​​The Pleasure of an Earthquake

Business is Business     |     The Hollow Man Series, International Espionage

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The South and Southeast batten down their hatches regularly, waiting for hurricanes with dangerous names. The Midwest suffers through the constant fear of tornadoes, and when they don’t come, the vigilance is stressful enough until the weather front blows by. It’s too bad Passover from the book of Exodus won’t still fool storms. You remember, when God instructed Moses and Aaron and the Israelite people in Egypt to mark their houses with lamb’s blood so the Lord could “pass over” their houses without harm? Yeah, I know He was looking for firstborn sons, but to many of us, our homes are just as precious.

At least such disasters are seasonal according to meteorologists. This leaves periods of non-worry and sweet relaxation when blizzards and northerly winds replace these storms. Okay, so we can’t have everything. Even sunny California has its woes. After all, earthquakes are season-less, so residents there are on watch 24 / 7. 

Most earthquakes are mild. Usually when the earth moves, people wonder if it resulted from making love or if there was a minor quake somewhere in the desert. When it moves a little more, sleepy people have to decide if they want to crawl out of bed to stand in a doorway, or just let their bedroom ceiling fall on them. Then there are those earthquakes that are considered catastrophic.

For reference, 6.0 on the Richter scale equates to 60 million kilos of dynamite, while 7.0 feels like 30 billion kilos of dynamite. I suppose that’s if you’re standing on top of the epicenter, but from my experience, it doesn’t feel much different if you happen to be a few miles away. I had the honor of experiencing two major earthquakes during my stay in the Los Angeles area.

The first occurred when I was still a freshman software engineer with IBM. The 6.2 earthquake slashed through downtown LA without warning, while I was on the 18th floor of a 27 floor building. At the peak of the building’s swing, I could see the individual hairs on pedestrian heads directly below the building. I glanced at the exit. A very pregnant woman was standing between me and freedom.

I hesitated roller derbying her out of the way only because I was trying to make up for wicked deeds since the month before when lightning struck the airplane I was traveling on. Sitting next to me was a nun. She grabbed my arm in terror and snuggled in. I turned to her and asked, “Do I look like someone who Jesus would trust to keep you safe?” I was thinking she resembled the aisle carpet at that moment and I wouldn’t have thought twice about positioning my shoes on her habit for better traction when I ran over her getting off the plane. So, I didn’t roll over the pregnant woman.

I found out later that California now builds all tall buildings on huge Teflon rollers to absorb some of the shock and roll with the earthquake energy until it dissipated through the region. Swaying 20 feet off center was normal and proved the system was working. I’m just happy I wasn’t on the top floor. Those poor executives must have soiled their $2,000 suits up there.

I was ready for the next major quake, 7.2 on the Richter scale. Or I thought I was. Five years later, a traffic signal changed to red at Ventura Blvd in North Hollywood. I jammed on the brakes to wait for the green. The radio was playing Fault Line by Deep Purple. Suddenly, the backend of my car started bouncing up and down. It felt like the tires were coming off the ground. My first thought was the guy behind me was pissed because I stopped for the red light. He was going psycho and jumping on the trunk. I needed a word with this guy and threw the door open. The whole car was bouncing across the traffic lane.

The signs at the gas station on the corner swayed to breaking, and the marquee shattered. Telephone wires splayed. Electricity blinked out. Cars couldn’t move because of the downed power lines. I looked around for the cameras. This would have made a perfect Hollywood disaster film. On the upside, the fellow in the car behind me turned out to be a decent guy, so I didn’t need to teach him any sort of lesson.

Later that day, I stopped by the nearest animal farm to pick up a gallon of lamb’s blood and a paintbrush.