In the Midwest, we’re well-versed in severe weather: crazy storms, tornadoes, flooding, blizzards–we’re taught from a young age what to do in case of serious bad news from the skies. Tornadoes are just a season like Spring or Allergy, and although I don’t take them lightly, I’ve learned that you just have to take the safety precautions and hope it doesn’t hit. No use freaking out. Just grab the pets, grab some wine and head to the bathroom.
But earthquakes are a whole new bag and I just can’t wrap my head around them. There’s no warning–it’s not like you can see the skies turn green and feel that shift in the air, you can’t see the cell coming on the radar and you haven’t heard for the past week that something might be a-brewing. Earthquakes just happen, and at least the public never knows whether it’s just a little rumble or it’s The Big One.
And you know The Big One is coming. And it’s inevitably overdue.
The first earthquake I can remember feeling was actually back in Indiana, but it was more of a novelty than really worrisome–everyone just wanted to know whether you felt it the next day or not (it was at night. I thought it was just my fat cat jumping onto the bed until I realized she was already there).
The first earthquake I felt in California was much more jarring. I was sitting on the couch with my feet on the floor, and I felt a very strong THUD up from my feet through my legs, a vertical shake like someone had dropped the heaviest box ever onto the roof. Then I felt a big horizontal shake, like a truck had crashed into our building.
It didn’t move any furniture. It didn’t knock anything off the walls. I think I looked it up and it was maybe between a 3 and a 4 on the Richter scale. So, not huge, but definitely startling once I realized what it was.
One night I felt three in the span of about an hour and a half, and I couldn’t get back to sleep. My mind kept racing through what we would do if it were The Big One, what I should grab, how we would wrangle the pets, where we would go. I knew it wasn’t really coming that night, but I couldn’t get back to sleep.
I think it’s mostly the known / unknown-ness of it all, and the massiveness of the destruction possible. There’s something primordial about earthquakes: the deep dark plates on which we think we stand solidly, on which we’ve built cities and infrastructures, on which we rely to please just freaking stay put are shoving and jostling eachother like sugared up kids in bumper cars.
Earthquakes are such a big part of living in the Bay Area–even if you never feel them, they’re a part of the history out here and certainly a part of the future. The 1906 earthquake (a 7.8) and resulting fires (from ruptured gas lines, badly-thought out dynamiting of houses to try and create fire breaks, and people, um, setting their houses on fire because insurance covered fires but not quakes) was one of the largest natural disasters in America’s history, killing over 3,000 and destroying 80% of San Francisco. It changed everything. Not only did the city have to be entirely rebuilt, but it pretty much created the communities of the East Bay as people relocated during the rebuild. It diverted trade and industry to Los Angeles, making it the largest city on the West Coast instead of SF. It turned the Bank of Italy into the Bank of America.
As devastating as photos of that quake are, the ones from 1989 are perhaps just as terrifying because they’re more recognizable. Part of the Bay Bridge collapsed. I’ve driven over that shit (although you can’t anymore, there’s a shiny new bridge now. Very safe. Strong like bull.). It’s harder to file away as Some Ancient Shit That Happened a Long Time Ago when there’s still visible evidence of it, and plenty of people around who remember it.
So I guess we’ll put together an Earthquake Preparedness Kit–pack it with extra clothes, a first aid kit, pet food, and some whiskey for the road. And hope The Big One never actually comes.
And P.S? During the earthquakes I’ve felt out here, the pets didn’t give any shits. No counting on them to warn us. WHY DO WE EVEN KEEP THEM AROUND?