I Feel The Earth Move

 Adult entertainment? I didn't know natural disaster-oriented porn was a big thing in the 70s...

Whenever I try to convince my job-seeking Portland friends to start looking for work in LA, they always give me a long list of reasons why the city I live in is supposedly the worst place on Earth, either due to sprawl or smog or the fact that it’s completely infested with Californians. Recently, though, one of my friends shot down my LA sales pitch in a way I’d never heard before – “I’d never move to LA because I’m really scared of earthquakes.”

I snorted, shaking my head. “Oh, come on,” I laughed. “Everybody knows earthquakes aren’t real!”

I mean, yeah, I acknowledge that earthquakes exist, but up until recently I never took them all that seriously. In the Pacific Northwest, earthquakes are about as rare as sunny spring days and racial diversity, so while I grew up learning about earthquakes in school and watching news footage of earthquakes happening elsewhere, they were never exactly real to me.

There was a 5.6 magnitude earthquake in Oregon in 1993, but according to my mother I slept right through it as the entire house shook around us. There was another earthquake, considerably shorter and weaker, during broad daylight when I was in middle school, but it happened after second period when all of us were on the way to lunch, so if I felt any actual shaking I probably dismissed it as the result of 400 middle schoolers stampeding toward cheap pizza.

The closest I ever got to actually being cognizant of an earthquake as it happened was several dozen rides in an earthquake simulator exhibit at OMSI throughout my childhood. The simulator was a walk-in replica of a living room – chairs, a couch, coffee table, shelves – that a hungover college-aged volunteer would lead you and half a dozen other people into before stepping out and closing the door.

Soon after the door closed, a radio on the counter would switch on and start playing the Carole King song “I Feel The Earth Move”: 

I feel the Earth – move – under my feet
I feel the sky tum-b-lin’ down…

At this point, machinery under the floor of the fake living room would go into action, generating small vibrations that rattled the knickknacks on the shelves. Immediately, Carole King’s voice on the radio would be replaced by the Emergency Broadcast System, which listed a bunch of useful earthquake safety tips as the intensity of the shaking grew and grew until the fake overhead lamps were swinging back and forth. After a few seconds the earthquake would stop, the college volunteer would open the door, and then it was usually time for a hot dog in the cafeteria.

At any carnival or amusement park this would be mocked as the lamest ride of all time, but OMSI, being a science-oriented children’s museum, could get away with it because it was educational and taught kids about what to do in an earthquake. At least, that was the intent. About all I got out of the exhibit was a messed up impression of “I Feel The Earth Move” – since my only experience with the song growing up was in the earthquake simulator, in my mind the chart topping 1971 single is just two lines followed by the Emergency Broadcast System alarm and safety advice.

I was well aware of LA’s reputation for earthquakes when I moved here, and for the first few months I remained on edge, tensing up every time my windows rattled even though it was usually just because my roommate was prancing around the living room playing Dance Central. After awhile, I figured that maybe Los Angeles had gotten all the earthquakes out of its system before I moved, and shortly thereafter I put seismic activity out of my mind entirely to concentrate on getting a job.

This past Friday I awoke with a jolt at 5:30 AM to find my entire bedroom in motion – picture frames rattling against the wall, halfassedly constructed IKEA furniture wobbling like Jello.

For fuck’s sake. I thought. This is way too early for Dance Central.

It dawned on me that not only was I no longer living with my Dance Central loving roommate, but that we also don’t even have a TV or XBox in the living room. When I realized that what I was experiencing was an honest to goodness, this-is-not-a-drill earthquake I had absolutely no coping mechanisms to fall back on.

“Aaaaaauuuuuuuughh!” I yelled. Meanwhile, my mind raced to try and remember the earthquake safety tips from the OMSI simulator. 

Okayokayokay uhhhhh I feel the earth move under my feet I feel the sky tumblin’ down boooooooooooooooooooooop this is the emergency broadcast system something something something fill your bathtub with water something something something hey grandma can I get a hot dog

I have no bathtub to fill with water, rendering the one earthquake safety tip I could remember from OMSI totally useless. I also remembered from school that you should take cover under your bed during an earthquake, but since I have a captain’s style bed that wasn’t an option either, so instead I decided to just lie completely still and be scared and see how that plan of action worked out for me.

The earthquake ended a few seconds after it began. There was no noticeable change in my room – the plastic William Shakespeare action figure on my desk didn’t even tip over – but I laid awake for the next five hours anyway, just to be ready in case there was an aftershock.

Earthquakes are officially real to me now, and I don’t mind telling you that they’re pretty scary. That said, just about every region of this country has a thing that tries to kill people, and based on what I’ve seen so far I’d much rather take my chances with earthquakes than hurricanes, polar vortexes, tornadoes, and West Nile Virus. Just to be prepared, though, I’ll probably go back on the earthquake simulator next time I’m in Portland – and I’ll be sure to take notes.

Truman Capps also vaguely remembers "I Feel The Earth Move" from a Muppets music video.