Tuesday, August 23, 2011

DC - Earthquake

I was in the best seat one could have; the kind where it’s good to be when fear and chaos strike all at once.

What at first I thought was an odd rush of dizziness soon turned to thinking the crews remodeling the adjacent offices were rather loud... then I started wondering what the construction crews across the street had done... those thoughts flashed through my head in under a second.  But another second later the walls of the bathroom stall began to dance.  As the metal panels swayed back and forth it occurred to me that this was beyond the reach of anything the construction crews could’ve done.

This is DC.  With every passing electrical impulse coursing through my brain, my mind alternated between “earthquake” and “bomb”; and the screams coming from outside the bathroom were not soothing in the slightest.

So I hurried up with my dealings at that moment and emerged back into our building’s atrium to see most of the office building's tenants evacuating themselves.  (edit: that is, an exodus out of the building... a friend pointed out that "evacuating themselves" is poor phrasing considering my initial setting)

Returning back to my office, however, I found a room full of engineers, not one making even the slightest motion toward the doors.  Opting to stay in place, they instead put on hardhats.  This is why I love being an engineer.

Whoa, pretty good-sized #earthquake just hit in #Fairfaxless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Beating even the fastest news outlet: Twitter was awash with activity as soon as my fingers touched the keyboard, and soon enough the suspicions were unanimous: an earthquake had struck DC.  I was glad to see countless people tweeting from downtown DC, helping to ensure it wasn’t a bomb.  However, I was amused that my brain's first concern, if it was a bomb, was hoping my computer was alright… the masses & denizens of DC were second to pop into my head.

I was surprised to see feedback from friends in New York City and Boston sharing that they’d also felt the earthquake.  Within the next minute I’d come to find that friends in Canada and Wisconsin had even felt it, but it was missed down in Georgia and by anyone who happened to be driving at the moment.  Good reason not to drive; you miss out on the fun!  In fact, people in those further reaches read about the earthquake before it even struck.  So yeah: xkcd gets it right again!

Many of us returned to working until one of our engineers – one with a stronger structural background – pointed out something that we all should’ve known.  Our offices are located above a cantilevered section of the building… that is: exactly the kind of overhanging building bit that is most likely to fall down in an earthquake.  Within five minutes I’d come to learn that we were hit by a 5.9 earthquake with an epicenter just to the southwest & only within the top kilometer from the surface, and already aftershocks were giving that dizzying sensation that I’d felt in that first split-second.

(edit: USGS later revised back down to a 5.8, depth about 6 km)

Much of our staff had already departed by the time I wrapped up what I was doing, only ten minutes or so later.  To my amusement the guy sitting next to me was on a conference call with staff in our Baltimore office… an office who’d likewise felt the earthquake seemingly just as much as us.  Clearly those guys are quite dedicated.

The walk to the Metro station proceeded normally, albeit passing by evacuees from our office building as well as the apartments next door.  I looked over at the construction site and was glad to see it seemed OK – including the delicate 3 stories of timbers and massive 10 story-ish free-standing concrete elevator shaft.  I’d have been quite curious to have been watching that job site when the earthquake struck.

I arrived at the Metro station already armed with the knowledge that trains were running at 15 MPH.  I became aware that there wasn’t a single train headed back into the city on the boards… so I certainly had a decent wait ahead of me.  Entering the Dunn Loring / Merrifield Metro Station, passing through the pedestrian bridge over I-66, I passed by some fallen ceiling tiles that the station manager had already coned off.  The rest of the station appeared intact.

So the wait began.  And it continued.  It went on for 30 minutes, which on a weekend wouldn’t seem too out-of-place; but 3pm was the earliest stretches of the evening peak period… normally I’d wait 1-2 minutes; perhaps 5 minutes max.  Good thing it was a delightful day for a disaster, with the weather beautifully sunny and just a touch on the warmish side.  I-66, the interstate running along both sides of the station’s platforms, was rolling quite smoothly by this point; but it’d start to congest by the time my train crawled by East Falls Church.

Considering it was still pretty early, I was far out on the system, and headed in on a reverse commute – the platforms and train were certainly busier than they would normally be... but not jam-packed.  It was only at Foggy Bottom and Farragut West where my train car turned into a cattlecar.  It was really a rather pleasant ride, though the train car was a touch on the warm side… it made me all the more glad that the temperatures weren’t what they were like over the past several weeks.

At some point we'd picked up a police officer who passed through our car, walking between the cars while we were crawling along… I’m unsure of his precise role, other than perhaps to make sure people weren’t freaking out.  They weren’t.  While two cute Russian girls behind me – who’d boarded at Vienna – were clearly exasperated from the length of their trip; by and large most people were in normal or good spirits.

Many people read books and fiddled with their phones (as usual), though some were also exchanging stories & remaining cheerful through the whole ordeal.  Not one person ever derided the transit service: everyone was well aware that these were rather unique circumstances; I think we were all really just glad to have a way home at all – regardless of how slow it might be.  The train ride took a total 65 minutes, compared to the usual 20 on any other day.

Reading Twitter as the ride carried on was entertaining… most were light-hearted about the whole ordeal, but a few were still panicked and terrified.  Count me among the former, though some childhood memories came flooding back as soon as the train entered the subway tunnels – immediately reminding me of the Earthquake ride at Universal Studios that I’d both feared and loved as a kid.  Rumors were aflutter, with someone starting that the Washington Monument was leaning (it wasn’t) or that there was some significant damage to the spires at the National Cathedral (true).  I opted to send out a horrible tweet:

Lincoln Memorial is leaning ... leaning back in his comfy chair! HA ha ha ha!  ...sorry.  #earthquake #dcquakeless than a minute ago via Twitter for Android Favorite Retweet Reply

The only stations that were jam-packed were downtown, with the newcomers at Foggy Bottom & Farragut West immediately engaging others in conversation... and I managed to pretty easily slip through the door crowds when it soon came time for me to disembark at McPherson.  I chatted with the McPherson station manager briefly – she also seemed rather excited by the events' break in the daily monotony: she appeared to be doing patrols between the station manager's hut & the railing overlooking the platform, I assume partly to ensure that everything was still orderly down there (it was).  To think that only three hours prior I'd been in a course on pedestrian crowding, replete with multiple examples of disaster congestion.  It seemed fitting.

So began my usual walk back to Logan Circle, routing myself along K Street to witness the traffic chaos.  The streets were alive with the sound of sirens... and some horns for good measure.  Pretty much every road was backed up in all directions, largely with folk heading home early but also not helped in the slightest by numerous signals being out.  It was a good time to be a pedestrian.

Passing by some apartments at the corner of 10th and N Street NW I came upon a police unit in the process of taping off an alleyway… I soon spotted the load of debris scattered about, freshly fallen from the highest heights of the apartment’s structure.  This building is home to a number of low-income families -- I immediately shared news with my councilmember to make him aware, as these families face a very real possibility that they may not be allowed to return tonight.  It helped put into perspective that the “fun” of the day is only that way for those who don’t lose anything… but there are certainly some who may face some difficulties as the evening nears.  It also made me glad not to be a parent who had to worry about where my kids are and how they’re doing!

I returned to find that nothing had budged in my apartment.  Nothing; even the slightest bit.  I have some items sitting on slippy surfaces which were encircled by the dust as when I left, and the objects precariously hanging upon the walls -- which fall often enough even when the ground is stationary -- were still comfortably in place.  It was a nice contrast to the apartment building at 10th and N St or to my other friends whose breakable & expensive objects did not fare as kindly.

Sure, this pales in comparison to what California faces pretty much every day... and while eyeing up the fallen ceiling tiles at Dunn Loring / Merrifield I was chatting with a Japanese woman who was also no stranger to earthquakes.  But keep in mind: it's not just that the East Coast is full of softened hipsters (the West Coast has those, too); our buildings and infrastructure simply are not designed for earthquakes of this magnitude.  So what would be a ho-hum day along the San Andreas turns out to be a pretty big thing for folk in DC.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

SlutWalk DC 2011

The journey to the event began well before the march took its first step.  I had a maddening effort that morning at getting my cameras back.  The cameras had been in for repair, which particularly bothered me in that one of those cameras was only 2 months old & was already damaged; and even then: Canon wouldn't honor their warranty.

And also: for several days I'd been trying to work with FedEx to receive the cameras back... and to put a long story short: they'd been behaving very much like UPS usually does.  It was a pain trying to either get the packages delivered while I was home or to get them delivered to the local FedEx branch.  I ended up physically chasing down their delivery truck -- on the phone with the driver -- as it made its runs along Mass Ave.

To think that only a month ago I'd had such a high opinion of both Canon and FedEx.

I arrived out of breath after chasing down the FedEx truck and then dashing almost nonstop to Lafayette Square.  Finding the group had already moved on, I began a jog south across the Mall -- losing a couple pounds of sweat in the process.  The day was comparatively cool, but the humidity was of no assistance.  Intermittent rain did help, but drenched some wonderful signs, makeup, and only made it feel a bit more brutal when the atmospheric spigot turned off again.

This was a bit of a tricky event to photograph, as having grown up among the rather puritanical Amish of Pennsylvania: my mind was jousting with itself between the thoughts of "I shouldn't hesitate to photograph these ladies because they're here to show their pride & I can help to showcase it" versus "I should not photograph these ladies especially at an event like this; I don't want to look like a creeper and I don't want my photos to end up being salivating fodder for every horny man on the internet".

This subsequently resulted in me being rather timid the whole time... particularly in that I actually asked many of the women for permission.  Usually I prefer more candid shots as it gives a more authentic look, but I felt a bit too off-kilter to do as much of that this time around; hence the asking for permission.

I also only took a few photos of those wearing the least, as I just felt too uncomfortable standing there with a camera focused on their body when I'm at an event all about deobjectifying the female form.  Though at one point I did laugh with a participant when I asked if I could take a photo of her chest... one of the few times I could do that without getting slapped.

(to be fair: there were also plenty of men in attendance & participating; but I didn't feel nearly as reserved photographing them... in general, men simply don't carry as many sexual connotations)

There were some powerful stories shared on the stage spanning quite the gambit of scenarios.  While I didn't agree 100% with everything (then again: I *never* agree 100% with *anything*), it was nonetheless a great event and it was nice to see the comradery between stage & audience.  The early rain may have drenched makeup and soaked the ink on signs, but it certainly didn't dampen their spirit.