My First Earthquake

I was looking at my watch because the meeting was scheduled for an hour, and the hour was nearly over.

We were in a second-floor conference room in the USA TODAY building in McLean, Va. That side of our glass-enclosed HQ faces the intersection of the Dulles Toll Road and the Capital Beltway, and for the last few years we’ve been front-row-center to the construction of new HOT lanes for the Beltway and the work going on for the new Metro Silver Line.

Loud noises are not uncommon.

At 1:50 p.m. I checked the time. I have a bad habit of frequently and obviously looking at my watch, which implies that I am bored or inpatient. I’m not; I just like to know what time it is. I’ve always been a clock-watcher. I’m always on time. So, I looked, mentally noting that I had a free hour until my next meeting at 3.

A moment later, the floor began to vibrate. There was a sound, rumbling, like the bulldozers and cranes that had been outside for months, but somehow different.

“Is that a crane coming toward the building?”

I stood to push back the shade and look out the window. I never got that far. The room began shaking from side to side, and people in the next room started exclaiming.

Earthquake, I thought. I dove under the conference table and lay on my side while the room pulsed.

Part of me was in disbelief. They always said earthquakes don’t happen here.

And then it was over, and someone said, “Let’s get out of here!” And then we were outside, everyone trying to make a call on a cell phone and no one getting through.