Wednesday, hump day, may be the dullest of days, a mid-week sleepwalk during which your daily routine seems eternal. Then you feel the rumble of something bigger than you, your office and your very, very important 2 p.m. meeting.
When this Wednesday’s quake struck, many of us were firmly in the grip of the everyday. Many assumed the vibration was a big truck passing by. What else could it be? Nothing ever happens on Wednesday.
At city hall, council had returned from lunch and was about to launch into yet another quotidian debate, this one on taxi rates, when futuristic, windowless Andrew S. Haydon Hall started shaking like the deck of the Enterprise.
“Now that’s an earthquake!” Coun. Alex Cullen, chairing the meeting, marvelled into the microphone. As the thundering continued, the mayoral candidate added an astonished, less-than-statesmanlike epithet with which it was hard not to wholeheartedly concur as we evacuated.
The office buildings were deserted, their inmates crowding the streets and parks, but the Starbucks at Slater and Metcalfe was still doing a brisk business. Priorities. It looked like the entire city was outside, gossiping on sidewalks on a summer afternoon. Many took it as a sign to take the rest of the afternoon off.
It reminded me a bit of the blackout of 2003, when news passed by word of mouth between strangers, volunteers directed traffic in the absence of lights and worries about looting and anarchy in the dark proved chimerical.
Sirens sounded regularly Wednesday as emergency vehicles hurried absurdly here and there, but where exactly do you respond to a quake that’s felt as far away as Chicago? Slow down, buddy, wherever you are, you’re already there.
Our 911 service was also briefly overloaded and cellphone networks collapsed under the load of “did you feel that?” calls. Neither of these bodes well for us in the case of an actual emergency.
Thankfully, damage and injuries were minimal. Our moderate, Canadian 5.0 quake (“Even their earthquakes are bland,” cracked Canuck-baiting comic Stephen Colbert) wasn’t even a shadow of awful recent upheavals in China, Iran and Haiti, where everything changed in an instant and for many will never be the same.
It’s hardly surprising such awesome events inspire magical thinking, like that of Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, who this spring declared that God is a big prude and so immodestly clad women cause earthquakes.
If our little quake wrought any magic, perhaps it was to shake us awake and give us a moment to look at Ottawa, and the lives we live here, with opened eyes.
– Steve Collins lives, writes and walks in Ottawa; email@example.com.
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