It stands as a vivid marker of my childhood: the 1952 Kern County earthquake.
In those days we called it the Bakersfield quake. At the time, my family lived on Balboa Island, approximately 159 miles south of the epicenter, but we felt it.
The quake struck at 4:52 a.m. July 21. It registered 7.3 on the “Moment Magnitude Scale” (MMS).
My dad, a milkman, left for work 90 minutes before the quake hit. I was 7, my brother, Bill, 5, and our sister, Judi, 8 months. We lived in a second-story apartment behind our grandparents’ home.
Things began to rock and roll and we flew from our beds and met in the living room. With things still shaking, we ran out to the front porch (who knows why?).
Sitting on the island’s sandy alluvium, our apartment swayed as though intoxicated.
The small town of Tehachapi, near the epicenter, was heavily damaged. Eleven people died. Though the quake was felt throughout Orange County, damage was minimal. Still, it was my introduction to quakes, and I’ve never forgotten it.
We had duck-and-cover drills throughout my elementary and junior high years, but not for earthquakes. They were intended to protect us from Russian nukes.
I personally experienced hundreds of small and moderate tremors over the years.
At some point during high school I recall the emergence of a new expression, “The Big One.” The term was applied to an inevitable massive California quake with a magnitude of 8-plus … situated somewhere along the San Andreas Fault.
As an Orange Coast College freshman in 1962, I went to the library to do research for a term paper. I sat down and noticed a book about earthquakes sitting on the table.
I picked it up and, for the next four hours, read it cover to cover. It was like eating un-shelled peanuts. I couldn’t stop. When finished, I wished I hadn’t read it at all. I felt a prisoner to “earthquake country.”
I’ve thought about quakes virtually every day since the Kern County temblor of ‘52. That’s 66 years.
Some scientists are hinting that the recent increased seismic activity along the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire” — a 25,000-mile ring that produces 90% of the world’s earthquakes — suggest a quake may be in the offing for California. We’re told we’re overdue. It could, at long last, be our Big One.
For 66 years authority figures have pounded into my skull the propinquity and inevitability of The Big One. Good intentions aside, I’ve grown weary of their yammering. I no longer want to waste time jumping at shadows.
I remember the 1960s, when alarmists predicted California would break off into the Pacific. A guy I worked with packed his wife and kid in a V.W. and moved to Utah. Hope it worked out for him.
Newspaper maps regularly show fault lines running beneath my house. I refuse to fret. Why waste energy obsessing about events that could — but likely won’t — happen?
I have a few exceptions to my contrarian views. Whenever I attend a game at the Coliseum, Angel Stadium or Rose Bowl a single thought pops into my consciousness: “What if things begin to shake?”
I spend maybe 10 seconds planning an exit route. It’s only prudent.
I remember a concert Hedy and I attended in a crowded hall. Early in the program I glanced about planning our escape route when suddenly it dawned on me: “What am I doing? This is Vienna. We’re 10,000 miles from the San Andreas.”
I could relax, though the rickety 19th century structure could have collapsed in a heap anyway.
Whenever the media trot out seismologist Lucy M. Jones, I roll my eyes. Time to scare us again. Known as “The Earthquake Lady,” Jones is reputed to be one of the top earthquake experts on the planet.
God love her, but she frightens me.
“I’m an inherent optimist,” she told a Los Angeles Times reporter, and then ballyhooed the prospect of a giant California quake … coming sooner rather than later.
No comfort there.
Can you appreciate the fact that forecasters have been badgering me for 66 years?
The only problem?