Shamrock Shake

See, because the earthquake happened on Monday.

A couple of weeks ago r/LosAngeles led me to an article decrying the city’s lax earthquake safety standards for buildings. While San Francisco has been leading the way, setting rigid structural standards for new developments and forcing landlords to renovate every old building in the city that isn’t up to codes, Los Angeles has opted for a considerably cheaper “let’s all just hope for the best” strategy.

The article went on to explain that even though LA is built on several fault lines and is famous for its earthquakes, there are still thousands of buildings in the city that will fall apart faster than Halle Berry’s acting career in the event of a particularly strong earthquake. The most structurally unsound of these buildings, apparently, are “dingbat” style apartments.

At the time I didn’t know what a dingbat apartment was, so I entered the word into Wikipedia and found myself staring at a picture of an apartment that looked unsettlingly similar to mine. It turns out that while supporting two or more stories’ worth of apartment complex on a couple of load bearing pillars is good for creating some cheap parking spaces, it also means that in the event of an earthquake the second floor can turn into the first floor pretty quickly.

It didn’t take me too long to recover from my previous brush with seismic activity, because while it was definitely more earthquake than I had ever been aware of before, it also wasn’t even strong enough to knock over the action figures on my desk. The trauma of seeing my IKEA bookshelf wobbling slightly in the corner faded away about a week after the event. But all of that forgotten earthquake anxiety came rushing back as soon as I discovered that I'm living in a building as ill-equipped to deal with earthquakes as I am.

You know when you’re waiting for a text message and you think you feel your phone buzz in your pocket, only to find out once you check it that it was just your mind playing tricks on you? It turns out the same thing happens when you’re waiting for your horrible death in a natural disaster. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve felt the opening vibrations of an apartment-shattering quakepocalypse 40 or 50 times, only to wait for a second and find out that it’s a passing helicopter or somebody jiggling their leg under the dinner table or a particularly fat neighbor climbing the stairs to the third floor.

So that was the state of mind I was in at 6:25 AM on Monday, when I woke up to my entire room violently shaking and rattling – books and DVDs raining down off of my bookshelf onto the floor, picture frames swinging off kilter on the walls, the Shakespeare action figure on my desk toppling square onto its back. Shit just got real.

This earthquake was quite a bit stronger than the one I’d been in before – to all of you Oregonians reading along at home, it honestly did feel comparable to the OMSI earthquake house I referenced in January, the main differences being the absence of Carole King and the presence of an absolute conviction that I was going to die right then and there.

It occurred to me that for all the time I’d spent worrying about earthquakes over the past couple of weeks, I hadn’t spent any time thinking about what I’d do if an earthquake actually happened. I’m not good at improvising, which is why the emergency plan I came up with on the fly was, “Stumble into the nearest doorway; scream.”

The shaking was over after about five or six seconds, but I knew it was only a matter of time until the Scotch tape and popsicle sticks holding my apartment upright snapped and the whole building collapsed around me. I snatched the nearest pair of pants and sprinted out the door of my apartment without even bothering to put them on first, reasoning that I’d rather be alive and immodest instead of buried under rubble wearing pants.

I fumbled my way into my jeans on the stairs and emerged into the alley outside my apartment to find the building still standing and a bleary eyed neighbor from the ground floor surveying the scene through her doorway.

“Hey.” I gasped, too wired off adrenaline to care that my fly was down.

“Hey.” She said. “Pretty scary.”

One floor up, both of my roommates cautiously emerged onto the catwalk of our decidedly not-destroyed apartment and looked down at me.

“Hey.” I said, noticing that all of the load bearing beams I had been so concerned about looked no different than they had at any other point in the past year or so I’d been living in this building.

“Hey.” My roommates said.

I sighed and threw up my hands. “Earthquakes, right?”

It was a 4.4 magnitude quake that originated a few miles away from me. Even though it was the strongest earthquake in LA since 2008, there were no reports of deaths, injuries, or structural damage from anywhere in the city. About the worst thing it did was deprive a few million people of another hour of sleep on a Monday morning.

This wasn’t a natural disaster so much as it was just a natural nuisance. And it’s reassuring to know that if nothing else, my apartment is at least structurally sound enough to withstand a nuisance. 

Truman Capps wants his mother to know that his building survived the Northridge Earthquake, which means it's probably quite a bit more structurally sound than he gives it credit for so please don't worry about me.