W. Bruce Cameron: I was in San Francisco last week watching a TV special titled Now That You’re Here, Let’s Talk About Earthquakes!
According to the documentary, our continents are aimlessly drifting around the planet, sort of like my son when I ask him to do the dishes.
In this way, the Earth is constantly changing – if you don’t want to pay the high price of an airline ticket to Europe, for example, you should just wait a while because eventually we’ll be able to walk there for free. In California, a pair of continental plates are rubbing each other the wrong way, and apparently it’s San Andreas’ fault.
There are two signs you may be experiencing an earthquake: (a) You hear a noise like a train, and (b) you’re breathing rubble. Because of dangerous aftershocks, experts recommend you remain where you are at least an hour after the quake before you go outside to start your looting. If you’re a guest at a small, “pre-code” hotel like the one where I stayed, you’re advised to have a couple days’ worth of food in your pockets so the rescue dogs will care about finding you. You should also never venture anywhere in the area without such common-sense supplies as 5 gallons of drinking water, an emergency power generator and a llama.
Also, it’s a good idea to have an earthquake plan all figured out ahead of time because it’s difficult to write down your plan when the room is shaking.
By law, the hotel had to provide an emergency evacuation plan, and I eventually found it in the Things To Do in San Francisco book. In the event of a catastrophic earthquake, I learned, my hotel would offer its “elevated platinum” members late checkout at no extra cost.
Well, OK, it would be up to me to come up with my own plan because this was only my second stay at the hotel, which made me a “recycled metal” member. As such, I was allowed free elevator rides to and from my room and had to spend only an hour a day helping other guests with their luggage.
After the show ended I lay in the dark, unable to sleep as I reviewed all that I’d learned about earthquakes in San Francisco. I decided that upon hearing what sounded like a train, I would leap out of bed, run to the sliding glass door, open it, step out on the balcony and jump over the railing onto a grassy hill six feet below, where I would sprain both my ankles. Diane Sawyer, describing my bravery, would abandon any pretense of objectivity and allow a sob to roughen her voice, and I would be invited onstage to sing with Sheryl Crow at the annual Benefit To Raise Money for People With Sprained Ankles.
I fell asleep wondering which photograph they would pick for the Time magazine “Man of the Year” issue.
I awoke with a literal jolt. It was barely morning and I could hear what sounded like a train approaching my room from down the hallway. Worse, I could feel it, the vibration rattling everything in the room.
“OK, I’m not panicking – I have a plan!” I thought. I jumped up, mindful of the fact that when the paramedics found me I’d be wearing nothing but my boxer shorts. I sprinted to the sliding glass doors, opened them with a crash and bounded onto the balcony in preparation for my big leap.
And there, just a dozen yards away, was – of course – a train, the commuters staring out their windows at me as I stood exposed on my hotel balcony.
I knew what they were thinking: “What’s the Man of the Year doing without his llama?”
Write to Bruce at [email protected]