My husband and I both grew up at the Jersey Shore, both on barrier islands. I in Ocean City (Exit 25) and he in Chadwick Beach (Exit 82). It’s not much of a surprise, then, that we ended up living in Alameda, an Island City off the coast of Oakland. The need to be surrounded by water is just in our DNA.
A strong desire to live near the beach isn’t the only genetic imprinting that happens when one grows up at The Jersey Shore. There are other predispositions: abiding love for soft pretzels, boardwalks, and soft serve; memories of horseshoe crabs (in decline now due to pollution), jellyfish, and sand crabs; and perhaps the most deeply rooted of all, an almost reverent devotion to the music of Bruce Springsteen.
At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I didn’t become a complete devotee until I was in my 20s. It was 1995 and my then-boyfriend and I packed up our yellow Ryder truck and set out from the dead-end street near his parents’ home on our move to San Francisco. Fittingly, Thunder Road played as our wheels took us slowly away from the place we’d known all our lives. Following The Boss’s command: We were getting out while we were young.
When I was a kid in the ’70s I was out of the house for much of the day, tooling around town on my cruiser bike, hanging out at the beach in the summer, digging up rat bones in the sand dunes, or bringing home sand sharks to swim in my friend Patty’s bathtub (yes, we really did that).
In the winter we’d be out all day building snow forts, having epic snowball battles, and wouldn’t be seen by parents until dinner unless we needed to use the bathroom, eat something, or couldn’t feel our feet anymore.
If I wanted to go to the park, I jumped on my bike, rode over to so-and-so’s house, and off we went wherever our wheels would take us. I never had, nor felt I needed, a chaperone. And I don’t remember ever feeling neglected, although this freewheeling childhood experience wasn’t without its “creepy incidents” that made me scream bloody murder and run like hell.
Looking back, I shudder at the close calls and feel reallllly lucky not to have ended up on the evening news. It was the ’70s. Parenting was different then. Kids were different then. And yet, I survived.
We live in earthquake country. I’ve felt small tremors and medium-sized ones, and live with a healthy dose of fear that the long-predicted “big one” will hit California any day now. And yet, if it did, we would be woefully unprepared. It’s really easy to forget you live in earthquake country, until, that is, one strikes, and then it’s hard to imagine you’ll ever forget again. But then you do. You vow to get that earthquake kit together. You swear you’ll replace that funky water stored under three inches of dust in your garage. Really, you will. Right after you tend to something else which seems way more important because it’s actually happening, not theoretically happening.
But the thing about earthquakes is that they are unpredictable. It’s almost crazy not to be always prepared for them to strike because we never have any warning that they will.
Which brings me to two separate but equal events today that led me to drink down that healthy dose of fear I mentioned earlier. One has to do with imagining an earthquake won’t happen; the other has to do with imaging one has.