July 30th, 2008

Shaky ground in LA

There was a moderate earthquake in Los Angeles yesterday that was widely felt in the area, the strongest in more than a decade.

And yet I wasn’t there.

What does that odd statement mean? Just this: my in-laws lived in LA and my then-husband and I used to go there at least once a year for decades. It got to be a running joke—although a very unfunny one, to be sure—that within twenty-four hours of our arrival there would often be an earthquake of enough magnitude to be felt, although fortunately never bad enough to cause any serious damage.

We would usually take a flight out that arrived in LA in the evening, and then get to my in-laws’ house and unpack. Travel was exhausting, and we’d sleep fairly well that night, only to be awakened some time in the morning (sometimes the wee hours of the morning) by a jolt and the familiar rattling of the Venetian blinds.

Southern California is rife with earthquakes, but it wasn’t as though they were having tremors of that magnitude every other day. I knew intellectually that our presence had nothing to do with these seismic convulsions, but it was hard to avoid the idea of some sort of linkage when it kept happening with a certain disconcerting frequency.

On the other hand, it was awfully nice to be there, especially when our son was little. My in-laws were great babysitters, there was a plethora of good ethnic restaurants, unfailingly lovely weather in the summer (when we usually visited), a swimming pool in the backyard, not to mention a yearly hauling of the child to Disneyland (a place I detested but suffered gladly for his sake: see this).

I put the earthquake problem out of my mind as best I could—which is what most of the good citizens of California tend to do. Until they get a bit of a reminder, as happened yesterday:

“People have forgotten, I think, what earthquakes feel like,” said Kate Hutton, a seismologist at Caltech.

They haven’t forgotten what minor earthquakes feel like. And in order to live in the area, it’s necessary for most people to forget what major ones feel like. I hope it stays that way and they never need to find out.

4 Responses to “Shaky ground in LA”

  1. Lame-R Says:

    I live and work about 45 mins away from the epicenter. It was a decent little shaker, especially because the ground seems to behave like jello (nod to your earlier posts) that keeps shaking long after the impetus is removed.

    My wife was at the grocery store at the time and noticed some cans on a shelf rattling before she actually felt the quake. She tried calling me shortly afterwards to see if I needed any particular items, and apparently the cell service was out for a bit. I’m not sure if that was from the quake or overload due to people calling about the quake, though.

  2. stumbley Says:

    I only got up from my office chair after the quake seemed to last for 30 or so seconds—it was that “moderate.” This is about the 5th or 6th quake I’ve experienced in California, and nowhere near the ’71 Sylmar or ’94 Northridge quake. Hardly worth mentioning…

  3. Jim C. Says:

    I lived in the SF Bay Area for a number of years starting in the summer of ’79. That first year there were two 5+ quakes, the strongest the city had felt in years.

    I was still there for the quake of ’89. Fortunately, in the area where I was living there was only very minor damage and I had a couple of things knocked off shelves.

    “I hope it stays that way and they never need to find out.”

    Unfortunately, they will, eventually.

  4. rickl Says:

    I’ve never been to California and I’ve never felt an earthquake. I’ve always had the nagging suspicion that if I ever did go to California, even for a short visit, with my luck I’d arrive just in time for The Big One.

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