The Sylmar Quake (Oh yes, I remember..)

I moved to Los Angeles with my family from New York and for me that change was not something that I dealt with well.

I was (and am) a New Yorker at heart and the differences between the two coasts were glaring to me.

The freeways were crazy; bumper to bumper traffic moving at 80 miles an hour. The weather was strange (mostly pleasant but strange); dry to the point of perpetual brown then rain rivaling the biblical deluge. The streets had these strange dips (the only drainage system for the deluge) that could tear up the undercarriage of your car. And the cars all looked great no matter how old they were; mechanically they were junk but they all looked great.

People didn’t walk here; hence most residential areas I saw had no sidewalks. But then you really would probably be risking your life walking because the smog was so bad it could do you in if you exerted yourself. Anyone remember SIG ALERTS?

But the thing that really amazed me was the fact that I was suddenly living on a “fault line”. Something I had never done before and the be frank had never even considered doing.

I was in LA for a while before I even experienced a “tremor”. You know; one of those little happenings when the ground shakes under you and things move in a very unnatural way. Oh yeah, people occasionally spoke about their experiences and tremors were reported with a certain amount of regularity on the local news; but I never was conscious of the ground moving under me for the first three months I was there.

I was actually kind of disappointed and in a weird way anticipated my first “quakelette”; as it were.

So one day, while attending a wedding shower in a Mexican restaurant on the 13th floor of the Valley Federal Building in Van Nuys (well not really the 13th floor, there was no 13th floor just a 12th and then a 14th floor); the earth moved. The building moved and seemed to sway. The bottles and glasses shook behind the bar with an ominous tinkling (if in fact tinkling can be ominous). The prerequisite Mexican restaurant terra cotta hanging pots swung frantically back and forth. And for a brief instant in time no sound of human voices were heard in the restaurant.

Everything seemed to move except time and humanity. Then it stopped, it was over. Conversations, paused in mid-sentence, resumed with not a word lost. Life continued.

Now my first reaction was to look around at my fellow table mates and ask loudly: “what the hell was that?”

Oh, it’s just a tremor.

Just a tremor! The earth moved! The building shook!

No one seemed to be upset in the slightest.

I came to the conclusion, and I told everyone at the table, loudly and in no uncertain terms that they were “all nuts”.

Angelinos were crazy and definitely in denial. When you live under the constant threat of the “big one”; you just didn’t sweat the little ones, I guess.

That was NOT the Sylmar Quake. But for you to understand how I felt about Sylmar; I had to give you my own first quake experience.

So now we move forward in time by about four years or so. I was living with my soon to be husband in an apartment in Hollywood. The building was an older three and a half story apartment house built in the late ’40s.

Our apartment was on the first floor with two full floors and half of another above us. I remember that it was very early in the morning, just before 6 AM. The first thing that I was aware of was a sound. My first thought was that someone had parked a rather large garbage truck right outside our bedroom window. It seemed to get louder as I tried to figure why and how a garbage truck would be there that early in the AM. Not really wanting to wake up and resenting the fact that it seemed I had to; I started to sit up in bed to see if I could get a peek at the offending vehicle. As I was slowly dragging myself up into a sitting position to see outside the window; the earth goddess started her dance.

The offending noise grew into a deep vibration that could be felt from the ground up. The vibration grew into a shaking and the old style “Spanish” windows flew open inward. Oh my God, this is a real earthquake!

Everything started to move at the same time. My first instinct was to get up and run, but my efforts in that direction only caused me to fall on the floor. I couldn’t stay there because all the furniture was moving and falling and sliding and I was about to be run over by the bed. I got up and got back on the bed. It was kind of like trying to mount a running horse. The horse analogy was reinforced by my boyfriend yelling: “Whoa! Whoa! as if the bed was a recalcitrant equine desperately trying to buck the both of us off.

The bed moved from one side of a rather large room to the other and at one time or another bounced off all of the four walls. All we could do was ride it out. Sitting up was not easy so we were forced to ride on our backs staring up at the ceiling.

As scared as I was of the noise, and the shaking, and the violent motion and the windows literally flapping on their hinges; what terrified me most was looking at the ceiling. This was an old building and there were at least two more apartments above ours. The horror of it was that I could actually see the lathe and plaster move with the wave form of the quake. It moved, it flexed, it actually rippled with the vibration and I knew (with that kind of clarity of mind that come from sheer terror) that I was helpless to do anything if it all came down on us.

Then it stopped.

And just as with the first tremor I had known; it stopped suddenly and there was silence for a few moments in time. It was a strange silence; a complete silence.

After a few moments you could hear people calling out to one another; checking to see if everyone was alright. Life again continued.

Again, and with far more evidence this time, I came to the conclusion that Angelinos are all crazy and definitely in denial.

God bless them!


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