Thursday, April 24, 2008

Didn’t see THAT coming!

So, I went to Yahoo to search for verifiable info about the earthquake I experienced at 4:37 a.m. last Friday morning. (Stay tuned for details about my ridiculous location at the time of the shakeup.) Yahoo led me here, to a site which appears to be that of an Official Government Agency. (For those of you unwilling to blindly click anywhere near a government agency, it’s .) However, since many Official Government Agencies seem to function far better in “appearances” than “realities,” my radar was up.

But info I found! I discovered numerous links to last Friday’s southern Illinois event, including Details, Summaries, Maps, and Scientific and Technical data. The site even offers colorful swirly maps, which, oddly enough, I was talking about in my last blog post. It touts zip-codey maps, Seismogram Displays and a section called—and, like Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up--“Earthquakes for Kids.” (Is it just me, or does that sound alarming? Might not “Earthquake Information for Kids” seem less ominous?)

The endless pages even tout “Animations” which, once activated, remind me of the old Pac-Man game. (Scary implications, ey?) You can find links to just about any piece of information you might want (or not), regarding not only last week’s southern Illinois earthquake, but just about every earthquake happening NOW or throughout time, including listings of individual earthquakes that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Quite the "Top Ten." Make sure you run your mouse over every graphic, since most of them allow you to go even deeper (again, creepy) into the stats at any point on the graphic.

Wanna really freak yourself out? [WARNING: If you DO the following, the page takes so long to load, you'll think your computer seized up!] Go to this global page of “recent earthquakes within the last 8 to 30 days,” then spend time wondering how any of us have a filling left in our heads! Surely we should be jolted to pieces by now. And if you still haven’t had enough, head straight to “Today’s Earthquake Fact.” (Did you know there is “no such thing as ‘earthquake weather’?” Take THAT!)

If you live in, or often travel to, the west coast of California, you won’t want to watch the Animations maps for very long. If you reside in Minnesota and follow the links to the history of, say, Iowa earthquakes, you’ll learn that “Iowa has experienced only minor earthquake activity since the United States obtained control of the State under the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. It was not until 1857, 11 years after Statehood, that the present boundaries were drawn up. As a territory, Iowa had included Minnesota and parts of North and South Dakota.” Imagine, Minnesotans! Your state bird could have been the Eastern Goldfinch rather than the Common Loon, which is maybe why they let you go.

But I digress, and I can hear your burning question: So, Charlene, exactly where were you during the earthquake?

SHORT ANSWER: Business trip. Bowling Green KY. Holiday Inn. Fifth Floor. Room 523. On the toilet.

It is unclear to me if the earthquake awakened me and then I had to pee, or if I had to pee, so I woke up, stumbled to the bathroom, plopped down and then the earthquake hit. (Oh, MY! I hope the impact of my ample posterior didn’t cause it!) All I know is that I was sitting there basking in the familiar glow emitted by the night light built into the hair dryer (who thinks these things UP?) when I noticed that the toilet seat was vibrating.

As a business traveler who has never encountered an earthquake, my first response was not that of EARTHQUAKE! My initial thought was that perhaps the guests in the room next to mine had a Jacuzzi tub and an early morning breakfast meeting. Then I noticed that the entire bathroom felt like it was vibrating, or shaking, or . . . . I wondered if my room might be either above or below the laundry room. Perhaps someone had turned on all the industrial dryers. (I know this is reaching for explanations, but . . . ) As the shaking reached a crescendo, I thought, “Hm. I wonder if this is what an earthquake feels like?”

And then it stopped. I flushed and went back to bed, convinced I’d dreamed the whole experience. No more BBQ before bedtime, Charlene!

The next day, after I learned about the honest-to-gosh quake, a few simultaneous emotions and thoughts intersected. 1) HOW EXCITING! 2) What a great Traveling Laugh blog post! 3) A journalist’s regret: Why hadn’t I stood up and checked the water in the toilet. Just to see. I mean, when a quake shakes a building, does it cause waves? Ripples? Would they have appeared the same on the second floor as the fifth? 4) If I’d been brushing my teeth, would it have felt like an electric tooth brush? 5) GRATEFULNESS! I lived through an earthquake!

That last thought slam-dunked me into the profound. Every time I return home safely from a long or short business trip is a great time to give thanks. Oh, how easy it is to whine and complain; but compared to the horrific surprise disasters that befall so many around the world, how benign it is to have to sit in an airport for a few hours—or on a quivering toilet for a minute or so. For each safe mile we travel, each new breath of life we can breathe, a dose of perspective and a grateful heart can sure help breed its own reward.

Too bad it took an earthquake to shake some sense into me.

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