Northridge, California, 1994
On January 17, 1994, the earth moved under our feet.
That morning, jolted awake by the shaking, I took a second or two to determine the power of this particular movement: when you're born and raised in Southern California, you may find yourself, as I do, able to ascertain fairly quickly whether you need to hustle to safety under a doorway or if you can just roll back over and go back to sleep.
There would be no rolling over.
I stood under the doorway next to my futon (oh, the days before I could afford an actual bed...) in the pre-dawn darkness, listening as bookshelves gave way -- spilling books and potted plants and videocassettes all over the carpet in the living room -- car alarms bellowed, and the walls, floor, and ceiling of my seventy-year-old-apartment building moved from side-to-side, groaning and creaking for what seemed minutes.
When the shaking did finally stop, my first instinct was to open the door, poke my head into the hallway, and check on my neighbors. A woman down the hall was weeping and panicking, so I calmed her down by telling her the worst was over (and it was, but we'd still get a couple of strong aftershocks). Our apartment manager, Marcia, quickly checked on the tenants of all fifty units, suggesting everybody leave the building and gather in the open courtyard.
I listened to the news on the car radio, as I learned the epicenter had been in Northridge, the San Fernando Valley community adjacent to the one I'd grown up. Lots of familiar street names were mentioned; fires along Balboa Boulevard, just a couple of minutes drive from the home of my parents, freeways I often traveled buckled in sections. It took six hours, but eventually I made telephone contact with the folks, learning that everybody in our family was okay.
Almost a month after the quake, I visited some of the worst hit sites, including this parking structure on the campus of California State University, Northridge.