Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where Were You?

Yesterday was the twentieth anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake in Northern California. I happened to notice a news story today in my news feed (I probably subscribe to too many feeds because I'm always behind...just like the newspapers). Anyway, this is the earthquake that collapsed a double-deck portion of a freeway in Oakland. I was nowhere near the earthquake. I was, in fact, about 6000 miles away in the south part of France. Nevertheless, I remember it well. I walked from a little country inn perched near Mougins Village in France to the village to buy newspapers. Both the International Herald Tribune (in English) and the French paper had huge headlines about the earthquake. My friends and I crowded into a public lounge at the inn (the only place with a TV) and watched coverage. We were frustrated when they cut off the voice of someone they were interviewing to dub in the French translation. I read the French newspaper (with the aid of my pocket electronic translator) and they described the freeway scene with the collapsed deck on the cars below as 'coffins of concrete.'

Thinking back to that time twenty years ago, made me realize how we connect to big events and disasters based on where we are and what we are doing...even if it's far away from the site.

I finished listening to cassettes in my car about British Kings and Queens. I still can't remember all the Georges and all the hanky-panky and wars. But, of course, I remember when Princess Di was killed. I was home for that one and I think FFP woke me up to tell me the news. A short time later I was in Paris and there was a memorial near the underpass where the wreck occurred.

We all remember where we were when Kennedy was assassinated (if we were alive). I was in History class.

And, of course, 9/11. I saw the first report of the plane flying into the WTC on a tiny 5inch B&W TV we kept in the bathroom at the Shoal Creek house. I think I also heard about the 1994 Northridge earthquake on this TV. I called my Northridge friend. The phones were out. I called my friend in San Dimas and my Northridge friend was there (thankfully).

In 1981 we had a big flood in Austin. Thirteen people died in and around Shoal Creek. I remember the party in the unfinished penthouse of a bank building on 15th Street, watching the storm develop. And leaving early because we were in black tie and sunburned and uncomfortable and, after we got home and changed, deciding not to go out again because it was raining so hard. And waking the next morning incredulous at the destruction and amazed at the debris line in our backyard.

I don't remember when I first heard about August 1, 1966, the day Charles Whitman mounted the UT tower to bring down people with a high-powered rifle. I was in Sacramento, California on a trip with my sister. So I wasn't even in Texas. Little did I know how close Whitman came to changing my future, though, gunning down someone a few scant feet from my future husband, someone I didn't even know at the time.

I think the message is this: if there is going to be a disaster, you should be close to me. I'll be far away or, at least, oblivious and safe. But we always remember a lot about the time, don't we? And where we were.

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