By Harold Bell

From the inner-city to Island vacation homes in America hurricanes and earthquakes have no cut-cards.  They are equal opportunity disasters!  Somewhere and sometime in our lives they will make a house call without an invitation or warning.

According to a story in one of the local Washington, DC newspapers, the recent earthquake cause shaking and the shaking led to confusion.  Confusion led to anxiety.  Anxiety led to evacuating. And then evacuating led to milling.

The story said, the earthquake that struck DC on Tuesday August 23, 2011 shook the city’s carefully constructed rhythms.  There was looseness and a jangled quality.  People who normally passed each other silently in the office suddenly became “New best friends!”   They stood together on the streets smiling and talking.

The folks driving the Mercedes, BMWs and Bentleys were blowing their horns, smiling and saying hello to those driving Mazdas and pick-up trucks!

The story went on to say, there was a sense of getting away with something, wandering outside in the middle of the day, past lunchtime, contemplating a cocktail, waiting for someone to tell you what to do or not to do. There were mother’s texting their children and husbands calling wives.

A 5.8-magnitude earthquake can make you take a look at your priorities.  It struck the Nation’s Capitol without checking-in with the White House or Congress and it also bypassed airport screenings.

One observer was heard to say “It kind of builds a sense of community, to experience something beyond your control.” 

There were people standing around in groups who said “It makes you really, really feel lucky.”

For those of us who have not forgotten who is in charge, blessed would have been a better word to describe what had just taken place!

This was one of those enlightening moments you will always remember exactly where you were when Mother Nature stopped by to say “Hello.”  I was sitting on the side of my bed preparing to meet a friend for a 3:00 PM business meeting at Denny’s Restaurant in NE Washington, DC.

I am a sixth generation Washingtonian and I have never felt anything like the rumble in my bedroom that day.  I thought it was an upcoming storm with a thunder and lighting warning, until I went to the window to see what was happening.  It looked like the patio furniture was moving and then I thought “Earthquake.”

My wife Hattie was downstairs playing cards in the community room.  I immediately left the apartment and went to the balcony  to see her standing in the parking lot yelling for me to get out of the building.  It made sense until I turned to see our next door neighbor a white lady in her 90’s standing in the door trembling and confused.  Her first words were “Can you help me?”

Ms. Watson had lived next door to us for 6 years and this was the first time she had ever spoken to me.  She was not prejudice, her problem she was hard of hearing and could hardly see.  The only time we would see her was when she was going to the trash room or sometimes at the mailbox downstairs.

I grabbed her by her hand and said I would help her down the stairs to the outside of the building but she asked me if I would call her nephew first, I said “okay what is his number?”

She went back into her apartment and brought me a tattered telephone book and asked if I would look under the name of James Cook.  I could not find a listing for him but then I notice there were several numbers with names already programmed into her telephone.

I started to push the buttons and got nothing but the answering service for each number.  I left messages for each number I dialed.  I then turned to Ms. Watson to take her out of the building when she said “I am okay you go ahead!”  She was still confused about what had just happen and insisted on staying upstairs in her apartment.  I then told her I was going downstairs to check with my wife and I would return for her.

After checking with Hattie I told her I had to go back into the building and get our next door neighbor.  She looked at me as if confused and said “okay be careful.”

On the way back up the stairway I saw another neighbor by the name of Gloria helping another wheelchair bound 97 year old neighbor Ms. Rumsey down the steps.  She mentioned that her Aunt was still upstairs, but she was okay.

When I got back up on the 4th floor I notice another young man walking behind me with a gun on his side and he said “I am on the way to get my aunt.”  Ms. Watson was waiting in the doorway for me and we started the journey back down the four flights of stairs.

It seemed like it took forever, but God had my back.  When we made it to the outside there were cheers waiting for us which caught me completely by surprise!  I said “Please, I thought that I was only doing what neighbors are suppose to do for each other.”  There were skeptics among the cheerleaders.

I thought back to my missed meeting with my friend and thought to myself “If he and I were sitting together in Denny’s Restaurant in ‘The Hood’ what if the earthquake or Irene (she shown up two days later) had struck while we were having our meeting?   Would the earthquake or Irene been able to tell the difference between a ‘Boys in the Hood Meeting’ and billionaire Bill Gates having a meeting in Georgetown with one his boys?”

I don’t think so Mother Nature could have cared less!

One of the cafeteria workers in one of the government buildings downtown said “I only knew some of the people who ordered lunch as only another face in the lunch line. But while waiting on the side walk people started to come over to me and I got to talk to some of them!”  They suddenly had a relative in common—Mother Nature!

How many natural disasters do we have to have before human beings (the 1% who control all the wealth) reach out to help others before they realize we are all in this life together?

Several days after the earthquake scare my wife Hattie and I walked back into the lobby of the apartment building that we live only to be greeted by our neighbor Gloria.  She wanted to thank me for rescuing her aunt and helping her down the steps.  I was a little taken back because that rescue never took place, but I didn’t correct her because too many people were standing around and I didn’t want to damage my “Halo.”

I told Hattie that Gloria had gotten me mixed up with someone else, after giving it some careful thought I remembered the young man with the gun on his side.

He turned out to be a Prince Georges police officer and evidently while rescuing his aunt on the way out of the building he encountered Gloria’s aunt and helped her out of the building also.  He and I are about the same height and weight.  We are both black and “They say” we all look a like sometimes!  The next day I saw Gloria and explained what had happen and she said, ‘Thanks anyway!’ 

There are times when you can get caught up in your own ego trips and forget we are not the only one that care, remember I encountered Gloria first helping the 97 year old wheelchair bound Ms. Rumsey down 4 flights of stairs—-but also remember, a hero ain’t nothing but a sandwich (smile). Wake Up Everybody!

A newspaper and television personality and former friend of mine once said “Harold you bless us all” I beg to differ it is God who blesses us all!

Harold Bell is the Godfather of Sports Talk radio and television in Washington, DC.  Throughout the mid-sixties, seventies and eighties, Harold embarked upon a relatively new medium–sports talk radio with classic interviews with athletes and sports celebrities.  The show and format became wildly popular. Harold has been an active force fighting for the rights of children for over 40 years with the help of his wife through their charity Kids In Trouble, Inc.   To learn more about Harold Bell visit his official web site H. B. Sports


  1. I respect the feelings or beliefs of the writer, but I still have to disagree. The storm may weather us all, but when it passes the same people seem to be delaing with the worst human kind often administer upon them. It seems to be a world where gifts provided will sustain life much better.

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