“I’m feeling dizzy,” I told Eder my next door neighbor. I stood outside his tool shed in his backyard, mock machine gun in one hand looking down the sloping driveway. I think I was seven. It’s strange because I came from a baseball family, and I wasn’t watching the World Series. As a matter of fact I didn’t become a hardcore Giants fan until about tenth grade. I was young, and I was playing war next door with my friend.
“Just come in the shed, it’s base, it’s fine,” he said.
I listened to my wise friend because after all he was a year older. I stepped into the dark tool shed, “It’s in here too,” I told him.
“Don’t worry about it,” he replied, and so we began to battle whoever the hell we were battling.
I remember not being able to shake the feeling. Being in Napa, up in the North Bay, we didn’t get it quite as bad as some of the surrounding areas, and certainly the cities. I don’t remember the ground shaking, it was almost as if it was just tilting, or as if I was on a merry go round.
At the time I was too young, I was scared of roller coasters, but it was that feeling that I had. When you get off a roller coaster and you have adrenaline pumping and your eyes are trying to catch up with your brain. That light headedness, equilibrium slightly askew.
I gave up the war, surrendered and walked further into his backyard. Our older brothers and some of the neighborhood kids were concentrated on a tackle football game they had going. I still could feel something wasn’t right so I asked my brother who must’ve been twelve at the time what was going on.
“It’s an earthquake,” he said with a beaming smile. So simple, kid didn’t have a care in the world, he said it as if earthquakes were as common as a fall shower, and how he knew it so quickly, like he was a geologist. It was eerie. I can still see that smile.
I ran to my house and asked my mom what was going on, but she shut me up with a “shh” and continued listening to the radio. I remember being a little upset that she had shut me up so quickly, but then again my feelings got hurt rather easily when I was young, and I guess they still do.
I was excited to go to school the next day, and see if anyone else felt it. I didn’t know the magnitude partly because I was distant from the epicenter, partly because I was just a kid.
So while others were pancaked by tons of concrete on unforgiving expressways, and others fought fires that tore through neighborhoods, and the will and the heart of a people, and city was tested. I just played.
For those of you new to the Bay Area I do have another quake story for you, that illustrates more what a quake is like.
I didn’t feel one since Loma Prieta until the year 2000 when I believe a 5.4 centered out of Yountville, California rocked the valley like a grape crusher. Ironically enough, I had been in San Francisco earlier that day on a date at the Giants game. It was a grand day, and that night about 2 in the morning it happened. I was watching a stand up show on Comedy Central, and the TV flickered, and this demonic roar could be heard. It was not so much startling, or scary, but downright disturbing. Supernatural even. This ghoulish blue-green light flashed in my windows like those goddamn aliens were on the loose. People said it was from gasses being released and even rich residents on the tops of valley hills said they could see the light in the valley below. The earth moved like a wave. I’ve never been in a tornado, or a hurricane, but those disasters seem explainable. Just really bad storms, and I don’t mean to downplay them at all, because they are really, really bad storms.
I tell quake virgins though, when you know something’s so solid, when it’s been there all you’re life and you’ve almost never noticed it. The ground, so solid I would venture a guess that most people would consider it one of the most solid things they know of. Now imagine that solidness, that ground you’ve walked on every day of your life, becoming a literal wave. Moving in ways you might think are impossible, and when it does happen you’re at a loss for words and reasoning.
My bed went up and down like I was a fisherman in the North Sea, rocking and rolling in the earthly swells. The roar of nature, spitting gas, and destroying homes.
When it was over, I didn’t want to move. I wanted to go to the doorway because that’s one of the techniques I learned in grade school. I was in high school now, but I was home alone and I felt very vulnerable. I remember staring at the ceiling when this was happening waiting for the roof to cave in on my face. I was paralyzed with fear.
I didn’t want to get up because I thought it’d be like one of those cartoons where if I stepped on the ground I would disturb the earth and it would start all over again. Finally I went to the doorframe, and a small aftershock took place, just a second of small shaking. The house was a mess, and I cut my foot on a piece of glass, and I remember thinking I would turn on the TV and see Frisco in absolute shambles. I thought this was the “Big One.”
I remember calling my dad who was in Tahoe with my mom, but it was one of their first nights at the cabin and so when I called, they couldn’t find the phone. I remember leaving a message on my dads cell phone whom at the time didn’t know how to access his messages. I told him I thought the “Big One” hit but that I was okay, and I remember the waver in my voice, and knew I was truly shook up.
My buddy and I drove around town early that morning surveying the damage, and tailed a news van for a good hour and half who eventually noticed we were following them and lost us in Yountville which is a story in itself, considering Yountville’s the size of my thumbnail.
By Tyler Brown
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