Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I know I'm not the only Chicagoan who didn't feel the earth move under my feet

This is starting to feel absurd.

The strongest earthquake to hit the Midwestern U.S. in decades, one that was felt across a multi-state region and which has generated at least 22 aftershocks (including two this morning) – and I have yet to feel a thing.

THE FUNNY PART of this is, I’m not alone. A scan through the Internet will encounter many weblogs with entries written by people who feel the need to acknowledge that an earthquake has occurred – even though they have no first-hand stories to tell.

There also are other anecdotes floating around out there about people whose only reaction to hearing the word “earthquake” is to scrunch their face in bewilderment and say, “huh?”

My favorite appeared in the Post-Gazette newspaper of Pittsburgh, where the baseball writer surveyed the Pirates (who happened to be in Chicago at the time to play a series against the Cubs) to get their reactions.

None of the ballplayers felt a thing, with third base coach Tony Beasley confessing that had he felt anything, “I would have thought I was dreaming.”

TOM GORZELANNY, A pitcher for the Pirates, only learned about an earthquake when his wife in Pittsburgh told him about it. “I didn’t feel it,” he told the newspaper.

Now some might argue that ballplayers are just a little too self-absorbed to be credible non-witnesses. That may be true.

But the simple fact is that I have not noticed anything out of the ordinary about my surroundings during the earthquake or any of the aftershocks.

I was in bed asleep when the initial earthquake (5.2 on the Richter scale) hit, and was driving my car en route to pick up my niece at her day care center when the first aftershock hit Friday morning.

SUPPOSEDLY, THERE HAVE been many aftershocks since then all through the weekend, with the most recent ones occurring Monday at 12:40 a.m. (a 4) and supposedly another that took place sometime around 8:15 a.m.

I didn’t feel it. I only know it occurred because I happened to be watching one of the morning news programs on Chicago television when WFLD-TV’s Tammie Souza (in the middle of a weather forecast) said we had just experienced yet another aftershock.

Of course, she confessed to not having felt anything either.

I hate to bring any of this up because it sounds like I’m trying to trivialize the event – which appears to be centered around the Southern Illinois towns of West Salem and Mount Carmel (both of which are in the southeastern part of the state near the Indiana border – about 240 miles from Chicago).

I’D LIKE TO think it is the distance from the epicenter that makes these quakes such a minor event for us.

But I have read the tales of people who were jostled out of their sleep Friday morning (I’d like to think that if the South Side had truly been hit with a tremendous disaster, I also would have been awoken from my sleep) and others who suffered minor property damage.

There’s a website called “Apartment Therapy” that is filled with tales and anecdotes of people allegedly from Chicago who felt the earth shift.

But I have yet to personally meet anyone who can share a personal story (which is the case with a metropolitan area of more than 8 million people – there are very few events that are truly universal to all the people of the Chicago area).

IN FACT, THE closest I can come to having talked to someone who felt any tremors was a conversation with my mother. She was awake at the time of the initial earthquake and felt nothing.

But when she went to a scheduled early morning medical treatment, the earthquake was the talk of the waiting room, as about half of the would-be patients said they felt something, and a couple claimed it was the tremors that woke them from their sleep.

So how big a deal should we be making of this earthquake?

I’m thinking particularly of the news media coverage that has been trying to portray this as an event of historic proportions.

IT IS, FOR the area. The Midwest usually gets one or two (tops) earthquakes of any significance per century. I’d like to think that this event carries us over into the year 2050 (by which time I would be so old I might have a legitimate reason to be oblivious to shaking pavement).

And I realize there is a sense among Chicago-based news gathering organizations that they are supposed to cover the entire Midwest region. But is this truly a story just for Southern Illinois?

While I realize there has been some property damage, I have yet to hear any reports of fatalities (and if anyone does know of deaths, I would appreciate you pointing them out to me).

By continually hyping every single aftershock that very few people felt, are the local television types (and the Chicago Tribune – whose idea of Chicagoland stretches from Detroit to Kansas City) making themselves look silly?

COULD THIS LITERALLY be the one time that the Chicago Sun-Times’ microscopic view of the world (their idea of Chicagoland at times doesn’t even cover all of Cook County, Ill.) saved them from over-hyping an event?

When other newspapers across the Midwest were hyping up the earthquake story like crazy, the Sun-Times gave us the tale of the grandfather who dived into Lake Michigan to save his infant grandson, whose stroller rolled off Belmont Harbor (both grandfather and grandson remained hospitalized Monday).

The earthquake warranted one square inch of space in the lower corner of Page One, and that was only to tell us that a story could be found inside on Page 5. Tony Rezko getting out of jail on $8.5 million bond and the scrapping of the spindle (that tacky bit of “art” consisting of junk cars on a spike that made its way into background shots of that forgettable film “Wayne’s World) also got better play than the earthquake.

The simple fact is that an earthquake of 5.2 is somewhat minor, compared to the land shifts that take place along the West Coast. California experiences such tremors on a regular basis.

WHEN COMBINED WITH the fact that this event did not result in any deaths, I’m sure all this coverage is making the Midwesterners look like a batch of rubes to the California crowd.

It also adds to the cynicism felt by many Chicagoans toward their local businesses that make their money by gathering news. I lost count of the number of times this weekend I heard people dismiss earthquake coverage as yet another example of an irresponsible media trying to make a story out of nothing.

So to the people of Southern Illinois and southeast Indiana who may have to find alternate housing while their earthquake damaged homes are repaired or rebuilt, I sympathize. Don’t take my concern about over-coverage in Chicago as being a lack of concern.

It’s just that I fear too much coverage here will convince the bulk of Chicagoans that nothing really happened, not here nor anywhere else. The end result would be that the bulk of Illinois’ population would come to wrongly downplay what has occurred in the land of Little Egypt.


EDITOR’S NOTES: This young Chicagoan didn’t feel the earthquake (http://chigirlslife.blogspot.com/2008/04/i-didnt-feel-earthquake.html), largely due to imbibing excess quantities of man-made substances.

For those people who want to read stories of Chicagoans who experienced the earthquake, this (http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/chicago/news/midwest-earthquake-did-you-feel-it-at-home-048402) is as good a place as I can recommend.

Illinois government officials are preparing to swarm into Southern Illinois to assess (http://www.southernillinoisan.com/articles/2008/04/18/front_page/24174951.txt) damage, despite claims (http://www.southernillinoisan.com/articles/2008/04/18/front_page/24173780.txt) there was little lasting effect of Friday’s earthquake.

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