Saturday, August 19, 2006

Earthquake Supplies

The local papers after the 1989 earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area - more of what we had in the garage.

Over the past few weeks Ken and I cleaned out our garage. We moved into this house a little over three years ago, and the garage was where we asked the movers to put most of our packed boxes so that we could unpack them slowly and not have boxes piled in the living spaces. It didn’t take long to unpack them and get things put away, but there were, until recently, a few boxes that hadn’t been unpacked among all the other things we had piled in the garage over the past three years.

Among them was a small six-pack cooler. It’s an American thing, a little cooler that is sized just right to hold a six-pack of beer, or soda, or sparkling water. Most likely beer. I had made a label for it which was taped to the side. It said, “Earthquake Supplies.” The font was a spooky font like you’d see used for the credits of a horror movie, all drippy as with blood, but in black and white.

We lived in San Francisco for nearly twenty years, and we were there in 1989 when the earth moved, rather violently, and we were all scared out of our wits. It wasn’t too bad, but it was bad enough that people died and parts of the city burned and many buildings needed to be torn down after. Pretty scary.

So we took to heart the warnings that another bigger earthquake was on the horizon. Indeed, there were many more, thankfully smaller, quakes in the years just after 1989, but not the “big one” that is still predicted and will surely come.

We went out and purchased batteries (many sizes), packaged water, emergency food rations, sterno, candles, bandages, matches, and even an emergency blanket, and packed it all into this little cooler and put it away in a closet. It was our emergency survival kit, just like the ones they showed us over and over on the nightly news and told us we should, at minimum, have in our home. It was our little peace of mind in our unstable little part of the world. Thankfully, in the 15 or so years after we had put the kit together, we never needed it.

Fast forward to now. We left the Bay Area, sold our house built on seismically active ground, and moved to France. Yes, there are earthquakes here, but not so much. They’re very rare and not likely in our region. Hey, the Pont du Gard is still standing after more than 2000 years, and without mortar!

We’ve been here for more than three years now. We cleaned out the garage this past week and there it was: the earthquake kit. I looked through it and discovered that the emergency rations had expired in 1995, and the emergency water packs were meant to be used prior to becoming five years old. Ooops. They are now more than fifteen years old. Ken thinks the batteries are probably dead by now. At least the candles can still be used. I cleaned the kit out, threw away the old stuff and kept the usable stuff. Finally, I ripped the Boris Karloff-looking label off the cooler and washed the whole thing out. Perhaps it will serve as a cooler one day soon.

I can’t help but thinking that the little earthquake kit was just one last link to our old life in San Francisco; that dismantling it was just another cutting of ties. We really live in France now. That place where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars, and the earth moves from time to time, is fading, however fondly, into our memory.

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