September 1st, 2011

Weatherman Spike

East Coast Earthquake Makes Washington Wobble


            We jest about what some consider an overreaction to the earthquake that hit America’s east coast August 22, but I think we should take it very seriously. After all, disaster planners will tell you this kind of catastrophe can happen in the unlikeliest of places, and we need to make a plan.

            For instance, what would happen if an earthquake hit Washington, D.C., and the whole city simply slid into the ocean? How would we deal with this news? Do we have a plan? Who’s bringing the pizza? Will it be a wet bar, or BYOB? Will there be dancing, or will we all gather around the TV to cheer?

            Most important, what the heck am I going to do with this column if Hurricane Irene comes along and really does level Washington? (It hasn’t come ashore yet as I write – darn deadlines.) It would be tasteless, especially since one would assume the politicians would be out of harm’s way, and the only people hurt would be the regular guys and gals who keep the city running.

            Still, one can’t help but fantasize about the idea of a crack opening right under the Capital building. We’d be left with something similar to what jack Nicholson said in Mars Attacks: “I want the people to know that they still have two out of three branches of the government working for them, and that ain’t bad”.

            If only any of the branches were working for us.

            Many people jokingly assumed the earthquake, in an area that doesn’t have a lot of them, was some kind of divine warning … well, not all jokingly. If that’s so, then what’s going on out west? Wouldn’t that mean some higher power is very unpleased with Hollywood? Well, okay, there’s an argument in favor of that idea.

            You have to wonder, though: If it was an expression of anger toward Washington, why wasn’t the quake in Washington? It was actually centered in Virginia, 84 miles from the Capitol. On the other hand, maybe it was famous Virginian patriots rolling over in their graves: Washington, Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Sam Houston, Robert E. Lee, Pearl Bailey …

            Oh, I know, but Lee was a patriot too. That was at a time when people gave allegiance more toward their state than the feds, and maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing except for the whole secession issue … and, um, slavery.

            No, I think it’s more likely that the fault line below Virginia gave way because that’s where the federal government keeps all its money printing presses. The Earth can only hold so much weight.

            Or maybe it was the sudden release in weight when all those Congressmen took off on their August break. You know how Obama was criticized for going on vacation during our financial crisis? What else was he supposed to do, walk around the empty Capital and yell “Echo”? They all jumped ship. Can’t blame them, at the moment, and at least they’re not doing much harm for now.

            On the other hand, the National Cathedral received a lot of damage, and the Washington Monument actually cracked, so maybe somebody up there is mad. I can’t imagine more iconic representations of our government, with the possible exception of the extra bacon waffle special at IHOP.

            We can laugh – what else can we do? – but there really was a fair amount of damage along the entire east coast. The trembling was even felt here in northeast Indiana, but sounded so much like road construction that we just sighed and started planning out different routes. Many people on the west coast made fun of the panicked reaction across the continent, but they aren’t taking into consideration two things:
  1. This is an unusual event for Easterners.
  2. East coast residents were already looking down the barrel of a freaking hurricane. You don’t get a lot of those in California.
            That can make a person more jittery than supersizing their Starbucks.

Those aren’t the only differences between east and west coast earthquakes. In the east, quakes tend to be shallower, like (ironically) a Hollywood starlet, or my savings portfolio.

Also, California is cracked. No, seriously – the rock under the state is riddled with faults, while that under the east coast tends to be solid and unyielding, like Joe Biden’s head. The solidness allows the earthquake’s waves to spread out further, which is why the 1811-1812 New Madrid, Missouri earthquakes rang church bells in Boston.

The final, big difference is that California prepares for earthquakes, because they get a lot of them. It’s the same reason why I always keep bandages in the house. Virginia hasn’t had a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in 67 years, while California gets the same shaking more often than Charlie Sheen goes into rehab – and with the same chance of a repeat performance.

There’s very little earthquake preparation done out east when it comes to buildings, bridges, utility lines, anything. The same tremor that LA wouldn’t notice would hit New York with collapsed walls, broken water and gas lines, buckles streets, and the total flattening of Donald Trump’s hair.

The only thing that would surprise Washington more than an earthquake would be a balanced budget.

I suppose the worst case scenario would be if an earthquake struck during a hurricane … never mind. Let’s not give Mother Nature any ideas, especially since hurricane season is just beginning.

But if Washington must be destroyed – could it wait until Congress is back in session?