*I live in the city that waits to die. I live in Los Angeles.
Of course, it’s not just Los Angeles that waits. Sacramento, Oakland and San Diego, among other California cities, large and small, bide their time. But since I live in Los Angeles, because places like Pasadena and Rancho Cucamonga sound too sleepy for such an ominous aphorism, and because San Franciscans turn their noses up at us, at the moment Los Angeles is the city whose destiny concerns me most.
According to experts, in the near or distant future, some part of California is going to experience a major earthquake. Makes sense. The occasional tremor notwithstanding, we haven’t had an honest to goodness earthquake since the 1994 Northridge quake that tossed me out of bed at four AM. (Speak of the devil. As I write this, Sunday, April 4, there was an earthquake. Centered in Mexicali, the capital of Baja, California, it registered 7.2 on the Richter Scale and was felt in parts of Arizona and Nevada.)
Based on recent global earthquake activity–China, Peru, Chile, Haiti–you don’t have to be Nostradamus or a seismologist to figure California’s turn for a big one can’t be far off.
And everyone in California knows it. We live with this weight of inevitability the way humanity understands tomorrow is promised to no one. Californians live with that idea AND earthquakes. Oh joy.
Friends from other parts of the country ask why I choose to live where land has a propensity for moving without notice. I understand the question. When I lived in Oklahoma City, where I was born and raised, I’d ask California people the same question. In turn, they’d sniff, “Well, how can you live in a place with Tornadoes”–as if tornadoes can’t be predicted and tracked by meteorologists, as if you can’t escape them by taking refuge in underground storm shelters and basements.
In any case, once I moved to L.A., I learned there was more than just one answer to my question, number one being, of course, the weather. On the average surreal day, Los Angeles is like the Caribbean without the humidity and with faster restaurant service. Yes, the traffic is atrocious, there’s smog, gangs and Heidi Montag. But that’s the tradeoff for this wonderful weather. If you live in Southern California and have just lost your partner, your dog, your job, all three or worse, you still have the gorgeous weather. It’s yours, it’s free and a beautiful day is a great launch pad for new beginnings.
Here’s the other reason people, despite the ineluctable, continue to live here: no one in California really thinks they’re going to be the one who dies in an earthquake. It’s true. Call it man’s instinctual quest for survival, sheer arrogance or simply looking on the bright side. If any of us actually thought we’d be taken in an earthquake, we’d leave. In a major quake, somebody’s going to die, that’s a fact. It’s just not going to be us. Any of us.
I know I’m not. Even when I worked for Black Beat and my office was in the Sunset-Vine Tower, I didn’t think I was going to die in an earthquake. Granted, seventeen floors isn’t exactly the Sears (Willis) Tower, and my office was on the sixth floor, but still. I convinced myself I’d be able to get down six flights of stairs and onto the street before catastrophe struck. I probably would have soiled my pants in the process, but I’d live to write yet another New Edition piece.
But don’t do what I say. Dashing out of a structure during an earthquake is not what experts recommend; as you exit, something outside could fall on you. Honestly, when the earth starts shaking, ain’t a whole lot you can do. For years we were advised to stand in a doorway. The idea was that any debris above and around you would fall outside of the door frame, where you were standing, and you’d have half a chance. Today, it is recommended that if you’re inside, you get under a strong table or piece of furniture.
Or, there’s the controversial “Triangle of Life,” during which you lie next to something like a couch or bed. So the concept goes, if a roof or wall comes down, you’ll be safe in that “triangle” of space created when the debris falls on an edge of that couch or bed and not on you. I know. It took me a while to understand it. I’m not sure I explained it very well. People in Kansas, be glad you don’t have to consider all this.
Then again, in the wake of a quake, I’d be more concerned with starvation. Mine. I just don’t have a palate for what’s on Chez Earthquake’s menu. How is it that man can go to the moon, but granola bars are as crummy tasting as they were in the ’70s? The military rations suggested by earthquake survivalists sound downright nasty. We feed our troops this stuff. I’ll never complain about airline food again.
Actually, I can’t complain at all. I’m not ashamed to say I absolutely adore Los Angeles. It is in this city, with its enchanting, multicultural dimension, big city bluster and small town charm, that I, of sound mind and free will, humbly stake my claim. So you can’t get a drink in a bar after one AM, and we still don’t have an NFL football team. I’ll take my chances.
Meanwhile, California receives its trick bag of uncertainty the way L.A. itself treats fake breasts: we get used to the idea and move on.
We live our lives. We shop for food, raise families, pick up dry cleaning, go to work, walk our dogs, make love and chase dreams, all the while with one eye on the weird, grim reality that at any moment, the moody, ever capricious San Andreas fault line could decide to do its imitation of the end of the world. And all we’ll really be able to do is pray, grab our asses and hope we are the lucky ones. But I’m telling you, the weather is worth it.