On the Rocks in an Earthquake; ‘Otherwise, A Pretty Normal Day’

Painting by Robert Beck.

By Robert Beck

“The people on the rocks, they all started running!” he said.

We were sharing early earthquake notes with a guy at the gift shop in the Central Park Dairy. My first thought was that maybe those big rocks that always have a nesting of people on top when it’s sunny might have been the best place to be, but I had experienced the shaking too, and there was no time to Google the question.

The Dairy guy checked his phone again. “It was centered in Lebanon, New Jersey. Four point eight,” he said.

“Where is that?” my wife asked me. “About fifty miles west of here,” I said. We seemed to be the only people in the room full of shoppers who were aware or cared that there had just been an earthquake. My wife grew up in California, so this was nothing to her. I’ve only been in two; both were here in New York.

We bought a couple of those new shirts with the park bench on the front and then strolled over to the carousel. It was open but not running. People mingled in front, wondering whether to stay or continue with their day. I leaned on the railing and looked at the horses. This carousel, built in 1908, was abandoned at the Coney Island trolley stop and they brought it here, after the previous one at this location—the third—burned down in 1950. Its official name is the Michael Friedsam Memorial Carousel.

I asked one of the workers inside about the ride not running. He said it was getting regular maintenance that morning, and then the earthquake happened, so there was more to look at. It was good to have someone on-site after an earthquake who knows the merry-go-round mechanicals, as well as the workings of a hundred-year-old, 52 Key-Less A. Ruth & Son Model 33 Band Organ.

The worker told me how they inspect the carousel every day before opening it to the public. “We check all the horses (there are 57), the attachments at the top and bottom, the stirrups, and how they move. Then we run it twice, but without the music.”

I asked another worker if she was there when the quake happened. Her eyes widened. “Oh yes,” she said. “You could feel the walls move and hear the windows rattle. Someone yelled, ‘Get out of the building!’ but I stayed here.”

This was when all the phones within earshot started shrieking emergency alerts, letting us know a seismic event happened and giving advice long after the fact. It said nothing about what to do if you are on a big rock.

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Note: Before Robert Beck wrote West Side Canvas, his essays and paintings were featured in Weekend Column. Read Robert Beck’s earlier columns here and here.

See more of Robert Beck’s work and his UWS studio by visiting www.robertbeck.net  And let Robert know if you have a connection to an archetypal UWS place or event that would make a good West Side Canvas subject. Thank you!

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