October 18th, 2009

news, cronkite

Film at 11: Semper Prieta

In 1989, when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit, I was in the United States Coast Guard, stationed at Coast Guard Group Monterey. Group Monterey (or Station Monterey, as it's called these days) is at Breakwater Cove, more or less at the other end of Cannery Row from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

I was flopped on my bed, lazing around with the TV on after a long workday, waiting for the evening meal. October is when Monterey gets its brief glimpse at summer, so I'd doffed my uniform and was in my skivvies. I wasn't watching the World Series; a rerun of The Facts of Life had just started, and I was on the verge of grabbing the remote when things started shaking.

My reaction:
  1. Hm. Quake.
  2. Huh. It's still going.
  3. Holy Shit! It's the Big One!

Somewhere around 2.5, the reflexes of someone born in California and raised with earthquake drills through childhood kicked in, and I was under the table. The table, it should be noted, was Military Barracks Furniture, and probably sturdier than most houses: the legs were 4x4s. If the floor had dropped out from under me, I'd have been in some trouble, but if the ceiling had gone, I was, quite literally, covered.

When the shaking stopped, the power was out. I threw on some clothes -- I can't remember if it was my uniform or my civvies -- and ran downstairs to see if I was needed anywhere on base. I wasn't, so I jogged down Cannery Row at a good clip to assess the damages, particularly at the Aquarium; those big glass tanks were a particular concern, and I figured someone from an emergency service should look in on them.

The Aquarium was fine, as it turned out, and the docents were evacuating the tourists very professionally; power was out all up and down the row, and, in fact, in most of the town.

On the way back, I checked out the Marina, right by the pier; again, no serious damage, but the currents on the harbor were visibly off, twisting and turning and flowing the wrong way.**

Eventually, we heard from our engineers. Several of them had driven up to Alameda on a parts run. Before getting on the freeway, they'd stopped at a convenience store to get drinks for the long drive home -- and that's where they were when the quake hit. They stepped outside to see the section of Interstate 880 that they were about to take... collapsed into a sandwich.

The electricity was out for the next few days in Monterey; as a result, our commander shrugged and declared liberty for everyone but the watch crews, since the rest of us couldn't do much of anything without power tools. We had a generator to keep the Operations Center running, and it had enough juice to spare for the mess hall, as well.

I felt kind of bad, really: most of the coast was in chaos, and I got a long weekend and never even missed a hot meal. Even the duty days were surprisingly light; not many people go pleasure boating after a major catastrophe, and even the professional fishing fleet was taking a few days of downtime.

The aftershocks kept coming, though, for a couple of weeks, and we'd all get hyperalert when they did -- or when a truck rolled by. In fact, I was exceptionally vibration-sensitive for several more years, well after returning to civilian life and moving to Oceanside, in San Diego County -- just long enough to get jolted awake by the barely-perceptible fringes of the Landers quake in 1992.

*A decade later, taking Geography/Hydrology at CSUMB, I realized just what kind of underwater avalanches the quake must have triggered in the Monterey Underwater Canyon.
Eye of the Sky God

Dream Log: the Dolphin in the Library

I seldom blog my dreams, but this one was worth preserving.

As a note, my dreams often have "point of view characters" who aren't me, per se. Yes, I'm looking through their eyes, and following (or even controlling) their actions, but they're distinct individuals, like the protagonist of a movie or a novel, or, at most, a player character in a particularly vivid RPG.

I note this because, in this case, the first PoV character was the protagonist of the movie I watched before bed: Wanted. My brain had combined the movie (which is about a league of assassins) with what little I knew about the comic (which is about a league of supervillains), and thus, the PoV character was played by James McAvoy. He was posing as a waiter, I believe, and infiltrating a business convention of cartoony, Pixarish supervillains and mad scientists. He was in radio contact with another mad scientist, and had to sneak out to some lab or office to gather some McGuffin or another.

The dream got interesting when the setting shifted slightly. I don't normally dream "in furry", but at some point, the PoV character became an anthropomorphic dolphin named Jan, and the meeting room/convention hall was now underwater -- and had been for a very long time. Kelp was now a significant part of the decor.

Jan was still in contact with the same mad scientist, though, via radio or more esoteric means, and was still on the way to his office/lab/whatever. Now, however, she had to leave the Deeps to go to the surface world -- and the passage had a Guardian.

The guardian was an anthropomorphic white tiger, obviously modeled on the photos of Odin that are well-known online. I do mean obviously; he had Odin's "grr diving" face on. Like most of Jan's segment, the detail on the tiger was incredibly vivid for a dream. I can still see the fur, matted down by the water. He was, oddly, even more an aquatic creature than Jan was; while she had legs, he had a mer-style tail, covered in striped white tiger fur like the rest of him.

The tiger was accompanied by a leopard seal of foul temperament, dark to his light, spots to his stripes, hostile and petulant next to his dignified nobility. I don't remember the details of the conversation between them, but the tiger saw fit to let Jan pass.

She strode up the stairs into a library -- a large building, well-lit, sun streaming through skylights (or perhaps holes in the roof). The stairs emerged into a fountain-pool, one of a series of connected pools at this end of the building.

The library was overgrown -- it was obviously long after our day and age. Wetland plants grew with abandon over the pools, and fins and shrubs filled the rest of the building.

Most remarkable of all, however, was that it was still an active library. People were still using it, browsing through books as Jan wandered past the shelves, leafing through card catalogs, unconcerned by the pleasant, leafy growth that covered the floor and draped over the shelves. I think there was even a table of computer terminals or microfilm readers, though I don't recall if anyone was using them.

It was a place of knowledge and life and peace, in a world that had obviously undergone dramatic, if not catastrophic, change. It was a place of hope.

I recall Jan describing this place to the person on the other end of the radio -- she was mildly surprised to see it in active use, as well, and was every bit as struck by its beauty. I heard her getting directions, in turn, but, alas, the image of that remarkable, verdant place is the last memory of that dream I was permitted to retain.
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