Tomorrow, Sunday, I will be commemorating the fourth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks by going shopping for an earthquake preparation kit. Stop being jealous of my awesome and not-at-all depressing or slightly fucked up day. If you’re really nice, I might even invite you along to wander the halls of the hardware store with me looking for the activated charcoal and highway flares.
I printed this list, which I will be bringing with me. I’m not getting everything on there — household chlorine bleach? — but I am getting the water and the canned goods and the can opener and the flashlight. Oh, and I should probably orchestrate tucking away an extra set of eyeglasses, because I am blind without these. Oh, and I need a kit for the car, too, so two of everything. Clear my schedule.
Why now? I’ve lived here on and off since 2001, so why the sudden obsession with, like, living? Well, disasters beget talk about other disasters, and since the hurricane, people in L.A. have been a little preoccupied — as people in L.A. tend to be — with how to make this thing about themselves. On Wednesday, as the water had just started to recede from Jefferson Parish, I sat in my doctor’s office and watched on television literally the worst possible thing I could have seen at that moment: a story on KCAL about the utter certainty of an 8.0 magnitude earthquake along the San Andreas Fault and the ensuing New Orleans-like havoc it would wreak. Something clicked in my head, and I became spontaneously convinced that not only was the big one coming, but it was gunning for me personally. I looked around for the closest exit from the one-story building I was in and wondered if it had been properly retrofitted. I was sure it hadn’t been, and I was similarly sure that the tacky framed picture of the sailboat on the harbor hanging right above my head was really going to hurt my skull when one made 8.0 magnitude contact with the other.
Then, two days ago in the L.A. Times, this:
U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Lucy Jones remembers attending an emergency training session in August 2001 with the Federal Emergency Management Agency that discussed the three most likely catastrophes to strike the United States. First on the list was a terrorist attack in New York. Second was a super-strength hurricane hitting New Orleans. Third was a major earthquake on the San Andreas fault.
Dr. Jones is a slightly butch, totally manic seismologist (hello, kick-ass movie pitch!) who runs dozens of press conferences after every SoCal earthquake. She’s kind of fun, and comes across as kind of a crackpot (“The big one is coming!”) every time. One of these days she’s going to be totally right. But WHICH one of these days? No idea? Thanks, science.
It could happen now. Or now. It could even happen right…now. What was that? Truck driving by? Oh.
IT COULD HAPPEN RIGHT NOW!
I was nine years old when this hurricane hit Long Island, and it was quite scary. The house I grew up in sits two blocks from the Long Island Sound, and we left the house by mandatory evacuation and camped out at my grandparents’ house until the storm passed. We were without power at my house for nearly two weeks, and even then, with the help of generators, we played host to one of my mom’s best friends, her husband, and their SIX CHILDREN, who moved into our living room until their house was de-flooded. It was sad. All of their fish died. Other than that, it was like living at a very dark summer camp. And, in a story that has taken on a whimsical, almost mythic quality all these years later, we knew the power was back on when my mom, a music teacher, ran through the darkened house to tell us that her electric metronome — which she’d accidentally forgotten to turn off — had suddenly started ticking.
So I’ve earned my hurricane stripes, slightly. And when I tried to argue to a bunch of friends that at least you get some advanced warning that a hurricane is coming while an earthquake just shows up, they countered that they’d rather live in ignorant bliss, because when the earthquake comes, that’s it and there’s nothing you can do. And while the creeping inevitability of a hurricane in most cases turns out to be much scarier than the storm itself, it at least allows people (though only people of a certain socioeconomic class, we’ve sadly learned in the past two weeks) to get the hell out of Dodge. In an earthquake, someone is going to be on the plane that’s about to touch down on the runway that’s about to start buckling beneath the plane. Someone is going to be sitting under the highway overpass because the 101 is backed up onto the surface streets twenty-four hours a day. Someone is going to be standing on a very high ladder painting his house. This kind of turns every moment you spend thinking about it into that moment of creeping inevitability, doesn’t it?
My friends continued with their “earthquakes are better” argument, saying that they’ve been hearing about “the big one” since they were kids, and, well, it hasn’t come yet, right? But didn’t you also remember learning in school that New Orleans was built six feet below sea level and that any flooding would doom their town for sure? And did you think THAT was ever really going to come to pass? Oh, and don’t even get me started on the argument that hurricanes last for hours and hours and the strongest earthquakes last for less than two minutes. Doesn’t matter. That can be two minutes of scary right there.
We think earthquakes are less scary than hurricanes this week because we’ve seen the worst of what hurricanes can do and we haven’t seen the worst of what earthquakes can do. We haven’t had the Hurricane Katrina of earthquakes in California yet, and according to the good seismologist’s list, tragedies one and two have already been checked off. So I — who can’t successfully plan for three people coming over to my apartment to watch television — intend to be prepared.
Happy weekend, everyone.