Today I was relaxing at home on the couch, enjoying some downtime on my day off when my couch started to shuffle back and forth. It was just a bit at first but it didn't take me long to figure out I was experiencing my first California earthquake. (I make the distinction since I have felt a few in Illinois, although none as strong as what rolled through southern California today.) We shuffled and rolled for a couple of minutes, but nothing even fell off the shelves. Eric kept a steady eye on his precious flat screen t.v., poised and ready to spring to its rescue if it started to shake too badly. One thing I can say--feeling the earth shake in a one story house is different than in an apartment building. Considering the time it takes for the building to settle, it's hard to tell exactly when the actual earthquake stops.
When we first turned the television on afterwards, the networks were reporting the event as a 5.8 with the epicenter in Chino Hills (a few miles from downtown L.A.), but as the afternoon wore on, it was downgraded to a 5.6 and then 5.4. Either way, anything between a 5 - 6 on the Richter scale is considered "moderate." As it turned out, 5.4 wasn't enough to make any Angelinos spill their lunchtime Starbucks mochachinos, so most of the city's inhabitants were only shaken up enough to make it the most popular topic of conversation for the afternoon.
Sure, this quake only knocked a few things off shelves in the areas closest to the epicenter and--thank God--no major damage or injuries occurred. No harm, no foul. Like everyone else I was joking around about it after the fact. And yet... Considering where I work, one thought lurked, bubbling in the muck at the back of my mind: I was thinking of the citizens of towns like Pompeii and Herculaneum in August of 79 A.D. After all, practically every day at work I talk to people about the catastrophic events of that day and the fact that the reason we know enough about ancient Roman villas to create a reconstruction of one is because the towns were completely buried (and thus preserved) when the volcano exploded. By all accounts the quakes and other disturbances that happened in the days before the massive catastrophic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius didn't phase the locals and they continued about their daily lives as usual. They were used to the earth shaking where they lived--it was just a part of life in their part of the world. This is actually not too different from the nonchalant way some residents of southern California think of earthquakes--it's just part of living here.
Of course there's nothing you can do if the earth decides to split open and swallow you one afternoon, but I have enough respect for the forces of nature to know that the potential exits. Inevitably, one day we will be reminded that we're no different than the ancient Romans living in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius. The "big one" will likely find us going about our daily business, blissfully unaware of what the earth has in store for us that day.
With any luck, I'll be living somewhere far, far away when that day comes. :-)