Tag Archives: Washington DC

East Coast Earthquake

We interrupt this evening’s regularly scheduled blogging to inform you that the earth shook yesterday afternoon. On the East Coast. Where such things, as a general rule, do not occur.

Doubtless, you’ve already heard about this event, because the news media and the social media spheres were both awash in it. If you live on the east coast, or know someone on the east coast, you might have even experienced the XKCD seismic wave phenomenon:


Because you have already heard so much about the earthquake, I will not bore you with details. I will not tell you how it started with a mysterious rumbling almost like a cat’s purr, nor how the sushi chef at the restaurant where I was lunching barely glanced up from his work to calmly tell the crowd, “it’s an earthquake.” As a fellow patron began to scoff, “we don’t get earthquakes in DC,” the ground started shaking in earnest, splashing out bowls of miso soup and spilling mugs of freshly-poured tea. Then, as a  small, detached part of my mind started looking for the nearest doorway and another part of my brain tried to figure out magnitude, the shaking stopped. It was replaced by the excited jabber of incredulous voices and the instantaneous googling on mobile devices.

But I will not tell you all of these things, of course. You’ve heard similar things from all over the blogosphere by now. You’re probably also aware that the quake did very little damage, as evidenced by snarky images like this one.



I do, however feel the need to blog something about this event for three reasons.

1) It was my first earthquake.

(Okay, technically there was one about six months ago at about 5am, but since I slept through it I don’t think that one counts).

2) It was unexpected.

I remember hoping, as a child visiting relatives in California,  that there would be an earthquake every single time I went to the west coast. My relatives lived a stone’s throw away from the San Andreas Fault, and I was sure that if I spent a week or two in proximity I’d be in an earthquake and therefore be the coolest kid in school when I got home. I never experienced an earthquake in California. How did it come to pass that I’d experience one in DC?

3) I was scheduled to practice aerial that same evening.

To those of you who aren’t aerialists (I’m assuming that’s most of the people reading this blog), the two might seem completely unrelated. What could the earth shaking possibly have to do with hanging from the ceiling…from exposed beams in the ceiling…in an old building…in an area not known for earthquakes and therefore not known  for earthquake-resilient construction…see where this is going? I don’t know much about rigging, but I do know that you want your support structure to be able to take a lot of weight and a lot of g-force.

My friend Echo, of  shenanigans at Smith fame, is an engineer as well as an aerialist. She’s also (rightly) paranoid about safety, and insisted on extra care in inspecting the beams, bracing the ladders, and using floor mats even on the lowest of apparatuses and the simplest of tricks.  According to her, aftershocks are likely within 48 hours of an earthquake, and if you’re hanging upside down from the ceiling when the earth starts shaking, you’re pretty much guaranteed to fall. A mat can make the difference between a mild concussion and a cracked skull. Though there wasn’t an aftershock during practice, and no one fell, I remain much more viscerally aware of bodily fragility and the tenuous nature of even the best structural engineering.

Gulf Oil Spill Revisited

This evening I went to a panel at Busboys and Poets, DC’s trendy, lefty, bar/restaurant/political forum/bookstore. A woman named Antonia Juhasz spoke about her new book Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill. She was joined by panelists from Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity.

It was an interesting talk. The three of them rehashed the details of how much oil had been spilled (that we’re aware of), how many lawsuits are currently being leveled against BP and Transocean (about a thousand), and how contrary to what we’ve all been told, most of the oil is still out there in the Gulf and hasn’t been cleaned. Apparently, the oil companies didn’t bother to do any of the research that they were supposed to have done with regards to how to clean up oil, so they had no techniques but the same ones used to clean up the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in 1989. Which clearly didn’t work all that well.

Being from the Gulf Coast of Florida, the Deepwater Horizon spill touches a nerve for me. Every time I hear about it, and learn more of the details of the gross negligence that contributed to both the occurrence of the disaster and its scale, I see red. I want to single-handedly swim to the bottom of the Gulf and clean up the oil coating the sea floor. I want to single-handedly revive the coastal fishing industry and ensure that all the fish and shrimp are safe to eat. I want to do something.

And this is where events like this fall short. Because they remind me of all my pent-up frustration with the world,and don’t give concrete ways in which I can contribute, other than donating cash that as a grad student I don’t have. There is very little that I personally can do for the Gulf Coast. And that, more than anything, makes me feel frustrated.

Washington DC–loves and loathes

I’m currently back in DC, where I lived for a year following my return to the US from Russia. This week has reminded me of many things about the city, the ones I love and the ones I loathe. Rather than giving a blow-by-blow account of everything I’ve seen and done during my week in the city, I think it makes the most sense to give the rundown of all my favorite and least-favorite aspects of this place that I once called home.

Things I love about DC:

1. Independent Bookstores, restaurants, and coffee shops

I love that in DC I only have to visit chains if I want to. In this week, I have successfully managed to frequent nothing but independently owned and operated businesses. The excellent bookstores of Politics and Prose and Kramerbooks have wide selections of publications you actually want to read (as opposed to giant displays of Twilight-themed paraphernalia), and they both have their own cafes attached. For coffee and tea, there are any number of good options, including my new favorite of Baked and Wired in Georgetown. And the restaurants of DC are many and varied, from hole-in-the-wall establishments serving authentic food from pretty much any country you can think of, to places where cuisine is elevated to a high art. Sadly, I can’t afford to eat at the latter nearly as often as I’d like. But it’s nice to know that they’re there.

2. Neighborhoods with personality

A corollary to the first point. Neighborhoods that foster independent businesses tend to acquire a flavor all their own. I tend to hang out a fair amount in Dupont Circle, with forays into U Street and occasionally Adams Morgan. Georgetown is a bit upscale and consumerist for my general comfort, but the presence of the aforementioned bakery and coffee shop guarantees the occasional visit. It’s nice to be able to get to places with such different flavors easily, and know that I’ll have a different experience in each one.

3. Affordable arts and culture

Arts are expensive to pursue in most places, so one of the things that I love about DC is the fact that the arts are accessible to the wider public. The world-class Smithsonian Museum is free, and every night there are free concerts at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. If you want to dance, my favorite studio Joy of Motion has affordable classes and proclaims that “dance is for everyone.” And at Joe’s Movement Emporium, an aerialist friend and I were able to rent practice space this week without sacrificing our firstborn children to pay for it.



Things I hate about DC:

1. Corporate/Political Culture

Remember what I said about all the distinct neighborhoods? That’s only part of the picture. There are large swathes of DC that are soulless corporate blocks where Starbucks-toting suits rush along in briefcases and uncomfortable shoes. These are the places that I try not to frequent–pretty much any area with a high rise. Usually you’ll find a chain coffee shop on every corner, no real restaurants in sight, and people who look too stressed out to be enjoying all the money that they earn.

2. Rampant Social Inequality

DC is arguably one of the most important cities in the Western hemisphere politically. Some of the most powerful people in the world live and work here, or come visit from miles away and stay in fancy hotels. Yet DC also has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country. Children who grow up in poor neighborhoods like Anacostia may never set foot outside the slums of DC, even though three international airports and multiple embassies are just a stone’s throw away. The high level of social stratification in the city is a microcosm of the social stratification of the US. At least the capitol is reflective of the country as a whole.


3. Traffic and Transportation

If you drive in DC, you will quickly learn that the traffic is insane, the streets are confusing, and the rules of the road are really more guidelines. Add to that that building interference and CIA scramblers will make your GPS lose signal approximately every 2.5 minutes, and driving in DC is clearly not a walk in the park.

Which brings me to the metro.

This one is more of a love/hate relationship. I absolutely love that the DC metro system exists, and I wish that more cities in the US had good public transit systems. That said…the metro doesn’t function well at all. It’s expensive and takes forever, and after the highly publicized crash in 2009 it came to light that the metro system hadn’t been well maintained in years. There are entire websites devoted to the issues with the DC metro. Though I could rant for ages about it, I think the best illustration of the glories of the DC metro are best explained through humor. Behold: the metro song.