We’re All Waiting For The Big One
On Dr. Lucy Jones, canned corn, slow rollers, and fast catastrophes
“I thought a truck was going by,” someone says later. And someone else says, “I thought it was the upstairs neighbors.”
I was at a hair salon in Los Angeles when the first of the big Ridgecrest, California earthquakes struck on July 4, 2019. When the large, crystal chandeliers started swaying, my first thought was that it must be the wind. The phenomenon of the earth shifting beneath our feet is so contrary to expectation that it feels less probable than indoor wind.
It was not the wind. There was no one in the salon but my hair dresser, her assistant, and me, and the three of us stood braced in three different doorways, giddily confirming and reconfirming to one another that yes, this was an earthquake, and yes, it seemed to be a big one, and yes, it seemed to be a long one. (I later learned from my husband, Zac, that you aren’t supposed to stand in the doorway anymore. I am outraged. This is my New Math.) Anyway, it was fun and exciting in the manner of disasters that are not really disasters, at least not for you at the hair salon (although possibly for other people somewhere else). When it was over, I went back to getting my hair dyed again.
By the time the second big earthquake hit, I was braced for it, metaphorically if not literally. This, too, was one of the long, slow, rolling ones, with plenty of time to debate about whether or not this was an earthquake. Was it just a little one or a real one? Was it big enough to get off the sofa and feel a little silly crouching your big body under the dining room table? And then there was time to confirm that yes, okay, this one really was big enough for crouching after all.
(My older children were in the Bay Area with their dad and they missed the earthquakes. Margaret was in her crib napping peacefully; later, I would do some research on infant safety during an earthquake and feel assured that “an earthquake will probably not frighten a baby as they are used to being carried here and there, and lifted up and jostled, often without warning.”)
I have waited all my life for The Big One, since my elementary school first augmented regular safety drills with lurid video enactments of…