Sunday, December 19, 2010

Was That an Earthquake? Or Did a Tree Just Fall on My House?

It was a dark and stormy morning, then suddenly ...

I was on the telephone, watching the storm outside and speaking with a friend in Florida, when suddenly, something that felt like a sonic boom rattled my windows. Kaboom! it went. And rattle, rattle, thump it sounded.

"Gotta go," I said. "Either my tree just landed on my house or we just had an earthquake!"

I grabbed an umbrella and headed outside to see if the ancient deodara had disgorged another branch, this time directly on my roof. The neighborhood was quiet. The tree was intact. Hmm, I thought to myself. Maybe it was a sonic boom. If I had been in Florida I would have suddenly reminded myself that it was probably the Space Shuttle doing its double gainer through the sound barrier on its way in to Cape Canaveral.

But I was in California, so I was pretty sure I knew what it was.

I called my neighbor, The Comedian.

"Hi," I said.

"What did you blow up?" he asked. "Cooking again?"

"Okay funny man. That's all I wanted to know. Just wondering if you felt it too."

"Yes. And was it good for you too?"

"Oh, go train your dog" said I. The Comedian owns Toby Tyler, the out-of-control yellow lab who also works as a television news critic.

I called the police.

"Los Altos Police Department," said the exasperated voice on the non-emergency line.

"Uh, did something just blow up?"

"We just had an earthquake, if that's what you mean," said the operator, still sounding exasperated. Then she seemed to remember herself and made an effort to be at least slightly helpful: "Is there something wrong in your neighborhood? Should we send a car?"

"No," said I. "Just wanted to make sure nothing had blown up."

"No. We had an earthquake. Didn't you hear me say that?"

I turned on the television. Nothing but weather reports. California, which has some of the best weather on the planet absolutely loves weather stories. When I was in graduate school at UCLA studying journalism we read a survey that said there were more weather stories on the front page of the Los Angeles Times than on the front page of any other newspaper in America. And the weather in Los Angeles is terrific practically all the time.

Californians, it seems, love reading about other people's bad weather. And when we have a little rain of our own--the television meteorologists finally have something to do and get hours and hours of news time to show their maps and pictures of rain on the sidewalk and snow in the Sierras.

Anyway, I tried a couple of channels and finally there was big bulletin-type graphic plastered across the screen: EARTHQUAKE it read.

Turns out the quake was centered .5 miles south of Los Altos. That would be right about where I am, give or take .5 miles.

It was only a 3.1. So that's all the coverage it got. A guy called in and said it woke him up and he and the newscasters got a couple of yuks about that. Served him right, I thought, still sleeping at 9:58 in the morning.

A little rattling of the windows on a stormy day. A big thump, as if the fault slipped a foot or two. Eeeeeek. And that was that.

Once again we were spared the Big One. We had a pre-Christmas Quake and we didn't fall into the Pacific. My Royal Doulton mug of Winston Churchill remained firmly on the shelf, as did the old family clock. (Both of which I've secured with sticky tape, which probably wouldn't count for much in anything higher than a 7.0 on the Richter scale, but one does what one can.)

God Bless Us Every One.

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Florida Beach Basics said...

sounds scary to me - I think I prefer hurricanes - at least you know what's coming.

Robin Chapman said...

I think statistically, hurricanes do more damage and have more potential to kill people. But earthquakes have the surprise factor. Anyway, can't do much about it. This morning was just a sort of a big ca-thump, rattle rattle.

Jon said...

A couple years ago in Portland, there was a winter storm (as is common here). I was in bed watching the news in the AM. Suddenly a similar event happened to me. My 3 story building rocked and there was a sound like an explosion outside. After I looked outside and found nothing like a bomb or burnt power transformer, I called 911. They said, "Could it be the lightning?" I said yes, and felt foolish. It was the largest lightning storm to pass through central Portland ever. There were hundreds of strikes. The boom and shaking was from a nearby strike. "Amazing, nature is" quoth Yoda.