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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It's a Water Glass JINX!

I make one little Los Angeles earthquake reference last week and it's almost like I made it happen. As I'm sure most of you know by now, at 11:42AM yesterday there was a 5.4 earthquake in Southern California. BEHOLD the power of language!

The quake is being described as moderate, but I think it can better be described as a good solid shake. For those few of you who have never experienced an earthquake before, I'll try to describe it with a bit more detail.

Sitting at my desk on the 18th floor of a 30 story building, I first heard the sound of rumbling and the windows creaking, immediately followed by a slight shake. Almost all earthquakes begin this way - mild sound and shake - at which point you have a split second to decide whether the quake will be big or small. Yesterday the decision was made when I went diving beneath my desk like it was hiding a secret portal to safety. Duck and cover, baby.

Now the fun part. The entire building started to shake; a 30 story steel and glass structure and it felt like the floor and the walls were giving way. It's similar to the sensation of a big rig truck passing too close to your home or a subway passing beneath the sidewalk just under your feet. Only much much more so. With your whole body you can feel the instability of the building around you, because it's not just the building, it's the ground beneath it. And equally unnerving is the loudness of the shaking. In Los Angeles, most of the buildings are designed to sway with an earthquake. Have you ever seen a tall palm tree bend back and forth in the wind? Yeah, it's like that. For 20 very long seconds. Nu, our accountant, was clinging to the floor beside the copier, screaming her head off in an endless cycle of "oh my god!"

Then finally it stopped.

I crawled out from underneath my desk, and thought maybe I had done it a bit too early, only to realize that the building wasn't shaking anymore, it was me. For a couple of nervous moments we all stood around discussing if we should evacuate the building, and joking about finding transistor radios even though the power was still on and the internet was still working perfectly. Then, as if by silent acknowledgment, it seemed clear that the building would remain standing and we all went back to work.

It's been at least a decade since Los Angeles has been reminded that we live on the razor's edge, or more accurately, the edge of the San Andreas Fault. For those of us that remember the 1994 6.7 Northridge Quake - a powerful shaking that had me clinging to my bedroom doorway for fear of literally being thrown free - the Chino Hills Quake pales in comparison. But it still forces us to face down our own mortality, to recognize that as wrapped up as we can be in our development deals, power lunches, and traffic jams, the earth beneath our feet may have very different plans for us. Because in Los Angeles, you're only as secure as the next big earthquake.

Unfortunately I could not find the source of the photo on the internet, so to the unnamed photographer, I thank you.


Nev said...

Gotta disagree with you here, Steph. As a fellow California native who lived 1.5 miles from the epicenter of the Northridge quake, this latest quaker wasn't even strong enough to get me out of my work chair.

Still though, it was funny seeing the non-California natives scurry around like rats.

That made me chuckle.


Stephanie said...

Hey! I'm convinced it felt stronger up at the top of my tall office building, Nev. Or maybe it was just Nu's screaming that made me so jumpy about it. But I won't argue with you - it can't compare with the Northridge quake.

Last Knight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Last Knight said...

Man. And people think those of us living in Hurrican Alley are crazy... at least we can see it coming!

stu said...

And to think the worst I have to worry about is rain, and more rain, and...

Actually we did once catch the edge of an earthquake, but it was tiny.