The Big One – or hold on to the table, Mabel, apparently it’s the safest spot in the room

Welcome back rabble-rousers – today’s topic – earthquakes!

In LA, earthquakes are a thing. And they’ve been on my mind lately. It was the 20th anniversary of Northridge recently and there were lots of snaps of mangled freeways and crumbled buildings to fuel my already active imagination. Which was followed by a report in the LA Times about the LA basin, a 30,000 foot sandpit under LA that will carry and magnify the earth-shaking waves of The Big One, which is the cheery moniker for the large earthquake that is predicted to rent California asunder between any tick of the clock and close of business 2024.

Reminiscent of advice from the 1950s, the main thing you are meant to do in the event of an earthquake is stop, drop and hold on to a table leg, whilst cowering under the table. I’m not putting a lot of faith in our Ikea Linnmon, but I suspect any port in a storm will be welcome.

You also have to prepare an earthquake kit for your kids to keep at school, which contains an emergency blanket, some water, some snacks and a note from you. What, pray tell, do you write in a note to your child, possibly the last note they will ever get from you, which, if they are alive, they will be reading in a state of utter terror and chaos?

I toyed with something factual: “If you are reading this, hang in there. If I am alive, I will get to you as soon as I can. In the meantime, stay calm, stay safe, even if it means disobeying a teacher, and make sure you and your sister, if she is alive, stick together. Unless she’s really loosing it, then give her some space and look after yourself.”

In the end, I went all Larkin on that note (‘words both true and kind, or not untrue and not unkind’). “Nan’s Favourite Swear Word” on the front (family code for SHIT!) and on the back, ‘Try and stay calm, one of us will get to you if we can. We love you very much.’

The imminence of the Big One has changed my behaviour. I take the girls with me on every errand, because this is exactly the sort of shit that goes down at 3.47pm, March 13 2014. I put shoes beside my bed every night (to step over the rubble of my former life), because that’s what they suggest on ‘Earthquake County Alliance: We’re All in This Together’ (only in Southern California is the by-line for a disaster orgnaisation echoed in a Disney musical) and I have an emergency kit in the car and two for home, including buckets that convert to toilets and hand powered USB charger.

At ex-pat dinner parties, when I bring up the subject of earthquakes and preparedness and who else wants to come with me to get their gun license so they can protect their stash of non-thirst inducing energy bars, there is an awkward pause followed by a sudden flurry of condiment passing. But LA locals, they get it. They nod and say they need to update their kits and that they worry about their kids upstairs when they go down to the laundry in the basement and wonder at the insanity of living in an area where catastrophe will happen, one day, guaranteed.

I started this post before I had the good fortune to experience the thrill of a magnitude 4.4 quake and that has been an interesting experience. There are no doubts that an earthquake is happening when it’s at 4.4 on the Richter scale, even at 6.25am on a Monday morning. When the shaking stopped, I grabbed my shoes and carried them  – sure, probably not what the ECA intended – as I  ran downstairs to the girls, who were pretty calm if a little freaked out, as the young folk say. Cupboards and drawers were open, a few things had fallen over and there were cracks in the concrete outside, and possibly, the whole house had slipped down the block an inch, but otherwise, fine, and we all got dressed and took the kids to school.

But here’s the thing – why did I not buy five tickets out of town, then and there, and leave this fault-ridden city for good? Because, it seems, I, and 38 million Californians, think like a sixteen-year old in a car. We are naively optimistic. We think we are invincible. We live with our fingers crossed, reciting the mantra ‘It won’t happen today. I’ll be okay if it does’. Funny the things you learn about yourself when you’re far from home.

I’m thinking of packing a table in the car, so we can stop, drop and hold at any moment.

I think it’s possible naïve optimism will be the undoing of the human race.



4 thoughts on “The Big One – or hold on to the table, Mabel, apparently it’s the safest spot in the room

  1. I’m terrified on your behalf. We put our faith in science being able to cure stuff in our future, but natural disasters are just too big. Well done you for being the Number One Girl Scout with your kits.

  2. So well written- you had me at hello! You’re sense of humour and seeing the lighter side of life ,even when faced with adversity, is what will get you through your worst moments- your worst fears. I cannot imagine the fear ( your imaginations worse fears) you faced during the earthquake as you grabbed your shoes and ran down to the girls room.
    Like most parents,we understand those fears through our own concerns for our children.
    You’ll laugh but … sadly and defiantly I regularly do a role play in my mind as to what I would do if a) an intruder broke into our home and I was alone to defend my children or he took one hostage
    b) car accident/ plane crash- on my own or with my kids- drawing on any supernatural powers to airlift them right up out of that plunging plane or burning vehicle.
    d) shark attack on me or any of my family- crosses my mind every single time we go in the surf!
    e) fires at home/ school or worse, the black code alarm at school and I have 23 children to protect from a psychopathic terrorist .

    You see where I’m going with this. Life is full of the What If’s’.
    It’s possible this fatalistic fear is a tragic side affect of the effectiveness of media coverage these days or maybe just too many Hollywood blockbusters! Thank goodness for those with a sense of humour, like yourself and your Ikea table leg!
    After good preparation comes having faith. Those like you with a brighter outlook on life, give energy to those needing more faith. Thanks to your wonderful sense of humour and your thorough preparation, you will face any challenge head on and it will inspire others to also be better prepared .
    No one knows what tomorrow holds so enjoy today! But if you want to come home our arms are open!

    Love your work!

  3. Carolyn! You need to watch that great Aussie flick by Aussie director Sarah Watt called ‘Look Both Ways’…I’m sure you will understand the parallels… I lived in Tokyo, so I definitely hear you… Love the note!
    We have been trying to contact you guys for the past few months via skype, and more recently sent an email… have you received any of them??? xx

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s