If you’re new to Southern California, please excuse the rude welcome Tuesday morning at 11:42 a.m. That, friends, was what we locals call an “earthquake.” You’ll never know when they’re about to happen, how big they will be, or how long they’ll last. But for a brief few seconds, it can be quite a thrilling ride.
By now, the media has more than covered every nuance of what turned out to be a 5.4 temblor originating some seven miles deep beneath the Chino Hills area. Channel after channel gave us LIVE! BREAKING! NEWS! showing, well, not much. Unlike other Southland temblors over the past several decades, Tuesday’s seismic tantrum produced very little damage.
Pitiable news directors were left to broadcast aerial shots of intersections with (gasp) non-working traffic signals! Crack reporters interviewed endless citizens-on-the-street with probing questions like “What did it feel like?” These are professionals, kids, do not try this at home. I even watched a long interview with a hyper-sincere psychologist discussing how best to help your children overcome the trauma of Tuesday’s earthquake. Huh? How about, “That was just an earthquake, honey. Everything’s OK. Have another chicken nugget.”
Having been born and raised in “Shaky Town,” as L.A. is sometimes called by people who don’t live here (and who are obviously jealous that we don’t have their flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, plagues or locusts), I’ve somehow survived the trauma of many quakes. Then again, unlike residents of most other states, the only natural calamity that we semi-regularly endure (other than wildfires) is one that we don’t know is coming, happens very quickly, is over just as fast, and often does no more damage than to jangle our collective nervous system and knock a colorful and fragrant assortment of liquor and/or shampoo bottles off store shelves.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not downplaying the destructive force these quakes can have. We’re fortunate that in the Crescenta Valley we live on a relatively hard and rocky (as anyone who has ever stuck a shovel in the ground here knows) foundation. Just a few miles up the 210, the San Fernando Valley typically suffers much more earthquake damage due to the loose, sedimentary makeup of its soil.
While I’m much too young (and I haven’t been able to say that phrase too often lately!) to have experienced L.A.’s first recorded quake in 1769, I have lived through the 1971 Sylmar shaker, ’87 Whittier Narrows quake, ’94 Northridge quake and many smaller temblors.
As a high school student during the Sylmar quake, I still remember vividly being shaken awake in my bed at home just in time to see my huge Harmon-Kardon stereo receiver sliding off the shelf above my head. I moved my head just as the 40-plus pound assembly of vacuum tubes and metal hit my pillow. However, to this day the most vivid memory of that quake is that all classes were canceled at Crescenta Valley High. I believe that was also the first ever recorded utterance of the now common exclamation, “Woo hoo!”
In 1994, I was standing at the Bank of America ATM on Foothill and Pennsylvania and looked up the street just as the Northridge quake hit.
I watched as the shock waves literally rolled through the Crescenta Valley, making the pavement look more like a roller coaster than a street, telephone poles swaying one after the other as the ground rippled toward me like rings in a lake. Awesome.
Although Tuesday’s quake was minor in size and effect, it was a good reminder that, living where we do, we should always be prepared for the worst.
Or, as go-to-seismic-scientist, Dr. Kate Hutton of nearby Caltech (she of short silver coif and polo-shirt-wearing fame) said while patiently parrying inane, repetitive questions from the media throughout the day, “Consider this a drill for the Big One that will certainly be coming some day.”
Yes, we are all living on shaky ground. And I for one, can’t wait to go to church this weekend.
JIM CHASE is a freelance writer and lifelong Crescenta Valley resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.