July, 2010:

A Dyno-mite Christmas – Life in LA

A strong fist pounded on my apartment door the week before Christmas a few years ago. Was I getting a UPS package I didn’t know about? I quickly checked my attire; it was only 10:15 a.m. and I worked at home in very casual dress, especially in the morning. In sweats, no makeup or bra.

When I opened the door I was astonished to see an LAPD cop and noticed several others across the courtyard, also pounding on doors. “You’ve got to evacuate your apartment immediately. There’s a bomb alert from the apartment building two doors away.  While we check it out, exit the building and walk down toward Riverside,” he commanded. “You can’t get your car in the garage,” he added as he walked toward my next-door neighbor’s door.

Time for the bra and thanking myself that I had already put on my eyebrows—I went nowhere without my Maybelline. Not knowing how cold it was, even though the sun was out, I grabbed an extra sweatshirt and headed out to join the small crowd a building away. It was obvious where we had to go—they’d already strung yellow caution tape across the street, both north and south to encompass about three buildings on each side of the street.

Normally a heavily trafficked street that connected with the nearby 101 freeway, Coldwater Canyon Avenue was as quiet as it might have been at three in the morning. The only noise came from the cops gathered around a police car; they looked like they were enjoying their job, a little excitement and possibly some rescue effort thrown in.

I found a short wall encompassing a small flowerbed in front of a nearby building, sat down and caught up on what might be happening as I watched the street fill up with a couple of fire trucks, an emergency vehicle manned by paramedics, and several small trucks with BOMB SQUAD painted on the side. A black truck, also labeled BOMB SQUAD, soon joined the other trucks in the danger area. Rather like a cement mixer, it had a round container (this one didn’t move) within a steel frame on the back.

As I scanned the crowd, I overheard many cell phone conversations—people changing plans, finding a ride somewhere, or notifying relatives and friends of the excitement. Two young men, pulling luggage, were making arrangements for a cab so they could make their holiday flight at one of the local airports. My cell needed a charge so I could only manage a short message to my daughter. I was still skeptical there was anything wrong.

Overhead, a helicopter scouted the area. Someone with good vision said it was the Channel 9 news. In the middle of the street a middle-aged man lugged a TV camera up to the yellow tape and started filming. Soon he was interviewing a policeman, but none of us was close enough to hear. Knowing that local news stations accepted photos from camera phones, an enterprising young man found an abandoned shopping cart, upended it and stood on it to get a photo.

“It’s that icky yellow apartment building near Magnolia,” said a skinny fellow with dark greasy hair standing close to me. He pulled back on the leash holding his tiny dog and continued, “Some old guy reported that his former roommate had left a stick of dynamite in his freezer.”

“That building has a lot of Section 8 residents,” offered the gamine-like gray-haired woman from my building’s first floor, puffing on her cigarette. When I looked blank, she added, “Those are people the county helps with rent money. The place doesn’t even have a proper gate; anybody can go in or out.”

(To be continued next week)

STAR STRUCK OR NOT?

Mel Brooks & Anne Bancroft in one of Brooks' movies

My daughter Heidi accuses me of being star-struck. I will admit to some part of that description, but I think I’ve just been fortunate and in the right place at the right time. Or, I have had occasion to interview a star or to meet a famous person serendipitously.

One of my favorite encounters happened during my position as editor/writer of the Beverly Hills Country Club Magazine, about 1995. I was in Santa Monica, right on the ocean, to interview Robert Pritikin, the owner/president of the Pritikin Longevity Center, a forward-looking proponent of health through proper diet and exercise.

The Pritikin Institute, no longer in Santa Monica, was quite a place—there were accommodations for seven day or longer visits for a choice of health regimens. The facility had exercise rooms, easy access to the beach, and a very large dining room that offered a buffet of healthy and delicious food.

After a tour of the place by the owner and an interview, he invited me to enjoy the dinner buffet. He was apologetic that he had commitments and couldn’t share the meal, but he encouraged me to partake since it was early evening by that time.

I gladly accepted, filled my plate with some tasty-looking items and found a table with a woman who was eating alone. The dining room area was quite spacious and the huge window at the western end faced the ocean. I ate as I talked to my tablemate, a very cordial woman. I don’t remember the food, eating made no impression when I noticed an interesting older couple walk by us with their trays to sit down at a nearby table.

“I think that’s Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft,” I said excitedly to my dinner companion. My announcement didn’t seem to make any impression on her.

Deciding not to disturb the famous couple right away, especially since they were eating, I finished my meal.

After anxiously waiting until an appropriate time, I finally decided to approach. I was a fan, I reasoned, and they both looked approachable. I had recently seen Mel Brooks’ comic film, “Robin Hood, Men in Tights.” I had always liked his zany sense of humor, from silly and ridiculous to the sublime. And I had always admired Anne Bancroft, never forgetting her film roles as Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate,” and when she played Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s amazing teacher in “The Miracle Worker.”

As I walked over to their table I felt I could have been a sleuth: they were both very casually dressed. Mel had on a baseball cap, and they were both in jeans and sports shoes. I don’t think anyone else had noticed them. When I nervously introduced myself as the editor of the magazine doing a story on the Pritikin Institute, they immediately gave me a welcoming smile.

I felt a bit like a blubbering idiot telling Mel how much I loved his movies and had seen “Spaceballs,” his most recent Robin Hood movie and almost all the rest. I quickly added a small comment for Anne and wished I were more calm.

It’s ironic how I can interview almost anyone calmly but when I’m a fan, I get nervous and tongue-tied. We humans are full of contradictions!

Mel and Anne couldn’t have been nicer and began praising the healthy and tasty menu at the Pritikin Institute. They lived in the neighborhood and came for dinner often. They recommended me doing the same if I had the chance.

I didn’t overstay my welcome and thanked them both for their time. During my fairly long drive home along Pacific Coast Highway, I was grinning from ear to ear. I couldn’t wait to share my story.

When I saw “The Producers” on stage and at the movies, I remembered my brief visit with Mel Brooks. Anne Bancroft died in 2005 and I feel even more privileged that I had had the opportunity to briefly chat with this happy couple who had been married 40 years.

Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks

Author answers recent blog comments

I appreciate all the enthusiasm regarding my blog. Every writer wants to know someone is reading and enjoying. Several of you have asked questions recently, and I felt it would be easier for you to find the answers if I just responded to your comments on a post.

To McKendry: I think that having my blog on Word Press has helped get the word out. They know more about distribution than I do. What has also probably helped is the fact that I’ve had a web site on Dream Host  since 2004. Dream Host recommended Word Press.

To Madril: Writing is a craft and has to be practiced and practiced! You can develop your talent by being patient and continuing to write. And reading is a crucial part of the talent, as long as you pay attention to other authors. I’ve been writing over 40 years–check out my About Victoria page.

To Leibee: Thanks for the compliments on my writing. Good luck in your writing and blogging journey. I’m not interested in trading articles.

To Merriweather: You left me a url to check and my computer indicated it had problems. Good luck with it.

To Sobol: Best of luck with your photography blog. Word Press offered good themes, but I can’t tell you if my theme would be good for you. Try out a few to see what looks good.

CHRISTO AND THE UMBRELLAS – Triumph and Tragedy in a World of Umbrellas

Umbrellas, like giant poppies, dot the California landscape

Giant yellow umbrellas whimsically dotted the hillsides, the dips in the rolling landscape, appeared near trees, a billboard and a gas station and decorated a few ponds on various sections of the 270,000 acres of the private Tejon Ranch in the Tehachapi Mountains of Southern California. It was October 1991 and my girlfriend Sally and I were inspired to take the hour-long drive up the Grapevine on Interstate 5 to see this much-touted artistic statement by Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude (who died in 2009) were known for designing and installing temporary but overwhelming environmental works of art. Before the umbrellas they did several projects—wrapping the Reichstag in Berlin and the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris with material, for instance. In February 2005 they erected gates hung with yellow nylon material in Central Park.

The imposing umbrellas we saw were part of a project Christo and his wife installed in both Japan (blue umbrellas) and California (yellow umbrellas). The umbrellas were formidable: about 20 feet high with a diameter about 26 feet. They each weighed 448 pounds, without the base, which in most cases was steel and anchored to the ground. Not a small project by any means, 1,760 were installed!

Sally and I had both driven the so-called Grapevine before: it led from the San Fernando Valley through the mountains and down into another valley that went north to Bakersfield. At this time of year, before the California rainy season, which usually doesn’t get underway until November, the hills were brown, or golden, depending upon your outlook. The yellow umbrellas added a unique touch to the fairly barren area.

Sally appreciating Christo's umbrellas

Although it was reported that almost 3 million visitors since October 9 had driven through the area, we easily negotiated the Interstate and were able to get off at the various viewing sites when we chose. I loved the bravado, the sheer uniqueness of the idea to take so much trouble to pepper the landscape with huge unwieldy umbrellas. The day was overcast and the yellow stood out even more: almost like seeing a enormous garden full of massive yellow poppies.

The visitors we saw were enthusiastic and smiling at the incongruity of it all. There were a couple of places to stop and buy sweatshirts with the words—“I saw the Umbrellas,” and similar sayings—and other memorabilia.

After meandering the 18-mile long area, taking photos and finding some refreshment, we headed home, satisfied we’d seen and participated in an event worth remembering.

That day, October 27, turned out to be the last day of the art project. We heard on the news that a young woman visitor had been killed by an umbrella just after Sally and I left. In a fluke of circumstance, an immensely strong wind had caused one of the umbrellas to come loose, and it had flown through the air and impaled her against a boulder as she stood outside a small place that was selling memorabilia. At 448 pounds, it’s easy to see she had no chance.

Ironically, I heard later in another news report that the woman was suffering from a probable fatal disease. Perhaps, instead of suffering, she decided to leave the planet in a particularly dramatic way.

LIFE ON VIA DE GASPARI, TRIPOLI, LIBYA – PART 5

Me, a typical American teen on our 1950s Ford convertible.

I’m in the usual American casual attire–jeans. My loafers are on the sidewalk in front of our villa. Across the street is the Egyptian Ambassador’s compound. Note the Libyan license plate and the white-wall tires of the 50s! The photo is old, the only explanation I have for all the black dots.

Nourishment

My mother did most of her grocery shopping at the Wheelus Air Force Base Commissary, but Tripoli had its own food delights. Just a few blocks from our home, an Italian bakery sold magnificent loaves and rolls with crispy crusts for just a few piastres (Libyan money). Arab bikers would deliver the bread, laid out on large metal trays they balanced upon their heads, to homes and businesses. The vegetable and fruit man would wander down our street weekly, crying out his wares in loud Arabic. Huge handmade baskets would be laden with blood oranges, cauliflower, lettuce and other produce. It was delicious, but to protect ourselves from bacteria, since local farmers used human manure, we had to soak produce in diluted Clorox for half an hour. For something sweet, my friends and I would walk to a small store that sold British candy: Cadbury bars of all types were plentiful. My friend Gail urged me to try chocolate with a fresh loaf of Italian bread for a tasty treat. My parents sampled couscous, an Arab dish of grains, lamb and vegetables, but since my father didn’t care for lamb, my mother never duplicated the recipe.

Libyan offerings

For Christmas that first year we gave each other inexpensive yet durable Libyan wares: leather purses decorated with embroidered flowers, slip-on leather sandals and belts, elaborate arabesque silver jewelry, and hammered pattern copper and brass trays. A favorite souvenir for Americans in general was a small wooden and leather stool that was aptly, because of its design, called a camel saddle. My mother happily discovered Lucille’s, an Italian shop that sold whimsical and inexpensive straw jewelry. In the 50s, it was considered a romantic dinner if you put a candle in an old straw-covered Chianti bottle.  I still have Mom’s now faded white straw earrings that looked like tiny wine bottles inserted with even tinier pink candles.

A typical Camel Saddle stool

International Neighbors

During the school year I rode a bus to Wheelus Dependents High School at the air base. Many of the Air Force kids lived on base, but I feel I learned more from living in the city. Living atop a different culture was an educational experience in itself. On the bottom floor of our two-story villa, our noisy but quite private Libyan neighbor’s family had chickens in their yard and a passel of pet cats. During their holy Ramadan, Moslems fast from sunrise to sunset and then celebrate far into the night. We would hear the drums from their loud music for nights on end. When my mother would get impatient with it, she would take an umbrella and hit the floor in annoyance.

The Libyan family moved in the fall of our first year. We watched curiously as the place was repainted and tidied up for a Russian family. The Duganovs had a daughter who looked about three, the same age as my little brother. They kept to themselves, although I could occasionally spy the father sitting on his balcony below us in his pajamas. He worked nights as a news correspondent for the notorious Russian newspaper Pravda. My father was wary of them—Russia was then our enemy, after all—and had American Embassy security personnel come several times, fruitlessly as it turned out, to check if these Russians had bugged our phone or wired our house for surveillance. My brother Darby, however, had no trouble with détente, making friends with the chunky, blond-haired daughter if she happened to be in her yard while he was passing their gate. Children have no boundaries of distrust at that age.

My sister, Joan Tupper,  made her own international playmates. Three young brothers lived across the street; their mother was French, their father English, and the boys spoke both languages fluently. They spent a great deal of time on our swing set when the oldest two weren’t attending private school in England. My by then seven-year-old sister had soon mastered an excellent British accent, sometimes with overtones of French.

Cultural Differences

American dependents were given a few guidelines about living in Libya. We were told that the Libyan culture at that point in time was behind Western culture by several centuries. Perhaps that explained why women were still covered and invisible, treated more as property than an individual, so contrary to what we would normally expect in our own social interaction. American women were told to avoid wearing pants in respect of Libyan culture. Teenage girls, with our love of jeans, forgot the advice immediately.

What they didn’t mention were some of the less appealing facts of life in the city. Men, Arab or European, thought nothing of peeing in public. The view from the school bus windows as we traveled through town toward the air base would often include men on the seawall along the harbor casually peeing, or a man standing up against the wall of a building leaving his wet, yellow mark. Libyan policemen were not above trying to touch private parts if an American woman or young girl happened to walk too closely to these lusty, over-curious males. Their women were inaccessible except at home, but they felt free to check out foreign goods.

Park Dedicated to RFK’s Memory in LA

The famous old Ambassador Hotel

The famous Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard in LA was where Robert F. Kennedy was shot in 1968. Since I just posted a story about my brief connection to him, I felt I needed to add some current news.

The Los Angeles Unified School District bought the old 1921 landmark hotel and has turned it into a 24 acre, seven-school campus called the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools. The LA Times architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, calls the colorful modern architecture an odd mixture. The hotel ballroom is re-created as a library and the old Cocoanut Grove nightclub is now an auditorium.

Best of all, however, is that part of the site features a park dedicated to the life and work of Robert Kennedy. Inside the park area are quotations attributed to Kennedy, such as, “The world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.”

ROBERT F. KENNEDY – A BRIEF ENCOUNTER

Robert F. Kennedy and his dog Freckles

When the magnetic Robert Kennedy was shot and killed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in June 1968, I was living in the San Fernando Valley. It was sad and depressing to know he was killed in my new hometown. I couldn’t help but remember the times I had seen him years before in Virginia and Washington, D.C. in the  early 1960s. This Life Magazine cover of June 14, 1968, makes me tear up even now. RFK was running along an Oregon beach followed by his dog Freckles.

I had first seen Robert Kennedy when I was a freshman at William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and he was campaign manager for his brother John Kennedy’s election as president of the U.S. At that time I wasn’t very political and was probably influenced for the most part by my dad, who was a Republican. I didn’t realize until years later that I was essentially a liberal.

Kennedy was talking to students at an evening event held outside and I got a view of him from the rear. It was autumn, probably October, when the last push was on before November voting. Other than the fact that I found him attractive, I can’t remember what kind of impression he made on me, although The Flat Hat, the campus newspaper I worked for, did have a story on him afterwards.

My real thrill came a couple of years later, in 1963, when President John Kennedy created an educational summer program for college students working for the government in offices in the Washington D.C. area. To initiate the program JFK himself met with student workers on the lawn of the White House. Although I don’t recall a word he said, it was probably an inspiring but short speech on how we were going to learn something about the inner workings of government, which was to take place several times during the summer at Constitution Hall, an auditorium near the Washington Mall that sat 4,000 people.

Student workers were bussed from various offices to spend a couple of hours listening to important members of government. I was picked up where I was working at Washington National Airport. I met my friend Barbara, also working for government in another location, at Constitution Hall that afternoon. Inside, I think we listened to someone important in the Finance Department and perhaps a senator. I’m sure Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General at that time, spoke to us since I saw him later, but the wisdom we probably heard did not stick.

When the speeches were over, Barbara and I walked back to our busses. Barbara was the girlfriend who accompanied me to the U.S. Senate a few years before when we’d seen John Kennedy as a senator. It’s a story I wrote about earlier in the category Washington, D.C. in the 1960s.

We were ambling along close to Constitution Hall when we passed a ramp leading to a building entrance. A limousine was parked there, angled downward, ready to leave with its passenger. We both glanced over and saw Robert Kennedy in the back seat, blue eyes flashing. He had spotted us and gave us a huge genuine grin and we smiled back, delighted that we’d seen him.

I lost touch with Barbara years ago, but I bet she also has a vivid memory of seeing Robert Kennedy, whose inner being seemed to pour out of his eyes.

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Earthquake in 1994 – More details

When my children went home to Moorpark to pick up their earthquake mess, I listened to more news about our devastating trembler. I heard the Newhall Pass Interchange collapsed again, just as in 1971, and it turned out, the epicenter of the quake was almost in the same area it had been in ’71. One poignant tragedy concerned an apartment building in Northridge that had collapsed, killing all those in their bottom floor apartments. Sometime later I read about a family who had lived on the bottom floor. The whole family, for some inexplicable reason, had left their apartment that morning to say goodbye to their father before he drove to work sometime after 4 a.m. They were all chatting in the parking lot, safe from harm, when the quake struck and their home and everything in it was totally smashed. The collapsed apartment building is the photo above.

In the days following the quake, I discovered my friends were all particularly lucky. Quite amazing news since the quake had damaged property ($20 billion worth) as far away as 85 miles, and there had been 72 deaths and 9,000 people injured.

Because of freeway damage, Susan (who owned the house where I was living) was stuck in Santa Clarita with her boyfriend. His apartment hadn’t collapsed but was in complete disarray. The entire kitchen floor was a mess of food (the fridge and all the cabinets had emptied), utensils, plates, glasses, and miscellaneous items, and there was no water or electricity. Unsure whether his building was safe enough, the two of them drove east to Palmdale until Susan could get home, which turned out to be several days later. In the meantime I was a sort of command center to let her sons and father know what was happening. Her father, because he’d suffered a great deal of damage to his place in Sherman Oaks, soon came to live with her for a while.

Pam’s son was stocking shelves in a grocery store when the earth started moving. He made it to the end of an aisle before the lights went out and cans and bottles flew like missiles, all over the place. It was two days before they opened again.

Karen Woods, another friend, was home alone. When her condo started moving, she sprang from bed, ran to the bedroom door and hit her head. She headed to the bathroom to patch herself up and, alas, slipped on the talcum powder, which had spilled all over the floor. Her kitchen floor was full of broken champagne glasses, and a small grandfather clock had hurled itself across her living room.

Dave was living almost at the epicenter and had been asleep on a waterbed. Even though these beds are immensely heavy (mine had stayed steady, for instance), the whole thing lifted up. Later in the day, when he was inspecting a 12-story building for his property management boss, there was a 5.5 aftershock. He was on the top floor and was sure his life was over!

I discovered instincts or gut feelings were important in dire situations. Some sprang out of bed when the quake hit, and others didn’t. My friend Sally stayed safely in bed while a bookshelf toppled and threw books all around the room. When it was light enough and she was able to get up and sort out the books, the book on top of the pile was Where Angels Walk.

One friend revealed later he’d gotten out of bed just in time as a huge TV landed on his bed. Dudley, who was living in Hollywood, told me all the car alarms for blocks around went off and kept blasting for a long time.

Shores of Tripoli – Part 4 – Garden City Neighborhood

Tripoli Street- a mix of old and new

Cultures mixed in Tripoli, but there were constant reminders that this was an Arab country with a Libyan population living close-by.  The British general next door had an Arab doorman, a sweet and friendly old gentleman who would take his prayer rug and bow in the direction of Mecca five times a day when the muezzin would call out the time for prayer from a local minaret. On the edges of Garden City were tea shops where groups of men would gather outside, hunker down on the sidewalk, talk and drink tea from glass cups.

A short distance from the large homes was a more primitive area. Riding bikes one day, my friend Gail and I came upon several small stucco dwellings surrounding a small well. Harnessed to a wooden yoke was an ox slowly circling the well to draw up their water. These simple folk lived a more basic lifestyle, in existence for centuries, most likely. Several of the adults smiled as we rode by; the friendly children waved and some shouted “Ciao,” the Italian greeting.

West of town there was a small area that supported indigent people who had no funds for a proper house of any kind. They made do with a village of huts constructed of cast-off cardboard boxes and corrugated tin.

The street perpendicular to ours was a main thoroughfare; besides cars it was host to camels and sheep, herded by their Arab owners on foot or riding upon a donkey. Cars were forced to stop while the herds went slowly by. There were no electric traffic signals in Libya at this time; Americans joked that camels and sheep certainly wouldn’t know to stop at a red light. Animals weren’t herded at night, even though we had streetlights.  As we went to sleep every night, we were delighted with the hee-haw of braying donkeys and sometimes the growl of a perturbed camel off in the distance.

Since few Libyan men could afford cars at that time and owned only bicycles, traffic wasn’t a problem. Shops that rented bikes were readily available, and the rental was cheap – it worked out to three cents an hour in American money. Speeding vehicles, from reckless foreigners and those Libyans who could afford cars, did pose a danger. The English were rumored to be the fastest drivers.  At one end of our street was a square of sorts, fed by five streets. High walls made driving visibility poor, and one day as I watched from our balcony, a car came speeding into the square and hit a bicyclist. The unfortunate man was flung into the air and landed on his head. As the car quickly disappeared, a few good Samaritans rushed to his aid, picked him up and carried him off as I wondered whether he should have been moved.

My parents gave me a puppy when I was thirteen. Butterball was a small golden-haired furry creature with a fluffy tail that looped over her back; her mother had been a dachshund belonging to some Army friends. When Butterball came into heat, a local mutt latched on. Ignorant of dog’s mating habits, I tried to pull them apart and was embarrassed when several Libyans who’d seen me had a great laugh at my expense.

I was delighted at the birth process when Butterball had several puppies in our little one-car garage. Even though she was a new mother, Butterball was used to following me everywhere and was right behind me as a group of girlfriends and I crossed my street one Sunday. A speeding car, full of Arab men, missed us by a hair but fatally hit my dog before they sped away. She was dead in minutes. I remember wanting to bury her in our small garden, but an adult friend of my parents advised having the Libyan garbage man take her away. With doll bottles full of milk, Gail and I shared the puppies and managed to keep them alive until all but one was adopted. I kept what I thought was a male puppy and named him Heshe, hedging my bets on his sex until he got older.

Arab funerals used the same thoroughfare that passed through the nearby square, and I had a bird’s eye view of the proceedings from our balcony. Arab music, singing and chanting heralded the procession, which was always composed entirely of men. The friends and relatives of the deceased followed the pallbearers who carried the casket, covered in a white barracan, to a nearby mosque. Women never went to public functions, and if they were out on the street with their husbands, they would be entirely covered by their barracan and would follow him discreetly, three steps behind.

Thanks to Wheelus classmate for photo. I think it comes from Ernie or Chad.

HOW TO SURVIVE AN EARTHQUAKE…

Kaiser Permanente building after the quake

Avoid living in countries or states that have them—like California. Since all places on earth have their positive and negative features, I’d still pick California as the best place to live. Even though we get shaken up a bit, it’s not always by earthquakes.

In February 1971, my husband, toddler daughter, Heidi, and I were living on the outskirts of Los Angeles when the Sylmar earthquake, measured at 6.6 magnitude and centered about 15 miles away, occurred. It was 6:55 a.m. in the morning and woke us up as our second-floor bedroom swayed and the windows rattled. It took years for my daughter to forget her fears stimulated by rattling windows.

I remember listening to the radio next to the bed as a frightened announcer reported from Parker Center, the old LAPD building, what had happened in downtown Los Angeles. Though exciting and nerve-racking, we suffered no damage. Others were not as lucky. The Newhall Pass freeway interchange was heavily damaged as was Olive View Hospital in the San Fernando Valley. Sixty-five people died as a result of the earthquake.

Twenty-three years later, the 1994 earthquake on January 17 was far more destructive and “exciting.” The 6.7 trembler occurred on Martin Luther King’s birthday celebration day. Was he trying to tell us something?

I was living in the same general area as in 1971, this time with a girlfriend in her home in the hills. As I learned later, her house had been built on cut, not fill, and that was the important thing. Susan was away for the weekend with her boyfriend, I was home in my waterbed, and Callahan, the Siberian Husky dog, was sleeping outside. I had stayed up late reading a book, You Don’t Die, the fascinating account of a man who communicated with spirits that had messages for the living. Curious!

At 4:31 a.m. I began my “ride” on the waves of my waterbed as the ground seemed to roll and move up and down. I didn’t panic but noted that the wind chimes outside my window were melodiously announcing nature’s fury. I could hear the books slip off my nearby bookcase and fling themselves on the floor; I was thankful I had removed the bookshelves over the head of my bed when I moved in! It was still dark and I wondered if this quake was “the big one” newscasters were always predicting.

When it stopped, I got up and turned on the light. The TV and the VCR had moved forward on their glass shelf but had not fallen. Before I could do anything, the lights went off completely, and I got on the floor to feel around for a flashlight I had put there the night before when the bathroom night light had burned out. I couldn’t find the flashlight but I found my glasses (I wore contacts during the day) among the books and papers on the floor and desk. It’s amazing how disorienting it can be in the complete darkness.

I was consciously keeping a cool head, but my stomach was churning from fears of what might happen next. First things first, however: I had to pee!  I put on my robe, even though no one was home, and felt my way to the hallway bathroom around the corner. I missed it, despite feeling along the wall (or thinking I had) and ended up in the family room. I backtracked and finally found the open door. For once, I didn’t think about flushing!

Back in my room, I found the flashlight but it was inadequate and I remembered I had a candle and matches handy, which would be enough to find clothes to wear and determine what to do next. I inspected for damage and found that nothing had broken, even the Monarch butterfly under the little glass dome was intact.

My watch said 4:45 a.m. when I left my room to check the rest of the house. I discovered an adequate flashlight as I explored with my candle. A few glasses from the bar in the family room had fallen to the floor and broken. The bottle of Ancient Age bourbon “bit the dust” – no alcoholic solace there.   Unlike in so many other homes, as I found out later, the cabinet doors and the refrigerator in the kitchen had stayed closed, but a framed picture had fallen, and I cut my fingers a little from picking up the glass.

I opened the patio doors and let in a worried dog that was delighted to see me. In Susan’s bedroom the drawers on her dresser and TV cabinet had come open but nothing was serious. I remembered I had a portable radio and retrieved it to listed to KFWB. They announced the quake measured 6.7 on the Richter scale and was centered in the San Fernando Valley somewhere. The phone seemed to work but no one answered when I called my children, who at that time were already grown and rooming together in an apartment probably 20 miles away.

Since I hadn’t been living at Susan’s that long, I didn’t know her neighbors and didn’t think about going outside to see what had happened. I sat in the family room and listened to radio reports of the earthquake horrors.

At 5:45 a.m. I heard a knock at the front door—it was my kids. They had hopped in a car and driven to check on me. It was spooky, they said, to drive the freeway in complete darkness—no streetlights, traffic signals, house lights, etc. Hansi said his aquarium and fish were fine but he’d lost his entire bottle collection.

I’d remembered to buy bread the evening before and we sat down to bread and jelly, which was delicious! Why is it we appreciate the most simple things when the situation is dangerous?

To be continued…

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