Ridgecrest Was The Big One, Right? Let's Hope So
July 8, 2019

PALMDALE—All my life I've been hearing about 'The Big One'. If you grew up in California, specifically southern California, or more specifically the Antelope Valley, you have too. In 1971, we were told Sylmar wasn't the Big One. The 1989 Loma Prieta quake in the Bay Area wasn't it either, even though bridges pancaked and the World Series was stopped. When Northridge came in 1994, we were told there were bigger quakes to come. How big does the Big One have to be anyway?

On Thursday morning, as people in the Owens Valley were heading to their Fourth of July activities or preparing for their barbecues, the ground rolled, and then shook. The preliminary numbers were around 6.9 on the Richter Scale, and eventually adjusted down to 6.4. Roads cracked, items flew off store shelves, and at least one house caught fire. CNN originally reported the center of the quake near Ridgeview, 150 miles north of Los Angeles, and between Bakersfield and Las Vegas. They said 'Ridgeview' several times before finally getting it right, and calling it Ridgecrest.

When I turned on the TV late Thursday morning looking for what time all the Trump stuff was supposed to start, CNN had a split screen. On the left, seismologist Lucy Jones was going on and on about how a warning system would/should work, and on the right was video from a Los Angeles television station's news helicopter, which happened, at that moment, to be flying over Palmdale.

Needless to say, that got my attention. There was no audio describing why they were flying over Palmdale, but I recognized where the aqueduct goes under the freeway, the man-made lake nearby, and several tracts of homes. I had sent a text to my mom's next-door neighbor, but no reply yet. I eventually did get a text back saying everything was fine, and it turned out the helicopter was making its way to Ridgecrest, later showing video of Mojave, and it's giant recognizable airplane graveyard.

Growing up in Palmdale, we learned a lot about earthquakes as a kid. My first experience feeling one was at the age of seven. If my parents were here, they'd likely tell you that I slept through it, but I didn't. Around 6am, on February 9, 1971, I sat up in bed wondering what was going on. The cat was outside going nuts in the front yard, and my dad came running in and was telling me to get under a doorway. By then the shaking stopped, and I just kept looking at him trying to make sense of the situation. I lost a tooth that morning, and we joked that the earthquake shook it loose, and I even went to school that day—finding out later that the soon-to-be-opened (at the time) Antelope Valley Freeway interchange with Interstate Five in San Fernando came crashing down.

In later years, we would make light of 'The Big One'. Palmdale is located along the San Andreas Fault, where the Big One is supposed to occur. I lived on the side of town that would slide into the sea. Friends on the other side of the small city would then have beachfront property. There's even a geological phenomenon known as the 'Palmdale Bulge'. The bulge supposedly would eventually break, and life as we know it would be over. There were even bumper stickers that read, “The Palmdale Bulge isn't all San Andeas' fault.” It was funny.

The Fourth of July rumbler turned out to be a foreshock of a bigger quake the following night. After driving to Sebastopol to spend the Fourth at my cousin Gayle's, I was driving through Santa Barbara County listening to the Dodger game Friday night. At 8:21pm, Charley Steiner announced that they were feeling an earthquake, and you could even hear a buzz from the crowd in the stands. The players on the field didn't feel it, and play continued.

A little while later, stopping for gas in Carpenteria, I was told the pumps were shut down because of the quake and had to be reset, but the attendant had no idea how long that was going to take. I barely had enough gas to get to Ventura, but made it, and filled up at the first place I saw. Somebody there told me the quake was a 7.1, and everyone felt it, and described it as a long, almost 45 second rolling. I didn't feel it, likely because I was behind the wheel. The U-S Geological Survey said the quake struck Ridgecrest at 8:19pm, meaning it took two minutes to reach Dodger Stadium.

I drove on, the game went on, the Dodgers lost. Steiner finally reported the magnitude of the quake, but had no idea the extent of any damage. They are still cleaning up in Ridgecrest, and there are reports of damaged structures and injuries. No fatalities.

This brings us back to the point. How big does the Big One have to be? If it strikes in an area where there aren't many people, does it qualify? I've been in Palmdale since late Friday night expecting to feel aftershocks. I haven't felt any yet. A seismologist on the radio Saturday said that the energy released from the 7.1 quake traveled east and west. He said if it had gone north and south, there would be more damage in places like Palmdale (he specifically named Palmdale) and others.

The Ridgecrest/China Lake/Inyokern area only has about 30-thousand people. Put that same quake 150 miles or so south and you have another Northridge, or worse. Sylmar (in 1971) was a 6.6 quake. Loma Prieta (1989) registered 6.9, Northridge (1994) came in at 6.7, and San Simeon (if you remember that one in 2003) was 6.6. Friday night's quake was stronger than all of those, but it hit in a remote area.

With a big one in every decade, but not THE big one yet, maybe we are good for another ten years or so. Using that same logic, though, there was a 6.4 quake early Thursday, and a 7.1 late Friday, which means there could be another one any minute now. You just never know.

Lesson not learned: If you remember watching the World Series in 1989, the Candlestick Park crowd cheered and the announcers made light of the earthquake after the shaking stopped, not knowing of course that a section of the Bay Bridge collapsed, and what's known as the Cypress Structure in Oakland pancaked on to dozens of cars below. Steiner didn't laugh, and there wasn't exactly a cheer, but no one seemed immediately concerned about possible damage, not initially knowing where the quake was centered or how strong it was.

Best at the break: Despite losing three in a row, the Dodgers are 60-32 at the All-Star Break, have the best record in baseball, and enjoy a 13½ game lead in the National League West. If they went 40-30 the rest of the way, they would win 100 games. Arizona, San Diego, and Colorado all have similar records. If one of them won two-thirds of their remaining games, the Dodgers could play .500 ball the rest of the way and still win the division.

Home Run Derby: I taped it. Don't wanna know. Covering my ears. Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah.

If you have youngsters, they may know him. If you watch family movies, you may have seen him, too. Cameron Boyce, who was known mostly as playing Luke on the Disney Channel show Jessie, died Saturday, just turning 20 about six weeks ago. Cameron is also a relative of mine—his mother and I are second cousins (same great grandparents, our grandfathers were brothers). Cameron has been in several feature films, including Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2, where he played Adam Sandler's kid. He was also in Eagle Eye, and was filming an HBO movie. I didn't now him real well, but I last saw Cameron on the Fourth of July two years ago having fun like a typical teenager, but saw his mom Libby in January—not talking about Cameron's achievements, but his busy schedule and some of the projects he was involved in. He was also recently working with my cousin Korey's daughter Taryn on a photo shoot. Taryn and Cameron would be third cousins (same great great grandparents, their great grandfathers were brothers), and how cool is that? Boyce died in his sleep, the result of a seizure. My heart aches for Libby, her husband Victor, and their daughter Maya. It's just not fair.

Salma Hayek played Cameron's mom in the 'Grown Ups' movies.

The Boyce family I know. Left to right, Libby, Cameron, Maya, Victor

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