Although the Big One didn’t hit that day, I doubt I will forget the seconds following 10:54 a.m. on that not-so-tranquil Wednesday. I had just picked up the February issue of Audubon magazine at the University Bookstore when the shaking began. It started slowly and gently, as if a large truck was passing on University Way. As the seconds seemed to stretch longer and longer, however, the shaking became a rumbling and concrete walls, bookshelves, and windows swayed and rattled.
Despite the years of training I had as a child in Seattle, where we were all taught to crawl under our desks during an earthquake, I didn’t get under a doorway or heavy desk. Instead, I stood still, mesmerized by the undulating, out-of-focus structure. I don’t know why I didn’t move, but I had no fear that anything would collapse. Maybe I was just being naïve. I had been through a few small tremors and this was certainly the biggest one I had felt, but it just seemed that all would be okay.
An employee at the cash register closest to me broke my reverie when she yelled and ran and leapt into a co-worker’s arms. As the shaking continued, I noticed that other people were quickly moving toward the doors. I followed, but at a slow pace, more caught up in the realization that I was watching one of the greatest ideas in science, the theory of plate tectonics, come to life, than I was by getting out of what appeared to be a pretty safe building.
When I finally made it outside, I discovered that standing still was not an option; either my legs were wobbling or the ground continued to shake.