, like the airport runway, the pilings don't hit solid ground for 75 feet.

The radio station I worked at was one of those buildings bolted on top of pilings. I remember for about a year after moving to the island, I'd be sitting at my desk, toiling away, and I would feel the building suddenly start to slowly sway. More than once I bolted from the room, yelling, "Is that an earthquake?!" to anyone that might be within hearing distance.

"No, it's just Janet," someone told me, more than once. Janet walked with purpose. And when Janet was walking with purpose, the building sometimes swayed a bit back and forth. Just like I imagined it would be if an earthquake hit somewhere nearby, but not too close. In fact, every single time I yelled out, "Earthquake!" I ended up getting a dirty look from Janet.

Then there was the time, eventually, when the building started to sway, and somebody else said, "Is that an earthquake?" And I said, "No, it's just Janet." And then somebody else said, "Janet's not here."

So there you have it, my first earthquake experience. A gentle swaying back and forth, the slightest uneasy stomach, both blamed on our bookkeeper, but in reality it was tectonic plates grinding against one another far below the surface of the earth.

More than 20 years would go by before I would experience my next real earthquake, and it couldn't have been more different. For one thing, I heard it.

There I was, sitting at my desk. It was right around 11:30am last Wednesday. You remember? I bet you do. I was sitting at my desk in my office, in the Cascade Theatre building on Market Street.

WHAM! I heard it. And felt it. It was like a giant hand had whacked the theatre, and hard. I was sure, absolutely positive, that a car - no, a truck - had slammed into the side of the building on the northwest side. I was sure it came from the northwest. I jumped up and ran out the front door and into the U.S. Bank parking lot to see if anyone was hurt.
Admit it, this is what you were imagining when you felt the jolt of the earthquake, right?
It's what I expected to see.
Nothing. I saw nothing out of the ordinary. I did a perimeter check, mentally scratching my head, and walked back to my office. That was when Kasey Stewart walked out of his real estate office across the street from my office, and said, "Did you feel that? What do you think that was?"

Neither of us thought it was an earthquake. That was a concussion. Maybe an explosion in the sewer under the street. But not an earthquake. It was a WHACK, not a gentle or even not-so-gentle swaying. I ran over to the Cascade, as the box office supervisor was walking out the front door, asking me if I'd heard and felt whatever that was. I'd already convinced myself it had come from the basement, so we went spelunking in the catacombs beneath the Cascade, and came up with nothing out of the ordinary.

It was ten minutes before the earthquake app on Kasey Stewart's phone finally showed that it was really and truly an earthquake that we'd heard and felt, and that it had indeed come from the northwest, just a half mile away from Keswick Dam, 14 miles underground, registering 3.3 on the Richter scale. Kind of minor in the big scheme of things, but a pretty big deal to me. Even if once again I'd felt an earthquake, and thought it was something else entirely.

I'm not the only one. All over the inter webs people were saying that they'd experienced just exactly what I felt. More like an underground explosion or something slamming into the building. My friend Chellie said the same thing I said, "Felt like someone hit the side of the house with a truck. It was one big jolt." In fact a vehicle hitting a building theory was the one I saw most often online. My daughter, on the 2nd floor at U-Prep High School, said there were 2 big jolts, and "everyone was freaking out!" Alan, who lives right at the epicenter, said his cats were "freaking the heck out." Another friend was sitting on the toilet, and didn't sound very happy about it at all. Another friend out in Millville didn't feel a thing, although people reported feeling the quake up in Mount Shasta and down in Red Bluff. Someone used the experience to come up with the greatest meme of all time as far as I'm concerned.
Best. Meme. Ever.
Nobody was hurt, as far as I know. And no property was damaged, as far as I know. The dams, both of them, are still damming, so I'm told. But it was a moment in time I'll never forget, as long as I live. It wasn't what I expected. I didn't think I'd actually hear the earth CRAAAACK!!! beneath my feet. But that's what it was. Not so much an earthquake as an earthslap. Or an earthwham. It was just a little bit exhilarating, a little bit scary, a little bit wild and uncontrolled.

So…just for the record, Mother Nature, if you're paying attention, I'm good. Thanks for showing off just enough to get our attention, and not so much as to make us crap our pants. Appreciate that.
In your honor, here's an earthshaking playlist of songs about the earth moving, quaking, shaking, rattling and rolling. Please share your own stories about earthquake experiences in the comments section below!

P.S. You may notice something a little different with this week's playlist. Grooveshark has disappeared, shut down after a copyright infringement lawsuit. I feel bad that you won't be able to access any of the cool streaming playlists I've created in the past, but ever so grateful that Spotify is here to save the day. Just click on the playlist link above (or click here) to go to Spotify, log in with your Facebook account, and enjoy!

  1. I Feel The Earth Move - Carole King
  2. Intro - Cali Quake - Raphi
  3. Shake - Mercy Me
  4. Rumble & Sway - Jamie N. Commons
  5. Shake, Rattle & Roll - Bill Haley
  6. Shake It Up - The Cars
  7. Shake It - Michael Franti
  8. Quake, Mountain, Quake - The Do
  9. California Earthquake - Mama Cass
  10. Shake Break Bounce - The Chemical Brothers
  11. Sway - Shaft
  12. Shake Shake Shake Your Booty - KC & The Sunshine Band
  13. Quake - Stereotronique
  14. Boom! Shake The Room - DJ Jazzy Jeff
  15. Shaking - Sugarcult
  16. Shake Baby Shake - Seeed
  17. Quake - Marco V
  18. Club Quake - 5 Below 0
  19. Shake It Up - Selena Gomez
  20. House Quake - Magik Johnson
  21. Quake - Herian & Allesten
  22. Earthquake - Passafire
  23. Earthquake Weather - Matt Nathanson
  24. Earthquake - Willie Taylor

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