Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting in a little local Chinese restaurant having lunch. I was enjoying the last of my hunan shrimp and the company of some coworkers and friends.
This place is one of our favorite work lunchtime getaways. We can always get a seat right away, the food is delicious and reasonably priced, and it is close enough to campus that we can relax and enjoy our break but still get back to work on time.
We had just paid the bill and were finishing off our iced teas when something weird happened. There was a strange, inexplicable sort of noise, like the roof and the walls were being banged around. The floor beneath our feet felt like it was not moving exactly, but humming or vibrating. Our mostly empty plates rattled, and our tea sloshed a little in our glasses.
At our table, we all sat and stared at each other, wide-eyed. None of us were scared, exactly. Befuddled, maybe. Amazed, sure. The first words out of my mouth were “WTF?”
My co-worker’s husband said “I don’t know.” Then he thought for a second, and said “Earthquake!”
If we lived somewhere that quakes were common, perhaps it would have been just another day. It wasn’t intense so much as incredibly unusual. Now, if I’d been like some of my friends who were at home watching their refridgerators bounce or pictures clatter off their walls, I may have felt differently. For us, though, it was more bizarre than scary. We Marylanders just don’t get quakes every day.
I was more awed and amazed than anything, until I tried to call Lee and realized I couldn’t get through to him or my family. The phones were going haywire. Driving back to campus, we saw people coming out of their houses trying frantically to call or text family members.
When we got back to work, we saw all our colleagues standing outside the building. We’d been evacuated so they could make sure there was no structural damage. My phone still wasn’t working, and I was dying to at least get into my office and get online to touch base with my loved ones.
Usually, cell phones drive me nuts. But at that moment, I wanted mine to work so badly. I wasn’t really worried that my loved ones weren’t okay – since the quake hadn’t been overpowering where we were I figured they were fine too. But for us, an earthquake is probably a once-in-a-lifetime deal, and when you are awestruck you kind of want to share the moment with your nearest and dearest.
It was definitely a memorable day. So much so that a few of us pulled together an impromptu “earthquake party” at the pub when we were finally able to connect. We just sat around the picnic tables, had a few drinks and laughed and talked. I think it was more about seeing familiar faces and sharing such a unique day than it was about gettin’ our booze on.
There is one thing that will stick in my mind forever, though – that piece of the earthquake tale that will be my “what I was doing when” story 30 years from now.
Other than the rattles of the quake itself, the restaurant was dead silent during the tremor. We all seemed to freeze in place. People just got wide-eyed and looked at each other as if to say “is this for real?” When it stopped, all sorts of chatter broke out.
But in the corner, there was one old man. He looked to be about 90. He had been sitting alone happily shoveling some sort of spicy-looking lunch into his mouth before the quake. He continue to shovel while the tremors rolled through. And he didn’t even look up from his meal when we all started talking afterwards. He just sat and ate and savored his food as if it were just another day.
Part of me wondered if he was so far into his thoughts that he was missing the moment. Another envied his serene state. On the way back, we joked that when we were 90, maybe our reaction to an earthquake would be “hell, if this thing’s gonna snuff me out I wanna make sure I enjoy this szechuan chicken first.”
The quake is behind us now. Next up, Hurricane Irene. I was planning a trip to the beach with a girlfriend and my mom this weekend to stay with my aunt and have some quality sun-n-fun girl time. Needless to say, that ain’t gonna happen.
I’m trying to handle that with the serenity of the guy I’ve been calling “The Earthquake Eater” in my head. That’s not going so well, but I’m trying.
It has been a wild ride on the East Coast this week.
Stay safe and dry, my friends who are also in the hurricane’s path.