Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Epicenter Epilogue

No doubt many have heard we had a shaker last Sunday night. This is very much earthquake country around here. And if you've never been through a decent-sized one, they're never boring, always unexpected, and cause that ever endearing reaction of life reflection. The expert seismologists at the U.S. Geological Survey and Cal-Tech now surmise that this one (4.7 magnitude) was a slip of the Newport-Inglewood fault.

That, of course, is the other thing you learn about us crazy southlanders, we love to name the things in the ground that can bring us our destruction. It's just our way of saying, "Hi. My name is such-n-such. And, by the way, PLEASE DON'T KILL ME!!!" The fact is this shaker, centered in the nearby community of Lennox (just east of LAX), was on a fault capable of a quake in the 7-magnitude range. And it is very close by to my home in the hills just north of that. Well, if I go, I'm taking the shooting location of the Victory Motel in L.A. Confidential and the climatic shootout site in Robert Crais' Sunset Express novel with me. So there...

But, what is also amazing to me, in going through another one of these tremors (we got a bunch of names for them, folks), is how parent's memory traces (AKA, engrams) are distributed in their progeny. My hypothesis for this is by a review of their reactions to such stark, shaking events. Your experiences are right there in your children to see, if you look for them. For my wife, you'd only have to look at my son's reaction to the earthquake. Emotionally, he was quite struck by it all. Easily palpable, and having a hard time letting it all go (so he could go back to sleep). Some history here: my wife is employed in the same medical center as I (it's where we met and where our kids were delivered). And she works in the Safety Office as a health physicist. We have been there over a couple of decades now. This covers the notable and memorable 1994 Northridge earthquake. That one hit at 4:31 AM PST on January 17th. Where this recent one was classified  as light (it was downgraded from 5.0 moderate), the '94 event was a 'strong' moment magnitude of 6.7.

Now, I have a lot of respect for my wife--she's more than strong enough to live more than 20 years with the likes of me ;-). And what she did next, not too long after that quake struck, went along to cement all of that in my mind. When the shaking stopped and we initially checked out the house, she calmly got dressed. "Where are you going?", I asked. "To work.", she said. Mind you, my wife is one of those people who doesn't leave things to others when it comes to helping out--it's the reason she works in the kind of job she has, and in that office. She knew this event was going to cause the havoc that it did--and that the hospital was going to be at the center of it all (which it was). She never wavered. I stayed behind to finish the assessment (come daylight) and check for gas leaks. She-who-must-be-obeyed (I say that lovingly) got in her car (and this goes to those who work in the same office), drove across totally dark streets (due to the power outage), found and managed to get safely around this mind-blowing site (at 5 AM in the dark, mind you):

...to then arrive at work and stay there for the next 30 straight hours cleaning up radioisotope, chemical spills in laboratories so that firemen and structural engineers could go in [only after she cleared them (many times by her lonesome)].

True Story: at about o'dark-thirty (the next night, during this stint), my wife cleared a lab in one of our oldest buildings on campus. The structural engineers walked in after she left that room... they then proceeded to slowing back out of it soon thereafter. They had quickly spotted a central support column with the ominous intersecting cracks on it--they quickly evacuating all personnel and red-tagged (condemned) the structure. I only saw her briefly (on and off) during that time when I came in to work later that morning. I went home that day... she didn't. Saw her again the next morning when I got back in when they forced her (and her other colleagues) to get some rest. So, when my wife had that terrible feeling of dread after this one, I understood where she was coming from. I can only imagine what she went through back then. I can only hope my poor efforts to try and calm both of them helped.

And what about me, you ask? Look to my 9 year-old daughter. She got up, after her brother rushed by her bed to come to our bedroom after the shaking stopped. He sought solace. She, something else. I looked at her and we recognized the same thing in each other. "It's over, yes?" "Yes, mija. You're okay, please go back to bed.", I said. And she did. She was probably asleep within 30 seconds after her head hit the pillow. What was I doing during all of this?: pulling up epicenter readings on the web to post on Twitter ("This would be a good post!", as my wife looked at me, incredulously). As we spoke later about the earthquake (while laying in our bed around 11 PM) and our separate reactions to it, she still couldn't fathom how we two could move on so. I certainly can't explain it--I got scared (as did her daughter). Then, we forgot about it all. And I have the nostalgia gene (as my wife puts it), at that. We're not uncommonly brave, either. We just have those chromosomes in common. That, or we're too [insert descriptor] to react rationally. Oh and by the way, our first child was born the next year, 1995. Engrams...


  1. Engrams. New vocabulary for me.
    Mija, I knew. I knew a guy from LA back in the 70s, used to use that term of affection with dates and children.

    I can't even imagine getting over a quake or tremor easily. We occasionally get a very, very small quiver here (can't really call'em tremors they're so minor) and I get the big eye when that happens.

  2. Yes, Frankie Machiano would call it a (crossword) puzzle word. First heard about it as a kid, believe or not, in a first-run original Star Trek episode: The Ultimate Computer. See, sci-fi is good for somethings ;-).