Local Commentary

Editorial: Long Live Rock & Roll

Shake, shake, shake! All of Eastern America is now breathing a sigh of relief. That terrible rumble and bang that shook us from Montreal to Mobile turned out to be nothing more than a fairly feisty earthquake, the biggest one felt in these parts in over a century, in fact.

So Virginia becomes famous for something new beyond all the U.S. presidents born here (and one president of the short-lived Republic of Texas) and being the home to a fabulous weekly newspaper. The epicenter of the quake was little Mineral, Virginia, in the middle of the commonwealth, and so far, at least, none of the aftershocks have come close to the 5.8 magnitude of that big one.

It came Tuesday, Aug. 23, at 1:51 p.m. EDT to be exact. Accounts of our excited citizenry are legion, as much for their variety as volume. There is “earthquake envy,” experienced by some who, for one reason or another, didn’t feel a thing. Then there were those who felt a strong sense that they might die, especially those high up in suddenly shaking tall buildings.

At the News-Press office, on the top floor of the five-story Fink Building (what it was called in the 1950s, developed by Falls Church’s mayor at the time, Howard Fink), startled staffers assumed the initial rumbles and then the powerful jolt, sending the entire structure into a lurch, originated internally to the building. The shared assumption was that something blew up on a lower floor, and scrambling down the stairwell, none knew what to expect. It wasn’t until, standing in the parking lot, some started receiving texts and tweets on their phones that it became clear it had to have been an earthquake.

For others, at their homes, for example, it was obvious from the start that it was a quake, although some doubted that for no other reason than such things just don’t happen in this part of the world.

Our editor reports it was the strongest quake he’d ever felt, despite having lived in San Francisco for 15 years, when he often fretted over the fabled “Big One” that would send California sinking into the Pacific.

The relief, of course, is because it appears we all survived it OK, apart from some broken china or catatonic house pets.

So it is more a matter of fascination than fear by now, despite ongoing efforts of safety officials to caution the public, using the event as a “teaching moment,” to be better prepared for the next one, or next disaster of any kind (such as Hurricane Irene now heading our way).

Earthquakes, because of their suddenness, remind us that this “terra firma” platform on which we play out our lives is temporal and imperfect, itself. It doesn’t just sit here, but is spinning at a very high speed through the ether we call space, itself more like an sparkling asteroidal shooting gallery than a dark quiet room.