Tuesday, August 23, 2011


The crowded park after the earthquake
Bryant Park, after the quake
I'll admit it: I didn't feel it. I didn't feel anything. When the Eastquake or Virginiaquake or DCquake, the 5.8 earthquake centered near Mineral, Virginia (not far from where we used to live in Charlottesville) hit today, instead of sitting at my usual spot in the New York Public Library and pressing forward with my novel, I was dallying over a cup of coffee and the new New Yorker's unsettling article, by Jeffrey Toobin, on Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, the Tea Party doyenne. I felt not a single seism or aftershock. BUT I realized soon enough that the hordes of people packing Bryant Park weren't just there to get some air, and I decided to ask someone what was going on. One man told me that he'd had to flee his 42nd St. office tower because of the swaying caused by the earthquake. I was incredulous. And then I overheard a number of people talking about it, so I asked a woman what was going on, and she said that her floor in the 42nd St. high rise in which she worked was swaying, and that it was "scary" and made her a little "nauseous." She said she had left voluntarily, but that others had been evacuated.  As I sat back down I overheard another person say it could be felt "all the way out in New Jersey," so I texted C, who was "all the way out in New Jersey" but hadn't heard or felt anything. I then checked Twitter and my HuffingtonPost app, and there it was: the earthquake!

Bryant Park after the earthquake
Bryant Park, after the quake
It did some damage in Washington, DC and the environs (though thankfully not to the nearby nuclear power plant), but served up nothing more than tremors further north and south.  A few tweets later and my coffee finished, I decided to press my way through the throngs and try to get some writing done. One of the guards in the 42nd St. entrance told me that people in the opulent main reading room, on the 3rd floor, had felt the floor shaking, and that the chandeliers also were swaying (!). Outside the study room where I read and write every day, the guard told me that his wife had called from the Bronx to say that the furniture in their apartment had moved. (Really, I thought? Okay.) In the study room, however, the scholars and writers were quietly taking notes, revising manuscripts, undertaking translations, tapping away at their keyboards, as if nothing had happened. On my way home, as I walked down 32nd St. to the PATH and passed under the awning of the La Quinta Manhattan, one of the bellhops was saying to everyone, "Everybody good? We survived the New York Summer Earthquake 2011!" A grin filled his face as people darted past, indifferently.

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