My friend Phyllis and I were just reminiscing, after Easter Sunday services, about the earthquake we felt the year we lived together when I was in graduate school at UCLA. Phyllis' church is now right around the corner from our old apartment.
It was so long ago, on that earthquake morning of our youth, that we were actually reading the morning newspaper as we drank our coffee. People don't do that much anymore, I hear, especially college age people.
Then the lamp above our kitchen table started to swing back and forth.
"Earthquake!" Shouted Phyllis, a native Angelina. "Doorway!"
In our jammies, we headed for the front door of the apartment, which was supposed to be a safe place, though now that is much disputed by emergency crews. She flung open the door and we stood there watching the room shake.
Then the door to the apartment next door opened, and the Air France pilot who lived there and whom we had never seen before gave us a big smile and tipped his pilot cap. He had just, apparently, come in from an overnight flight from Paree.
As he ogled us in our nighties, Phyllis and I looked at each other and, choosing the safer of the two options, re-entered our apartment and closed the door. Neither of us felt inclined to get to know the pilot all that well.
So now, mucho years later, we've returned from Easter church and from visiting Phyllis' ailing mother. Phyllis' husband John (who way back when was her beau, Ensign John) was at Home Depot in husband heaven, and I had just settled in for a long spring day's nap. As I set my glasses down on the copy of Ellery Queen Magazine I was reading, and closed my eyes, the bed beneath me began to shake. The 1920s-era Mediterranean Revival home around me began to make curious noises as all the lamps in the house rattled.
"Earthquake!" I shouted.
And the rumbling continued for a few more seconds.
"Earthquake!" I shouted again.
And the rumbling continued.
Finally, I leaped out of bed and ran into the living room where Phyllis had been napping. The chandelier in the dining room, and the one over her head were swinging like a square dance club.
"That was a big one," said Catherine, Phyllis' daughter.
"Yeah," said I, non-plussed like the native Californian I am. "Still, not big enough to knock down any books or anything. So I guess a 5 or so."
In California, everyone is familiar with the Richter Scale, and every television station has one in its newsroom. We switched on the news.
Turns out it was a doozie down in Mexicali. A 6.9 down there and a 6.9 will knock down your grandfather clock and smash it up quite a bit. It can take down your brick chimney and send your books flying across the room. If you are in a wood frame house on the first floor you probably won't be hurt. But a 6.9. can sometimes pancake several stories of a weak building and kill people.
But not today in Los Angeles. It was one of the longer earthquakes I've felt in my lifetime: a reporter timed it at about 45 seconds.
But we didn't suffer the fate of Haiti and all around me are safe. That's good news in Southern California, and we all hope the news is also good from our neighbors in Mexico.