I left California for good, thinking “Good riddance and thank the gods!” in April of 1994, only a few months after the Northridge Earthquake registering 7.1 on the Richter Scale that killed 57 people. When I shipped out of the Los Angeles MEPS station headed for Orlando and Navy boot camp, rescue personnel were still looking for missing people.
I tell everyone who asks and some who don’t that I joined the Navy to save my own life, because I was a meth addict who watched part of her own sinus fall out while tweaking one day and realised if she didn’t do something to kick the foul drugs she was going to die out there in the desert and waste EVERYTHING. Joining the military was the most drastic rehab I could think of, and the only guaranteed method of success. I dove in feet first and committed myself about a thousand percent and I won. The earthquake happened about a day or so before I got on that bus to head down to the MEPS from the high desert where I made the worst mistake of my young life up to that point by getting hooked on the nasty, evil foulness of meth in the first place (and I had already done some doozies). I was working in my mom’s yard in the already blistering heat of desert spring and the earth started bouncing in hard jerks. I’d been through several quakes before so I knew I was in the safest place: no electrical lines nearby, no structures that could topple or slide onto me, nothing like that. I had a fence to hold onto for stability if necessary, and my mom’s ranch-style house was yonder. I stood there feeling the world jerk me and try to fling me off her gravity well. I watched the Joshua trees jounce and sway and buck and the juniper bushes dance around like possessed jackrabbits. The fence was shivering and swaying, and rocks were falling off my mom’s roof. It was a fierce one, that quake. And just like the other big quake I had gone through back in high school, once it was over, all the mountains around the valley were covered in dust. And I had the duty of checking the gas lines. That’s always the scariest part, making sure there are no bubbles in the soap water when you check your gas lines. A house fire has always been my biggest fear. Having now lived through one I can tell you that is a very justified fear. Earthquakes are anxiety-inducing, but the training one gets is all one needs to get through it provided a freak accident doesn’t happen. House fires are another thing altogether, and completely terrifying.
California is just Old Geology. I am a completely happily expatriated Californian. I have now lived more years in other states (and countries) than I ever did in California. While I was born in California, on Beale Air Force Base outside Marysville, we only lived there a short time before sperm donor was transferred to Spangdahlem Air Force Base in (West) Germany. And then to Bitburg. And in between we lived for about three months in a tent on the sidelines of the airfield in Aviano outside Venice. I was about four when we moved back to the desert in California to George Air Force Base. I didn’t leave until I was eighteen and went to Georgia for a year to experience my disastrous first marriage. When I joined the Navy at 23 I experienced true freedom for the first time, in many ways. My first attempt to escape California at eighteen resulted in actual jail instead of just parental enslavement. Their idea of straightening me out after that was to rent me a room with a very strange cult-like fellow who wanted to massage me at odd times of the night. I responded by going and getting myself hooked on drugs, and then running away and joining the Navy to well and truly escape California’s ultra crazy collection of cultists and “I’ll make you famous” Hollywood weirdos once and for all. Thank goodness for the self-discipline taught by the military. Also the travel options. I was shipped off to Italy right away. Everyone should get to experience the Italians at least once; they have a gift for patience. I could have done without boot camp in the swamps of Florida, though. Going from the dry climate of the desert to the liquid air of a place where the earth is mostly below sea level made me feel like I needed scuba gear to breathe, or at least gills. And I was the only person in my company who always drank the required amount of water even though it smelled like sulfur…because I was constantly drenched in sweat from all that water pouring out of every pore.
When I met my husband, we became fast friends over many things. Mostly Dungeons and Dragons. But also natural disasters. He was most impressed I had been through many earthquakes. I was impressed he had lived on the coast of Hurricane Land and having spent a year in Tornado Central thought it was pretty cool he was fairly blasé about all of that. We bantered back and forth often about the other was so casual about each other’s geographical Mother Nature Horrorfests. When you grow up around one particular terrible thing, you become inured to its terrors. That’s called desensitization and it’s really not a good thing. I don’t think I ever got completely desensitized to the ground frequently moving under me. When I was a kid I was always insatiably curious about everything, and since my parents didn’t answer any of my questions I turned to the card catalogue at my library for answers, and my trusty librarian Lorraine. Incidentally, one of my local librarians at the High Plains Library District is named Lorraine. She’s the one in red in this photo with the kick-ass hairdo. I might be a little biased toward her because of her name. I might be a little biased toward all librarians because of my First Librarian, Lorraine. I remember her every Samhain, when folks of my faith remember those who have crossed the veil.
I found out all sorts of fascinating science facts about California geology at the library. Where I lived in California was very close to the San Andreas fault. When the I-15 interstate was built over the Cajon Pass when I was a girl, and we didn’t have to take the winding mountain passes to get Down Below to San Berdoo anymore, we were treated to the most amazing views of the bare slabs of the naked fault that came to the surface right in my backyard. Six-year-old me had nightmares of falling to the centre of the earth if I walked up to the edge of it. When we drove the Grapevine around to Bakersfield and those points you could see more parts of the San Andreas where it showed its bones. As I studied geology and seismic information, learning about tectonic plates and the Pangaea theory and all sorts of truly fascinating stuff from early grade school on via the magical pass of my library card, I came to one really horrible conclusion: my state was basically doomed. Rotting swiss cheese of the geologic variety, with a really awesome layer of compost on top that made it perfect for growing crops, in a stunningly beautiful backdrop of scenery with just FABULOUS weather so everyone and their brother wanted to come live here. And unfortunately we completely lacked the scientific knowhow to actually do that but we were going to do it anyway, by golly, because there was money to be made. I was a very observant kid, but lacked the ability to put what I understood into tactful words so I got into an awful lot of trouble.
I still get into an awful lot of trouble, but SHUCKS. California is still falling off. In more ways than one. I still retain an awful lot of fondness for my erstwhile home state. It’s more like an estranged relative, which is pretty apt considering all my actual relatives there are estranged. It’s only my chosen family, my friends, that stay in touch with me. The people who have helped me through countless endless traumas with love and care and tenderness. And I fret horribly about them while the ground out there groans and creaks and rumbles and tries to align itself in a fruitless effort of two tectonic plates: an eons-long dance that is slowly fracturing the entire area into smaller and smaller rocks. My family has made it quite obvious that even though I fret about them too, they think I am over-reacting and my concern is foolishly stupid. At least I finally found out my mother is alive and not buried under piles of something. I got really anxious seeing so many unsecured items falling over; a 7.1 jolting will really put you in mind of some heavy seas, and you sure as heck always secure all unsecured items during heavy seas so they don’t hurt anyone. This is why it’s standard operating procedure in Earthquake Land to secure all bookcases and such to your walls: ever wonder what those fancy webbing tabs are for when you buy some furniture? That’s not just so your intrepid climbing toddler doesn’t pull it down on themselves, it’s so the darn thing doesn’t fall over for residents of The Ring of Fire. And so items on it have a better chance of staying put. When I was a teen they didn’t come standard with those things and you had to go to your hardware store and buy a kit to attach to your furniture. And those kits didn’t come out until after the 1987 Whittier Narrows Earthquake.
California, stop building all your fancy, overpriced houses in Malibu. Build them in the ocean instead. If you are going to insist on living in California, put all your fancy science and Big Ill-Gotten Bucks into devising houses that won’t burn up in the Regularly Scheduled Chapparal Fires or crumple during earthquakes on bathosphere houses that have an equally stunning view UNDER THE WATER. You can bask in the virtue signalling glory that your homes are super delish earthships that convert the seawater to drinking water and all your sewage and greywater is reclaimed and all that happy jazz hands stuff. And all the LAND that your egregious overpriced homes are squatting on can meanwhile be converted to farming land or homes for immigrants or others who really need some other temporary homes while we figure out how to integrate them into our society and culture. Meanwhile all the innovative tech industry this creates can be located in areas where the ground does NOT move around and isn’t getting slowly ground into the ocean. Like Colorado! Where tech innovation is already well established and we have plenty of space to spread out and it is already being transferred away from the fossil fuel industry.
I really haven’t spent a whole heck of a lot of time fleshing this out. I leave that up to the rest of the world and the various industries, but I really have been daydreaming of this off and on for maybe forty years now. Because science. Libraries. Earthquakes and Fires and Hurricanes oh my.