Well, it’s that time of year again when I’m receiving panicked emails from my mother informing me that yet another hurricane is about to hit South Florida. Seems like only yesterday when this end-of-the-world scenario was transpiring, with wild-eyed rabid shoppers climbing all over each other to lay claim to the last torch (flashlight to you Yanks) on the shelf at The Home Depot, not to mention queuing up to buy petrol for the family car. I well remember being stranded in Glorious Sunshine Land during Hurricane Katrina, the eye of which went right over the roof of my mother’s house, sparking off a psychedelic light show on the power lines that would have put any rave to shame, leaving us with no power for several days – and no air conditioning. If you’ve ever spent a summer in South Florida, you’ll know that this is tantamount to the very worst of CIA torture techniques. It took three days before we could find a hotel that had either electricity or a working generator. My flight back home to Blighty had to be delayed by another week, and I was never so glad to see the glum-faced immigration officers at Heathrow in my life.
Which makes me wonder why people get so worried about earthquakes. I’ve experienced a few during my time on the West Coast. These are the little things in life that keep you on your toes. I mean, there’s nothing like being jolted out of a sound slumber at 5am and having to sprint naked into the nearest doorway (for those of you who don’t know about such things, doorways are apparently the strongest part structurally in a building). With the opening lyrics to “The End” by The Doors playing in your head, you wonder if this is finally THE BIG ONE that everybody’s been going on about – the one where the San Andreas Fault will crack wide open and swallow up Los Angeles. Now I ask you, is that such a bad thing? Just think, no more mediocre television sitcoms or plasticised dim-witted celebrities!
You don’t get warnings about earthquakes, therefore there’s no need for those panicked trips to Home Depot or the BP station. Theoretically you’re supposed to have an emergency supply kit on hand anyway, which includes flashlight, radio, batteries (gotta have them batteries, and I don’t necessarily mean for the flashlight and radio either!), canned food, and a generous supply of water for both drinking and washing (and to help flush the loo if things get really dire). Of course hardly anyone bothers with this. I never did. Guess I figured I’d just get in the car and get the hell out of town.
As it happens, we have earthquakes in England too, though they’re pretty wimpy compared to those butch California ones. I remember being awakened in my bed in Sheffield in the middle of the night, thinking “did we just have an earthquake?”, whereupon I promptly fell back to sleep. The next morning I heard on the news that there had been an earthquake across the Pennines in Greater Manchester. A few broken windows and fallen bricks – nothing remotely along the lines of the 1906 San Francisco quake that nearly destroyed the city or the one in 1989 that re-deposited cars on the upper level of the Bay Bridge to the lower level.
Volcanoes. That’s one thing we don’t hear too much about on our curious little island, though they do exist. Now those can be tricky. I lived in Seattle for awhile, and had a rather oblique view of Mount Rainier from the balcony of my apartment. In fact, I even climbed it once (Mount Rainier, not my apartment building), though abandoned the quest at the halfway mark when I passed some snowboarder who couldn’t have been more than 15 looking on the verge of a stroke as he scrambled back down after only having made it part of the way. Needless to say, I ended up leaving Seattle before any lava came rolling in my direction. Or any more snowboarders.
I guess it’s safe to say that I’d take an earthquake over a hurricane any day. I mean, why get all worked up about something before it even happens? Then again, why not just opt for the quiet life? Aside from random earthquakes, windstorms, floods, tornadoes, strikes, football hooliganism, terrorist attacks, riots, never-ending engineering work on the railways and tube, Chancellors with surnames like “Darling“, and wood lice that somehow manage to get through your front door, life in Britain is pretty peaceful overall.