Dr. Strangekit – Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying (a little) and Love the Big One (a little)

For those of you who asked about our earthquake kits, here is the first in a series of guest posts by Mr. Sandwich, our family’s Emergency Management Coordinator.

What I remember about that morning of January 17th was the sound of the cats running into the bedroom and fighting each other to get under the futon. I can’t specifically remember if the shaking came first, I just remember the rumble of not-so-gentle cats’ feet tear-assing into the bedroom from their living room perches, but by the time they were safely ensconced, the shaking was really going.

I remember the shutters slapping open and shut and I remember the water in the swimming pool sloshing over the edges and making little waves against the wall of my apartment. But what I remember most about that morning, even more than the pre-dawn darkness or how you could see the stars in the L.A. sky when all the power to the streetlights went out, was groping around for clothes in the dark. L.A. had just experienced its biggest earthquake in a generation and I couldn’t find my underwear.

As it turned out, I weathered the Northridge Quake with essentially no damage. There was the typical open-cupboards-kitchen disaster and some toppled bookshelves, but for the most part I didn’t suffer at all, certainly not like so many did. We had enough water to last through the ‘boil your tap water’ warning period, (hell, we had water pressure period) my apartment building wasn’t red or even yellow-tagged and like most buildings in Westwood, you could hardly tell anything had happened. Now, the Santa Monica Freeway had collapsed and Royce Hall at UCLA weebled and wobbled but didn’t QUITE fall down, but none of that touched me in any serious way.

Except that it scared the living bejeesus out of me.

Once the shaking settled down, I became focused on having an honest- to-God earthquake kit at the ready so I wouldn’t be caught with my pants down again, literally or figuratively. The kit began as a Rubbermaid tub with various items in it and has evolved over the years into a fairly extensive emergency kit ‘system’ with different levels of accessibility, extensiveness and portability. But no matter which form it takes, the ‘kit’ really serves as a security blanket, a threadbare attempt to soothe my ever-present anxiety.

For those of you who are not Southlandians, a little Earth Science background: The Pacific Tectonic Plate is sliding past the North American Plate at roughly the same speed that fingernails grow. They putter and hop and skip constantly in the form of relatively small earthquakes but every once in a while those two little geologic bosom buddies do a Texas two-step that shakes the snot right out of everything for a hundred mile radius in a little periodic temblor Angelenos like to refer to as ‘The Big One.’ The Big One is coming–not if, but when–everyone agrees on that.

Yet we all pretty much blithely go about our lives, the same way I guess Appalachian miners dig for coal with the impending threat of collapse and cave-in, or ancient sailors sailed the seas with the knowledge that a storm could appear without warning with enough force to erase any evidence they ever existed, and yet still they sailed on.

When the Big One comes it has the potential to be bigger than Northridge, Katrina, Superstorm Sandy and God knows what else combined and unlike hurricanes, there’s basically no forewarning. You’re just gonna hear cats fighting to get under your futon.

So, faced with the ever-present threat of ground shaki-ness I have adopted an attitude of somewhat obsessive preparedness to alleviate my fears. I do this with the same fervor of a sports fan who wears his lucky shirt while watching from the couch during playoffs, or has other bizarre ritual to guarantee local sports team success, all in the hopes that my diligence will forestall or somehow mitigate the movement of the earth’s crust. I guess the two behaviors have about an equal chance of success.

Wondering how those kits developed and what’s in them now? Tune in tomorrow, same Bat-time (well, maybe not), same Bat-channel.

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