Coming to terms with earthquakes: Life is shaped by what shakes it

Marina Times - Enter Stage Left: A New Coast
By Evalyn Baron
December 2011

Years ago, I flew from New York City to Los Angeles for “pilot season” and my agent offered me his guest room. We shared an easy camaraderie, returning late after our separate days of work: him booking auditions for clients, me going to those auditions and reading out loud from more bad scripts than good ones. It was television, after all.

Since Scott was between boyfriends at the time, we’d fix a late-night snack, polish off a bottle of wine, and sit by his pool chatting into the night about show biz. Then we’d retire to our separate bedrooms, his dog sometimes sleeping with him, sometimes with me. It was fun.

One morning about 4 a.m., a truck rumbling down the quiet, tree-lined street awakened me. As I rolled over in bed I thought, What’s a truck doing on this street at this hour? That’s weird. The rumbling continued, and I felt the floor shake.

“That’s one hell of a truck,” I said out loud to the empty room. I envisioned a large GAP delivery truck bringing all those fashionable-at-the-time khakis to the malls of Sherman Oaks. But why down this street? It was way too narrow! All of a sudden, Scott and his dog appeared in my doorway, the dog barking and Scott completely nude.

“Do you know what this is?” Scott yelled frantically. His mutt jumped on my bed, burying himself under my covers.

“Yes, Scott. I’ve seen a naked man before,” I replied, tossing him a pillow, which he held over his face. I hoped he’d have the presence of mind to hold it much lower. But he was preoccupied.

“It’s an EARTHQUAKE!” came from behind the pillow with a shriek. And then he jumped into my bed.

All three of us stayed under the covers, shivering, until we heard a large crash from the living room. I heard Scott moan. He loved that living room mirror, having spent hours in Melrose antique stores looking for just the right one. We both knew that it now lay in thousands of shards on his living room floor.

The rumbling finally stopped. We got out from under the covers to examine the damage, and I was no longer an earthquake virgin. It was my first.

It was frightening, disorienting. To see bushes uprooted by nature itself, to see the swimming pool water swaying side to side as if shaken by a large invisible hand? Sobering.

The “naked agent earthquake” made up my mind for me: I would never make the West Coast my permanent home. I was sure that if I did, The Big One would happen the instant I booked my first TV series. I envisioned falling between the earth’s fiery cracks without ever shooting a single show in front of a live studio audience. I feared earthquakes more than I feared anything on the streets of NYC.

Yet, here I live now, in a city where earthquakes are practically a tourist attraction. California’s beautiful landscape is the result of its geologic faults because when seismic shifts occur, they are more than just momentary shakeups. They are the forces that shape our world. So now I’m preparing. I’m opening my mind to earthquakes.

I’ve yet to feel a single one of the countless small quakes that constantly occur here, managing to prolong the illusion that I live in a geologically stable city. But I don’t. I live where the San Andreas Fault reminds us how illusory the idea of solid ground actually is.

As our first year in this wonderful city ends, there’s one thing I now embrace with my whole heart: the realization that life is shaped by what shakes it. Whether those shaken-not-stirred moments are by choice or by force, they are the truth. Nothing stands still. Ever.

When Peter and I moved from NYC to San Francisco, our old life was swallowed up by space and time. Friends, home, established careers became our past, not our future. Yet our life has never felt as wide open, as possible, as filled with joy as it does now. We gave ourselves the gift of San Francisco last Christmas, and it’s been a gift that has kept on giving.

So earthquakes? Bring ’em on! I’ve ordered our emergency survival kits – for humans and pets – and Peter put an app on my iPhone that records every earthquake in our area. Hooray for technology and its ability to terrify us in vivid color! My San Francisco posse has decided where we will meet up in case of earthshaking events, and we are ready to tough it out and keep the home fires burning.

We’re just very glad that our home fires are here. Happy holidays, San Francisco – and thanks for a great “freshman” year!