Coastal Commuter

Earthquake country

California residence offers so many benefits that the few liabilities can usually be dismissed. This is particularly true the closer you are to the glorious Pacific. If you’re an old hand at the Cali shuffle (and I’ve been doing a regular shuffle north and south for years), one tends to shrug off a little shake-up now and then. Of course, some shakes are bigger than others.

During my current Los Angeles run, I’ve been living in a modern-ish San Fernando Valley dwelling near the Sherman Oaks-Encino border from Monday through Friday. But, on the weekends, I am the designated house sitter for a considerably older home in the sylvan foothills of La Crescenta beyond Glendale. The latter place has terrible cell phone service, no cable and — Shock! Horror! — no Wi-Fi. When I get back from my La Crescenta duties and people ask me where I’ve been, I frequently say, “1953.”

There are five orange trees on the La Crescenta property, and they’re all quite fruitful — in the strictest sense of the word. One bears navel oranges so juicy and sweet that they make store-bought oranges taste like they’ve been sitting around and drying out in a warehouse for a few weeks — which is likely the case. In La Crescenta, all I have to do is walk out back and pick a bag full of citrus delights. Last Sunday, a neighbor even loaned me a picker to get those hard-to-reach babies in the upper branches. Then, I trekked to Montrose, one of the communities adjacent to La Crescenta, and strolled through friendly crowds at the farmers’ market held every Sunday on the main drag. Yes, life in Southern California can be idyllic.

But there are a few shortcomings to living on the Left Coast. One that both L.A. and S.F. have in common (and one that I generally take in stride) is the earthquake situation. As a Philadelphia native, I got a kick out of my home town having been founded by a Quaker — William Penn whose statue still stands atop Philly’s landmark City Hall right in the geographical center of town. Yet, I never dreamed that one day I would become a secular quaker at the most unexpected times.

So I’m sleeping comfortably in my Valley bed around 6:25 a.m. on a Monday morning in March when — Bang! — I’m awakened by a sharp snap and rattle that ends as swiftly as it started. I don’t get up. I feel no fear. I actually yawn and think, Hmmm … quake, pause a beat to see if there’s an aftershock, then roll over and go back to sleep. Later in the day, I learn that it was magnitude 4.4, and its epicenter was just a few miles south of where I was trying to snooze. It turned out to be the first in a spate of middling SoCal earthquakes that manifested on into the spring, and only one of them (centered in Orange County) really broke windows and cracked walls. To my knowledge, there were no fatalities other than the non-quake-related variety. No bridges collapsing. No wild looting. I did learn that the 4.4 that barely woke me seriously panicked my friend Andrew, a father of two young children. According to Andrew’s wife, their Studio City condo began to shake, and while their 2-year-old son said how much fun it was and asked if they could do it again, Andrew himself screamed like a little girl and went for the doorway with a kid under each arm.

I wonder what Andrew would have done had he attended the 1989 Giants-Athletics World Series game with me at Candlestick Park and experienced the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake. It was nothing short of surreal to watch the rim of the stadium ripple like the ballpark itself was doing the wave, while the earth rocked and rolled beneath us and the gargantuan light towers swayed back and forth like palm trees in a strong wind. As those lights went out and emergency generators kicked in, would Andrew have cheered like many of us in the stands did, eager to get the game started and oblivious to the extent of the destruction outside the stadium? It was only when the game was called, the normal electrical service in the park didn’t resume, the place emptied, and my friends and I rode back to our favorite South of Market hangout that we saw the detritus and realized how serious the Quake of ’89 had been and how great a toll it took on the Bay Area.

Once you’ve experienced such a ground-erupting catastrophe, a 4.4 earthquake like the one in March is tantamount to a blip. Sure, my relatives on the East Coast see trumped-up TV news reports and flip out, even when minimal destruction and no deaths occur. One aunt of mine was on the phone with my sister in New Jersey right after the Orange County quake, asking, “Did you hear from him? Is he OK?” It’s possible she imagines the earth cracking open like in a Michael Bay disaster film and me falling into the crevasse to my doom — even if there’s no footage showing any such hysteria.

Yes, it can happen. I’ve seen some hints of Nature’s might in that regard. I am unfazed. I choose to be a Californian. I’m staying. If the earth does crack open and I fall into the crevasse, I guess it’s nobody’s fault but my own. So to speak.

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Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on KPFK/Pacifica Radio's "David Feldman Show" and "Thom Hartmann Show" and on "Michael Snyder's Culture Blast," available online at, YouTube and Digidev TV. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster