For my non-California readers (yes I know a few of you are out there) an Earthquake is when Mother Nature decides to test our levels of arrogance and shake things up a bit… just to remind us that we aren’t really in control. Think Carol King singing “I feel the earth, Move, under my feet…” and you get the basic idea.*
We get them on a semi regular basis here and for the most part the occasional quake is just another part of what makes living here rather exciting.
For a lot of people in the area, earthquakes really aren’t that big of a deal anymore. We are used to them. They make us pause, glance around, weigh the magnitude, and then (for the most part) go right back to doing whatever it was we were doing. The last earthquake we had, I was at work and after a pause, I went right back to my spreadsheet without a second thought.
Of course… it wasn’t always like that. Just over 19 years ago we had the '89 Quake... and that was one scary thing.
I was at Valco (a local mall) on the catwalk (portion of the mall that crosses over the road) feeding Cheerio’s to my baby sister while my mother had an eye exam. When the shaking started, I was a bit confused….. the fear came when the optometrist bolted out of the room, the lights went out, and a Halloween decoration came to life.
Well, no, but it was a huge glow in the dark skeleton that was flopping all over the place while shelves crashed down, hundreds of little glass bottles shattered, and then there was the noise…. This horrible rushing of air, groaning of the building, and the screaming, lets not forget the screaming.
Me. I was doing all the screaming. My mother had tried to pull baby Kristen out of the stroller but the safety belt had thwarted her attempts and so she knelt on the floor covering the baby with her body and holding me while I screamed what she later called “an amazingly shrill banshee cry” in her ear.** Many of you have never heard me scream…. But let me assure you, I have a set of pipes that never cease to impress at football games, crowded malls, or in Gina’s case, birthday parties. When I want to be loud; I can be really really really loud.
Eventually the shaking stopped and we managed to leave the office. In the mall, people were screaming, people were running, other people were screaming at people not to run (while running). I remember watching the wood floor buckle up and there was still the groaning of the building. In the parking lot, people cried, people clicked frantically through radio stations, and overhead a news helicopter flew by.
I remember that we helped two ladies because they couldn’t contact their families. I remember getting home and seeing the broken glass and that Kristen’s crib had slid across the floor and blocked the door into our room. I remember my dad extolling the benefits of a gas stove and cooking mammoth amounts of spaghetti which we ate by candle light. I remember refusing to sleep alone.
I remember being afraid of the dark, afraid of the aftershocks that came and went without warning in the days that followed. I remember the panic at school, the discussion of safety plans and renewed attention to “duck and cover” drills that later morphed into “duck and hold” drills; staples of a childhood in the Bay Area in the early ‘90s.
Mostly though, I remember my mother holding me on her lap (I was really too big for that but she did it anyway) and telling me that sometimes the earth moved and there wasn’t anything we could do when that happened but hold onto something and wait it out.
In my life there have been many “quakes:” moments when something happens that is scary, moments when my world view is shattered, or my safety net disappears. Her words are still valid. When times of trouble come along and I feel the ground dropping out from underneath me, I do the only thing I can. I hang on and wait it out.
Eventually the lights will come back on.
*My cavalier attitude in no way is meant to offend people who have been injured or lost loved ones or property in earthquakes.
**My mother did not suffer long term hearing loss, but she has never let me live down my earthquake scream.