Strange rumblings in San Clemente yesterday.
Stalked by hunger, we stopped in the marina area of this town for lunch. Little did we know how, having sauntered casually in, we would be rattled frantically out.
The big yellow disc hangs high and goes about its business of sending hot rays to the California coast. We crank up the AC as we roll through the OC – Orange County – so are cool in our car, a cherry red bombshell nicknamed Cherry d’Amour.
Strong hunger pangs pierce the calm of our Easter Sunday transfer from Santa Barbara to San Diego. We steer off the freeway onto the coastal route, scouring the streets for scran. Yet the wealth-on-their-sleeves beach towns of Huntington, Laguna et al are hopping with Easter fever, there’s nowhere to easily stop, no simple parking spaces, so we roll on and on and out of options.
Two bellies groan and whinge and rumble. 6 miles under the freeway, south-so-east in Baja, rumbles of a very different kind, at least their rumours, start.
We pull into the marina at San Clemente, and hungrily duck into a tacky eaterie that serves food and isn’t a MacDonalds, Wendy’s or Denny’s. A buxom, tattooed waitress tells us they start serving dinner at 3.30pm. Dinner? Hey ho. So we order dinner for lunch.
The rumbles have grown intense. We try to appease them with offers of the just-arrived bread basket and unlimited soda refills. As they calm, a major fault in the Earth rumbles and registers an earthquake at 7.2 on the Richter scale, a huge one, a shallower, more dangerours one than Chile.
The restaurant starts swaying. Immediately I’m on alert. We’re on the marina but are we on stilts? I thought we were on terra firma. We are on terra firma. But it’s swaying. Our waitress stops before she reaches our table, her eyes wide and frozen in a shocked, fearful impression. And it doesn’t stop. It’s an earthquake.
The table of dinner-at-3.30pm-eating Californians next to us excitedly confirms it to each other. Disdfainfuly, they exclaim how exciting it is. But it’s not exciting for us. We’ve never been in an earthquake before and don’t know what to do when one hits. And, being British, we certainly don’t want to show any emotion about it, or communicate with strangers about for fear of not being able to leave the conversation so we sit there numbly, waiting and watching patiently for things to happen.
Light fittings start swinging violently back and forth – rythmically at first, then with increasing violence. The whole place and everything in it is swinging back and forth. I’m thinking, if I was in the band I wouldn’t be playing on – I’m ready to dive into the drink.
Nothing else happens. After and extremely long 45 seconds, it stops. And measures about 6.4 in the Richter Scale in the San Diego area. One of the biggest in for years.
Our dinner lunch arrives. There is more of my soup outside of the bowl than in it. But that’s ok. My stomach isn’t rumbling any more, and neither is the Earth (until now one of the most stable things I’ve ever known). Unlike hunger, earthquakes are unpredictable. Even when the impact is limited to a weird shaking and swaying – albeit of ‘everything’ – they can be pretty scary.
Hard to imagine how much more terrifying what it was like near the epicentre in Baja (eerily, our next destination), or the horror of the recent quakes in Chile and of course, Haiti. We are powerless to control these trememdous forces of nature.
Yet it’s life-affirming and exciting to come out of it unscathed. And it’s far more interesting than a run around Dulwich park on a gloomy spring morning in London. I just hope it’s the last one we experience this trip.