Coffee heat rising

When the Ground Turns to Jell-O

Man, the earthquake news from Turkey brings back the memories…and stirs up my father’s unending admonitions that we must remember how lucky we were to be born in the U.S.A.

All the time we lived in Arabia — ten  long years — he regularly reminded me of that miraculous luck. In his case, it was pure ethnocentric chauvinism: he sincerely believed Americans were just “better” than everyone else.

But…well, yeah: you ARE lucky if you live in a country where the government passes laws to protect its citizens’ lives and safety, not just the spectacular wealth and power of the ruling class and their cronies. To understand that, all you have to do is watch those buildings full of men, women, and children as they tumble down and crash into piles of rubble.

My parents and I came back to the States in the late 1950s, at which time my mother ensconced us in a San Francisco apartment development called Parkmerced, near the shores of Lake Merced. It was a nice place to live, mostly garden apartments with a few 13-story high-rises. We dwelt on the sixth floor of one such high-rise, in a handsome two-bedroom apartment.

And my mother lived in absolute raw terror of earthquakes.

The day the 1957 earthquake hit, I was at school. We’d all had earthquake drills, so we ducked and covered and then, once the dust settled, marched outside and gathered in tidy rows on the playground.

Back in the tower, my mother apparently panicked. The first thing she remembered after the earthquake hit was finding herself downstairs in the middle of the street, running around in circles. How she got down six storeys, Heaven only knows.

BUT…the point at hand is that she did get down all those floors…and all those floors remained standing and intact. The school building also remained intact: the overturned file cabinets and scattered books were picked up, and we kids returned to class then next day.

Which brings us to the question at hand: if towers built in the 1950s could withstand a major earthquake, why couldn’t structures built since then do the same?