A Nonagenarian Experiences and Reports on an Earthquake


September 25, 2011


I have never experienced an earthquake. Hurricane, yes; tornado, yes; violent storm at sea, yes; but earthquake, no. For that reason I was pleased to hear from my brother, a retired federal patent examiner who will be 90 this week. Vern lives in Alexandria, Virginia where the 5.8 Richter Scale earthquake struck shortly after 1:51 p.m. on August 23. I'll share with you our telephone conversation.


Vern: Gerald?


Me (shouting, because my brother has for years been hard of hearing): Hi, Vern. Good to hear from you.


Vern: Do you still write that newspaper nature column?


Me: Yes.


Vern: Well, you might want to report on my experience this afternoon with the earthquake.


Me: Great, Vern. Go ahead. I'll take notes.


Vern: I was playing bridge at the Senior Center. Our second floor room was crowded with seven tables of players. My partner and I had been doing well against two women. We had set them, won a game and he had bid and made two clubs so we had 40 points on toward another game.


Me: What about the earthquake?


Vern: I'm getting to that. I'm giving you the setting and anyway Doris will be interested. (My wife Doris is a former bridge master.). So we just needed 60 points to make a rubber and I had been dealt a good hand. I had five clubs to the ace queen, a singleton ace of diamonds, ace queen small of spades and my only weak suit was hearts, four cards with ten or jack high. I was sure that we would be able to make three clubs to finish out the rubber.


We were about to start the bidding when the floor began to shudder. It was like when a huge truck drives by, except that this time it felt as though the truck was driving right through the building downstairs.


Then the floor started to rise and fall several inches. It was just like the way you feel riding in a canoe when a motorboat speeds by, that kind of up and down. In this case, however, I was amazed that the building structure held together.


The whole episode lasted less than a minute. When it stopped, I lay my cards down, got up and walked over to a window. There was no special activity outside, just a sunny summer day. I turned to the group and said in a loud voice, "I think we should all go outside."


With that everyone rose and headed for the stairs. There wasn't any pushing or shoving, but the stairway was crowded, so I dropped back into the bridge room and helped myself to some of the home-made cookies that people had kindly provided. There were chocolate-chip ones and another good kind with sprinkles on them. I took several and even put two in my pocket to eat later. And I helped myself to one of those little paper cups of punch.


By then the stairway was clear and I walked down to the covered porch of the building. There I started talking to a beautiful Indian woman, at least I think she was Indian: her husband certainly was and she was wearing one of those sarongs. In the back of my mind I thought that standing under this canopy might be dangerous. I was thinking of that terrible accident when the stand collapsed at the music event. But it was pleasant talking with this handsome woman and her husband so I didn't worry very long.


We were, of course, very fortunate because, even though the earthquake center was only about fifty miles away, there was little damage done and, as far as I know, not even any injuries. The worst I heard of was to one of the Washington Cathedral spires.


Oh, yes, one other thing. I thought afterwards that perhaps instead of telling people that we should evacuate the building, I should have suggested that we get down under the bridge tables. They seem well built and that way I could have played that good hand.


Me (now, but still shouting): Thanks, Vern. And happy birthday to the best brother in the entire world.


Final note: After this exchange I knew better than to ask my brother about Hurricane Irene.-- Gerry Rising