Did You Feel That!?

We had an earthquake this morning. Residents met it mostly with yawns. The 4.7 temblor - I love that word - rattled a small town just south of the Bay Area at 5:24. I didn't feel it because I was in my car, but it woke up the Poobette. As earthquakes go, it wasn't a biggie, but I'm sure we'll have some local news stories reminding us to be prepared for The Big One.

Of course, the Bay Area has earthquakes all the time. It's even had Big Ones many times before. It's a fact of life here. Once, while watching a TV news report about a massive Turkish earthquake, we had one. I thought it brought a little more realism to the video cam pictures of shaking office buildings in Ankara.

Bay Area residents are always aware of the danger. Hell, the main reservoir for the city of San Francisco is actually a big crack in the San Andreas fault and Caltrans is still working on damage from the 1989 Big One. You can't avoid the near-weekly stories about the discovery of a new fault line or a tuned up prediction about when and where the Big One will happen. The fault line maps of the place look like a plate glass window after a riot. Crazy cracks running north and south, separated by only a few miles. There's no place within 150 miles that is completely safe. When you look at the reality of the map the jokes about California cracking off and drifting away don't seem so far-fetched.

I live on a hill overlooking the Hayward fault. The experts predict that's where the next Big One will happen.

That crack lies directly beneath the huge stadium at UC Berkeley. In many places you can see it running down the gutters and cutting across intersections. It's marked by offset curbs and hairline cracks. A few years ago, one of the local TV stations did a week long series about the Hayward fault. The reporter walked down the fault, stopping to talk to people about the scary proposition of living so near it.

The report consisted mostly of pictures of cracked concrete and shoulder shrugs from interviewees - except one woman. She lived in an aging apartment building sitting directly astride the fault. In fact, a crack representing the fault ran beneath her bed, placing it on one side and her feet on the other. She'd noticed the crack long before, but didn't think about it much. Upon hearing the cheery news about the crack she said, "Frankly, it scares the hell out of me." It may have scared the hell out of her, but she didn't plan to move. She said, "Are you kidding? I can't find another apartment this cheap in the Bay Area." As always, economics trump personal danger.

Her reaction is typical for many people living in dangerous places. Residents of them are usually quite aware of the dangers. I'm sure all but the most thickheaded understood the danger to New Orleans, but it didn't prompt them to move. The world over, volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, and assorted other disasters happen and people begin to rebuild while the dust is still in the air.

I don't think people do this because they are oblivious or think it won't happen to them. They do it because they can't afford to up-ass and move. It's a personal version of a cost/benefit analysis. And as they live there, they take one of two paths, both designed to lower the stress of it all.

The smart ones take reasonable precautions like building an earthquake kit or laying in extra supplies of water. Then they go back to ignoring the Jello in the ground. The less industrious skip the earthquake kits with some gallows humor - what the hell do I care, if it comes I'll be dead anyway - as they roll over and go back to sleep.

Oops, I guess I have to roll over now. An aftershock just hit. It's just another day in paradise.

This is an Omnipotent Poobah Speaks exculsive post.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Thursday, June 15, 2006

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