San Ramon and Pleasanton, California (just outside of San Francisco)
21.11.2002 - 25.11.2002
I had been in California for about a month, and loved it. I had been set up in a one-bedroom furnished apartment in Pleasanton, just south of Oakland and across the bay from San Francisco. It was May, 2002 and while the weather was still shaky back in Toronto, it was sunny and in the 70s every day in Pleasanton. On weekends I would take the BART into the city or drive up into Marin County to do some hiking. And to put the cherry on the icing of the cake, my San Jose Sharks were playing in the NHL playoffs.
But even though I was cheering for the Sharks, eating Dim Sum in China Town or hiking in the hills of Marin County, I still wasn’t a Californian. Because if there is one thing that binds all Californians, it is the knowledge that their precious piece of earth is only hanging onto the continent of North America by the most tenuous of connections. Any day – the big one could come along and make California the next Madagascar. Every true California can talk casually about Earthquakes, and being through them.
After a month in California – I still couldn’t talk about being through an earthquake.
It was a typically sunny Monday in Pleasanton. I microwaved some quesadillas and took up a position on my couch to watch San Jose face off against Colorado in game 6 of the NHL’s Western Conference Semifinals.
Heading into the third period the score was tied at 1. I sat intently staring at the screen as the clock ticked away the minutes in the third period. 9:44… 9:43… 9:42… “Score, Damnit!” I screamed at the screen! 9:41… 9:40…
Around this time, far below the ground of Gilroy, California, tension that had been building up on the San Andreas Fault suddenly let lose. Gilroy, about 1 hour south of Pleasanton, shook with an earthquake measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale. The waves flowed through the rock and up to Pleasanton, where it was soon shaking my apartment.
Sitting on my couch, I could feel the foundation of the building start to hum. There was a slight vibration moving through the walls and floor of the apartment. It was very reminiscent of when the bus drives by my apartment in Toronto, so my immediate thought was that there was a large truck driving by the building.
Soon though, the vibration changed to a swaying. The entire building starting moving back and forth, and finally my brain recognized that I was in an earthquake. “Hey, this isn’t so bad,” I thought to myself, “kind of like a ride at Disney World.
Just, however, as I was finishing my thought did the heaviest shaking start to occur. And no longer did I consider this fun. The building was shaking badly. My thoughts raced. Should I leave the building? No, you don’t leave the building in an earthquake, you might get hit by something falling. Should I stand in a doorway? Yes, that’s what they suggest. Standing in a doorway!
Before I stood up, though, I looked at the TV set. The Sharks and Avs were still playing. The announcer said to his color commentator, “did you feel that? I think that is an earthquake. And now the Avs move down the ice. Forsberg passes to Sakic.” Despite the shaking, the game continued. If they weren’t going to stop the hockey game, then surely things must be fine. I remained sitting on the couch.
The earthquake quickly passed. There was no damage in my apartment, and no injuries or significant damage reported anywhere, even in Gilroy, where the most devastating loss was a china cabinet with collection of Elvis plates. I watched the end of the game (Sharks lost in OT), and enjoyed it even more, because now I was a Californian.
Swarming In San Ramon
Later in 2002, I had moved from Pleasanton to San Ramon, two towns to the North. The Sunday before the U.S. Thanksgiving, I was in bed sleeping when I was jerked awake. I shot upright, sure that someone had jumped on my bed. Looking around the room, I didn’t see anyone. But something had landed on my bed, I was sure. My heart still racing, nearly hyperventilating, I walked around my apartment, looking for the robber I was sure was in my apartment.
I didn’t find anyone. After a half an hour of calming myself down, I finally went back to bed and fell back asleep. But falling back to sleep, I couldn’t figure out what had woken me. Was the feeling of someone jumping on my bed just a dream?
It wasn’t, I would learn later. It was a 3.9 magnitude earthquake that would be the first of over 150 earthquakes within 7 days to hit the Sam Ramon area. This series of earthquakes is known as an earthquake swarm. Usually earthquakes occur in a series – small foreshocks followed by the main event, and then smaller aftershocks. In a swarm, there is a series of earthquakes of a small size without a main event.
In the San Ramon swarm of 2002, there were 7 earthquakes of greater than 3 magnitude. That’s about the magnitude where you can start to feel them, but they aren’t usually enough to cause any damage. A 3.9 magnitude earthquake is large enough, however, to make a sleeping Canadian think someone is jumping on his bed.
No one is quite sure what causes swarms. They usually occur in high volcanic areas like Hawaii, indicating subterranean magna movements. San Ramon is not exactly known for volcanoes. The rest of the week the ground continued to shake, but for most the time so slightly that I didn’t even feel it, or if I did I mistook it for a large truck passing.
The earthquake swarm would be the last of my shaking experiences in California. Within a month I had moved from California back to Toronto, but I had sat in the traffic, cheered for the Sharks and climbed Mount Diablo, and most importantly, I have lived through the earthquakes. I was then, and always will be, Californian.