That is what you might have thought if you saw the wall-to-wall coverage of L.A.'s big, huge, giant, scary earthquake on Tuesday. If you actually bothered to watch any of the coverage, however, you'd find it mostly consisted of shots of some bricks knocked loose from a building and a few canned goods that tumbled off a store shelf. Heck, John McCain somehow managed to wreak more havoc on a supermarket than a 5.4-magnitude temblor.
Not to say that being in a earthquake isn't somewhat unsettling. But after about 20 minutes of milling around aimlessly outside while trying to get a cell phone signal, everyone pretty much went about their day. Unlike the national media, I find that Californians are somewhat unflappable when it comes to natural disasters. There seems to be an acceptance that the occasional ravaging wildfire, mudslide, or tectonic plate movement is merely the price one pays for year-round sunshine and abundant natural beauty. (The truly weird part though is that it only takes about a quarter-inch of rain for all hell to break loose.)
This was actually the third and largest earthquake I've experienced since moving to California. The first time, it was around midnight and I was alone in my apartment in bed. My initial thought was that a giant truck had slammed into the side of the building. When I realized what was actually happening, the sensation was not what I would have expected. If you're close enough to the ground during a quake, you can actually feel the earth rolling underneath you like waves. And I think that feeling, even more so than the fear of crumbling concrete or shattering glass, is what makes earthquakes scary. For a few heart-stopping seconds you are completely aware of how anarchic nature can be--how with no warning it can literally pull the solid ground out from underneath your feet. It's a pretty convincing example of man's powerlessness against nature.
The second time, I was in the middle of a company-wide staff meeting at the newspaper I used to work at. I imagine that being in a room full of news reporters and editors in the seconds after an earthquake hits is somewhat similar to watching a pack of rampaging wildebeests take off after a gazelle. In one fluid motion, everyone in the room leaped to their feet and made a mad dash for their phones and notepads. (Sometimes I miss the single-mindedness of journalism.)
On Tuesday, when the windows and desk drawers started rattling, I realized pretty quickly what was going on and had the presence of mind to move away from the large window near my desk to a more protected part of the office. Some of the newer California transplants dove under their desks, which I probably should have done, but I just kind of hovered in a doorway exchanging nervous laughter with a co-worker until the ground became firm once again. Shortly thereafter it was back to work--but the rest of that afternoon had that kind of carnival-like feeling that ensues when SOMETHING HAPPENS to break up the monotony of a typical workday.
And maybe that's the trick of living in California, a place that seems to be constantly perched on the precipice of disaster. Eventually, you learn to be more at peace with its unpredictability and sometimes savage beauty. Maybe you even develop a perverse pleasure in challenging it, which is the only reason I can imagine why people would choose to build their multi-million dollar mansions on stilts along the sides of unsteady mountains.
Well, that and the views I suppose.