Our first earthquake

I thought I'd written this already, but I've searched the site and it seems I haven't yet told this little story. That's becoming a bit of a problem — I have hundreds of notes to myself about things to post on the website, some notes on paper, some in emails to myself, some in word-processing files; some notes that are just a few words to remind me of something, others that are pages long and desperately need to be tidied up before publication, and most that are in between those two extremes. My notes are a complete mess, like everything else in my life.

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Stephanie and I had been living in our strange apartment for a few weeks. This was the place on Duboce Avenue, with the kitchen across the hall, separated from the rest of the apartment. We were starting to feel at home, and I'd shown her most of the things I loved and hated about San Francisco — the streetcars, the movie palaces, the Castro, the Mission, Golden Gate Park, the book store on Mission Street, the zine store on Valencia Street, the Avenues, the States, the Marina, Berkeley, and beyond.

One thing I hadn't shown her, and we stupidly hadn't even talked about, was earthquakes. As in, what to do when an earthquake strikes. California, of course, is often shaken by quakes — in an ordinary day there might be hundreds of earthquakes, but most are so small you'd never know. You generally can't feel an earthquake until it hits about 3.0 on the Richter scale, and even then you won't feel it unless the epicenter is fairly near.

I was in the kitchen across the hall, and Stephanie was in the bedroom, when the floor quivered. Immediately I dropped my sandwich on the counter and rushed through the door, across the hall, and into the bedroom. There was Stephanie, standing in the middle of the room with her eyes wide. She was scared from the rumbling, and perhaps more scared by me boisterously bursting into the room.

"Doorway, quick!" I said, holding out my hand. She was never a lady who took orders, but just this once she obeyed, took my hand, and we stood in the doorway of our apartment.

"Welcome to California," I said with a smile. Smiles were allowed because the floor had stopped shaking. "The first rule of earthquakes is that you go stand in the nearest doorway. That's because, if it turns out to be "the big one" — an earthquake that causes serious damage — "and the building collapses, the doorjamb can help keep the ceiling from falling on your head."

"That makes sense," Stephanie said, and again she was her very calm, rational self. "I was walking from the bathroom back to the bed when it started, and I wasn't sure what to do, so I just froze. Thank you for rescuing me, sweet prince."

Two doors down the hall, we noticed our neighbors were in their doorway, too, and as we stood there for a few minutes, more doors opened down the hall. Soon there were neighbors standing in four doorjambs all along the hallway, chatting about the Richter, and predicting it would be in the low 3s. Turned out to 3.1, if I recall correctly.

The next day, in exactly the practical way you'd expect from such a practical person, Stephanie went to the library, studied up on earthquakes, and began organizing our earthquake kit. The experts say, if you're living in California you ought to have an earthquake kit — a supply of food, water, and assorted necessities for living a few days without electricity, plumbing, running water, or easy access to grocery stores. 'Cause when the big one hits, the light switch and faucets might not work, and in a worst case scenario, you might not have a roof over your head. So be prepared.

It's not a bad idea anywhere, I suppose, but it's an especially good idea in earthquake country. Living alone in San Francisco pre-Stephanie, my earthquake kit had been a blanket and couple of bottles of water in a small cardboard box.

Steph put together a much more thorough kit, with canned and boxed food, medicine and first aid, a radio, batteries, a simple tool kit, a can opener, a change of clothes, pencils, papers, paper cups, paper plates, paper towels, plastic forks and knives, a real knife, and just enough tarp to cover us in the rain. Everything you'd need for an emergency, Steph had neatly organized in two large boxes, which were always kept under the bed, and which we thankfully never needed.