The earth rattled enough of my Southern California friends this evening, it made me remember the worst one I’ve ever been in. The Whittier Narrows quake of 1987.
It was my freshman year of high school, which due to the way Hemet Unified Schools had students shuffled at the time, meant ninth graders attended Hemet Junior High School. Since we lived over on the east side of town directly behind Hemet High School, I had to take the bus. The bus stop was almost directly across the street from our house. And due to my ever present (but undiagnosed at the time) anxiety disorder, I didn’t go out there to wait for it any earlier than I had too. I would typically open my bedroom window and listen for the air brakes that preceded it’s arrival. Then, I would jump up, grab my backpack, hopefully remember to close my window, yell goodbye to my mom as she ate her breakfast of toast and tea and sprint out the door. Probably slamming the door in the process. But, that morning in ’87 was a little more “fun”.
I had already made my bed, packed my backpack and opened my window. It seemed like the bus was running late. So, I laid down on my bed and turned on my clock radio. I remember the KROQ DJ coming on the air after a song and mentioning that they had just experienced a rather lengthy earthquake. I didn’t think anything of it, since we lived in Southern California. You kind of get used to them. And Los Angeles was over 90 miles away. It would have to be a pretty big rocker to get to our sleepy little town in Riverside County. But, get there, it did.
After the on air earthquake announcement, I decided to turn off the radio and pay closer attention to the late bus. I didn’t want to push my luck and end up missing it. As soon as I turned off the radio and stood up, the earth startled rattling something fierce. Most earthquakes I remember were rollers. Imagine dropping a pebble into a bucket. Now imagine picking up the same bucket and shaking the crap out of it up and down as fast as you can. Which one would you rather go through? This one was the latter.
Anyway. I digress. I quickly jumped into my bedroom door frame. And I could hear my mom asking if that’s where I was from the dining room. I remembered being worried about her because I knew the china cabinet was right next to that door frame. We could actually just barely see each other. I remember it lasting longer than I expected. And when it subsided, standing up, both of us making sure the other was okay, and that nothing was damaged. As I walked around the house, I noticed the water in the backyard swimming pool (they’re actually required for every California residence) was still jostling about like a miniature North Atlantic storm.
A few minutes later, I was off running for the bus. And asking everyone there if they felt it. They had not. I still don’t get that. I understand why you are less likely to feel an earthquake in a car. But, these were kids standing on a sidewalk just across the street!