This is an opportunity! Pan American shaking, sound stuck together
Posted by John Moallim. Random house. 336 pages, 2020. $ 28
“This is an opportunity! Pan-American city shocks, a sound held together” by John Moallem
In March 1964, Anchorage was a young city in a younger state, reaching the future boldly and tentatively. Genie Chance was a part-time radio reporter struggling to establish herself in a male-dominated field. Frank Brink, director of a community theater, was preparing for a theatrical performance “Our City” in a city on the edge of the world.
Then the Good Friday earthquake happened and everything changed.
This is learned in the opening pages of “This Is Chance!”, Journalist John John, a new three-day teacher that rocked Alaska’s largest city. It is the story of how ordinary people get together and rise up to face the unexpected in ways that they did not think were feasible, and ways they did not even think while improvising immediately.
The essence of the story is Jenny’s chance. A young mother of three children in a slowly breaking up marriage, helped support her family by working on a KENI radio station. She was leading her son to the bookstore on March 27, 1964, when the earthquake struck. Like most residents, she was initially unsure of what was going on, but soon became evident as she looked at her windshield. And when the shaking stops, she goes to work, doing the reporter, looking for the story.
Soon she found the same opportunity in the public safety building in Anchorage, which became the center of the rescue and recovery efforts. Thanks to the generators, KENI is back on the air quickly, and the opportunity has started to report live what officials and volunteers who have gathered to help have learned. She was barely leaving her post until late Sunday evening, after he was a quiet voice of updates and reassurance to the residents of her shattered city.
The teacher was told this story through an unusual literary approach drawn from the play that was to open on Good Friday. Written by Thornton Wilder, Our City introduces an ordinary community in America in the early twentieth century. The main character is the theater director, who speaks directly to the audience as well as to the performers. As characters enter and exit the theater, the director fills the audience with their backstories, as well as the fates awaiting them in subsequent years.
The teacher publicly conveys this idea, and it works brilliantly. The drama in this story happened during those three charged days when the city emerged from the rubble of what was then the most powerful earthquake ever recorded. As the main players in the events reach the scene, we learn who they are, the experiences they brought with them, and the story of the Hat to Wilder, what happened to them after that. How and when they died. Most writers include this in a conclusion, but here the teacher weaves these details into the basic narration itself. The result is to make the earthquake the focal point of their lives and the city itself.
The 1964 earthquake badly destroyed much of Anchorage, Alaska. Image of Harvey Chavez
The 9.2-minute earthquake lasted four minutes and thirty-eight seconds, demolishing buildings across the city and sending the upscale subsection of Turnagain to the bottom of the newly created cliff. Many of the city’s newest buildings, which represented the bold Anchorage jump in the modern world, were damaged beyond repair.
Anchorage residents immediately changed gears. People who drive home from work or head to the city to enjoy an evening fun, or like an opportunity, do a quick mission, after five minutes they dig others from the rubble, direct traffic on broken streets, or quickly check out neighbors and family members.
What they did not do was plunder or take advantage of the situation. This is important for a teacher, who reports that sociologists arrive within hours of working under a federal grant to study human responses during an ongoing disaster. The goal of their field research, conducted at the height of the Cold War, was to learn how people responded to a disaster, and the teacher tells us that their findings helped change the understanding of human nature.
In 1964, there was widespread irony among those who thought about such things that people would meet in a disaster. It was assumed that the panic, the outbreak and the law would be the default responses to a massive disaster. History, of course, suggests otherwise, but it was a lesson experts needed to learn in real time. This is what investigators found in Anchorage on the ground. Practically everyone is lost for the common good.
The opportunity to harvest in many ways reflects this result. As a city resident, she moved to only a few years previously, struggling with how the land betrayed them, putting everything else aside and broadcasting all the details that came to the public safety building. A tidal wave of reports of markedly disruptive and effective practical damages that immediately built itself and addressed the many immediate needs left behind by the earthquake.
City officials and citizens alike took control of every aspect of the situation and were sending help to all corners within hours. Through all of this, the calm behavior and constant stream of information in the city kept on the outskirts of that, if not quite so, it was at least a higher level of Earth.
More importantly, the opportunity has read messages from residents who are looking for each other, and from their distant loved ones, who connect people. Its efforts here helped the city to know that while the tsunami swept small towns on and off the coast of Alaska, Anchorage, less than a hundred miles from the epicenter, suffered only nine dead. This is less than the number that died along the California coast.
“This is an opportunity!” Unlike other accounts of the Anchorage earthquake or other similar events. By focusing narrowly on key individuals, making the Public Safety Building his group, and ignoring the science and effects of the earthquake elsewhere, he devised a story about Anchorage itself, and about those who guided it during its biggest experience. The earthquake only presented the plot. This is a story about what makes us human.
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