We didn't so much experience the earthquake itself as we did its human aftershocks.
When the earthquake hit, we were driving along Pennsylvania Avenue, from Georgetown, where we had just had lunch, toward the White House. We had decided to make a swing through downtown DC before saying goodbye to Dan and dropping him off at his new dorm.
At one point the car lurched forward. I thought little of it because I normally drive a Toyota. Time for another recall, I thought. Then I recalled that I was driving Mara's car, not the Prius. Still, I made little of it, and because we were in motion anyway, we didn't feel any significant movement, though we did hear what sounded like a loud, obnoxious truck.
Then, as we passed G.W. Hospital, we noticed people spilling onto the sidewalk on both sides of the street. By the time we hit the next block, the sidewalks were filled with people. A bomb scare, perhaps - or just the coincidence of thousands of people wanting to enjoy Washington's first humidity-free day in weeks.
Was a Presidential motorcade about to come through? But the President is on Martha's Vineyard. No chance. How about a parade? On a Tuesday afternoon? In Washington, the only thing that people would be celebrating on August 23 is that all the politicians are out of town.
We were now very close to the White House and both sides of the street were teeming with people on cell phones. No one seemed panicked but we were insatiably curious.
Then we heard the sirens, a police car sped past and, just a couple of weeks short of the 9/11 anniversary, worst case scenarios flashed through my mind. I rolled down the window and a man crossing the street in front of me shouted, "Did you feel it?"
We turned on the radio to hear the latest and turned right, heading toward the Washington Monument. It occurred to me that following an earthquake, that was probably the last building we would want to be near, so we skirted the Mall toward the Capitol. We saw no damage, but one fire truck had its long ladder extended to the top of a building downtown. The Capitol area was cordoned off and we had to take a circuitous route back up town. We made it back to American University unscathed, but gridlock gripped the city and after dropping off Dan it took us over two hours to get past the Beltway and safely on the road toward Baltimore. Traffic flowed smoothly after that, though I did hold my breath as we went through the Harbor Tunnel.