I've been working up in San Jose this week. Last night around 8 PM, we had a little drama and excitement, courtesy of a 5.6 earthquake centered in east San Jose. Up on the sixteenth floor of an office building, the quake felt big -- the most motion I've ever felt in an earthquake, even though I was reasonably close to the epicenter of the much larger Landers quake (a 7.3) back in 1992. (That summer I was staying in a circa-1917 homestead cabin; that quake woke me up just before 5 AM, where I spent the next twenty seconds or so frozen in bed, praying the whole ramshackle mess wouldn't fall in on top of me.) Our office building, I guess, did what it was supposed to do, rolling heavily back and forth with the motion of the quake. The metal venetian blinds at each window were swaying into the room and then forcefully KLACKing back against the glass; small objects on tabletops were moving around.
The guy in the office across from me wasn't waiting around; as I got up to my feet, he ran over to the doorway, yelled "It's an EARTHQUAKE!!!", and sprinted off down the hall towards the stairs. I think that he was so fired up that he ran all the way down the stairs to the ground floor; I didn't see him again for a good twenty minutes or so. Everyone else who was left in the office was wandering the hallways, doing a routine from L.A. Story: "So how big do you think that one was?" "I give it a five!" "No, didn't you feel that? It had to be at least a 6.0!"
I walked down the hall to a balcony, expecting to look out over a tableau of death and destruction; after an earthquake that big, something had to have happened -- maybe some gas fires here and there, big black patches where the power had gone out -- only to see that everything was completely normal. It was then that I figured out that maybe my swaying high-up vantage point had more than a little to do with my perception of how bad things were.
Later that night, I walked back to my hotel to watch the earthquake-related breaking news: "And now we have a viewer-submitted picture from San Jose's Alum Rock neighborhood, where you can see that a stuffed deer head has fallen on the floor -- in Alum Rock, a stuffed deer head, on the floor. Next, here are some pictures from a business called Valley Hair Salon -- I don't know where that is, but you can see these pictures where hair products have just fallen from the shelves ..." Maybe the most dramatic quake-related after-effect was that my cell phone stopped working for the rest of the night. At first, dialing anything would get you a "fast busy"; later, trying to place a call resulted in a recorded message that "all circuits are busy ... please try your call again later". (A message that I last heard years and years ago, when trying to use a pay phone in rural New Mexico -- someplace where you'd expect to get a message like that.) Even today, cell phone service was pretty spotty. Good thing that this wasn't a real emergency, except for that one guy and his deer head.
[Maybe our office complex sustained some real damage: today the 'skybridge' that connects two of our buildings at the 14th & 15th floors was closed off. It looks like some of the corridor's metal trim got tweaked out of alignment from flexing around the expansion joint where the two halves of the bridge meet. They're calling out the professionals to look at it, just in case.]