Love in “Earthquake Country”

Love in “Earthquake Country”

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Those, like myself, who live in the San Francisco Bay Area might rightly claim it to be the “epicenter” of “Earthquake Country.” After all, the 1906 quake shook San Francisco to its foundations and started a fire that destroyed vast numbers of that city’s buildings, forcing residents to relocate to the East Bay, North Bay, and towns to the south.

1906 SF Quake
(USGS Photo)

And the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake struck just as game three of  the “Bay Bridge” World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s began. A portion of the Bay Bridge itself collapsed, a two-level freeway through Oakland pancaked on top of itself, and the Marina District of Baghdad By The Bay caught fire.

Carmel Sea Scene
(VTSR Flickr Photo)

Since records began being kept in 1769, big-time earthquakes have periodically rocked the Golden State south from the border with Mexico north to the Oregon-California state line, and west from San Francisco east toward Nevada. And minor temblors, that felt only be sensitive seismographic instruments but not at all by humans, happen with some frequency.

But as Tina Turner sang, “What’s love got to do with it?” “It” being earthquakes.

As I discovered during a romantic weekend trip to Carmel-By-The-Sea several years ago, the answer is “plenty.”

We arrived at our Carmel bed and breakfast inn early on a Friday evening. It was a big, rambling wooden structure, with a narrow stairway leading from the foyer to guest rooms on the upper floors.

After our host showed us to our room, we unpacked, and went to dinner.

On our return, two young couples were lugging their suitcases up the stairs to “garret” rooms with sloping ceilings at the top of the house.

Saturday morning we drove 20-odd miles north and east of Carmel to the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve and spent most of the day walking the trails, bird watching, and looking for wildlife.

When we returned to the inn late in the afternoon, my wife sat in our room reading a book. I kicked off my shoes, and laid down on the bed to take a catnap before going out to dinner.

As I was dozing off, I felt the bed begin to vibrate. At first I thought I was having a dream—make that a nightmare—of being shaken (not stirred) to death in one of those not-so-elegant motels where the beds give you a “massage” when you plunk quarters into the mechanism that turns your body, like a bowl of jiggling Jell-O, into a quivering mass of flesh and bone.

“Earthquake! Earthquake!” I shouted to my wife as I awoke from my afternoon slumbers.

Now the earth, like God, can move in mysterious ways when it decides to “quake.”

Like an ocean wave reaching shore, it may slowly rise and fall, before smashing everything in its path to bits.

Or it could smack the building you’re inside of so hard that you’d swear it had been hit by a run amok freight train.

If you’re in an office tower, as my wife was during the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, you could sway back and forth as if attached to the end of a pianist’s metronome, venetian blinds slapping against window panes as though hurricane winds were blasting through them.

And there’s noise. A lot of distinctive noise. Rattling, and the sound of bottles, cans, dishes, and all manner of things sliding off shelves and crashing onto the floor.

But the sound I heard that afternoon in Carmel was different. It was, as a friend whom I told this story to yesterday described, “Headboard Music.”

Thwap, thwap, thwap.

Thwap, thwap, thwap.

Thwapa! Thwapa! Thwapa!


It wasn’t the earth that was shaking the B&B, it was love in “Earthquake County.”

Later that day, after coming back from dinner, brushing our teeth, and turning in for the night, there was another “earthquake.” But this time, rather than rising up from bed in fright, I just giggled myself back to sleep.

Rather than joining others at a communal table as is the custom at some inns, guests were served breakfast at individual tables in the first floor dining room. We went downstairs early, giving us an opportunity to “eyeball” those who came in later.

Was it the “Youngsters” who had engaged in bouts of frenetic love-making? Or had it been “The Dentist and His Wife” who had left their children with Grandpa and Grandma so they could rekindle their “interest” in each other during a “kid-free” weekend?

Of course, we never unraveled the mystery of who had been responsible for causing the pseudo-quakes.

But one thing’s for sure. The earth moved for them, even if it didn’t for the inn’s other guests.

(The idea for this story originated in 1999 when Tales Told From The Road publisher, Dick Jordan, took a travel writing class from fellow travel writer, novelist, and poet Linda Watanabe McFerrin. When Dick called spoke to her during recent broadcast on San Francisco’s FCC Free Radio, Linda—who co-edits “Hot Flashes: Sexy Little Stories and Poems”—encouraged him to finally pen this story during Valentine’s week this week. And so he did.)

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