Earthquakes In Wine Country

Ben's house.

Ben’s house.

I was frozen with fear. I didn’t trust my building, I wanted to escape, but I couldn’t move out of the bed. Once the earthquake stopped I laid in bed shaking with fear. Then I decided to get the hell out of my apartment before it crumbled to the ground. I ran for the door. The power was out, it was 3:30 am and pitch black. I heard a crunch, crunch sound after my first 2 steps into my living room. There was broken glass everywhere. I don’t know how I didn’t cut my feet stepping on the broken shards. This was my first earthquake and I had to respect the destructive power of these things. My kitchen/living room was trashed. Everything from my cupboards was broken in pieces on the floor, the fridge and freezer doors were wide open with their contents thrown on the floor. Wine bottles were everywhere.

I realized I needed to be careful. I turned back to my bedroom to try to find some shoes for my bare feet. Once I found some protective footwear I got the heck out of my apartment. All the neighbors convened outside in the driveway. Bewildered looks and night clothes were worn by all. We accounted for everyone in my small apartment complex, no one suffered physical injuries.

To my amazement, the building had not split in half. The shaking was so violent I didn’t know how it was possible that the structure was still intact. One of the neighbors complained of smelling leaking gas in their apartment.

It became apparent after 30 minutes or so that everyone immediately near me was unharmed and the apartment building stubbornly refused to split in half and crumble to the ground. The Fight Or Flight mode, along with the adrenaline, began to wear off. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like a zombie.

The previous day I worked 13 hours catering an outside wedding at a winery in Sonoma. The dress code requires that I wear black dress shoes with hard soles. I got home at 1am and my feet were sore. I showered and fell onto my bed at 2 am and passed out. I didn’t get much rest. An hour later the earth was attacking me.

It was cold outside in the 4 am morning darkness. The cooling breezes from the San Pablo Bay were doing their daily work on the Napa Valley. Some of the neighbors started drinking wine in rooms lit with flashlights and candles because they were too wired to go back to sleep. I would’ve joined them but I was beat down tired from catering the day before. Shivering in the dark in the driveway got old and I decided to venture into my apartment to assess the damage.

By the light of one small candle I tried to sweep some of the broken glass into piles. I kept stumbling on broken crap I couldn’t see. The sound of the broken glass clinking together as I swept it up gave me a headache. It was too much. I was still in shock. I walked through the debris back to my bed and laid down. I was unable to sleep and I was unable to be productive, so I laid in bed and stared into the darkness.

As the sun rose above Napa residents milled about the streets assessing the damage from the moving earth. I had no energy and I couldn’t sleep so I walked outside. The power was out. One of the neighbors heard rumors of someone making coffee from a French press and a bbq grill. It was all gone by the time I showed up.

I called my buddy Chris from work. He lives two blocks away in an old house that is elevated off the ground to protect from floods that invade Napa from time to time. An elevated house is good for floods but not so much for earthquakes. I was worried when I called him. Chris, his family, and old house were fine. He had a bunch of broken crap but no serious injuries and the house held up well. Chris also had a propane grill and a French press. He invited me over for coffee.

I spoke with my mom on the phone in Florida. She was keeping up with the events in Napa on the tv news. I informed her that I was fine and everyone I knew was ok, but I felt like a zombie. Mom encouraged me to go out and help people. She said the hospital was swamped with injured people and I should go there and help. Mom said it would make me feel better.

I liked Mom’s thinking. It is the same idea that I developed after suffering traumatic injuries from an avalanche. When life is terrible to you, the best way to cope is to go out and create value for other people. When you focus on creating value for others it gets your mind off of your own problems and you feel good by being productive.

The problem was I didn’t think I could be of much help to injured people waiting in line at a hospital. All my neighbors seemed to be ok. I couldn’t think of anyone I could help.

12 hours after the earthquake I remembered by buddy Ben. Ben lives four blocks south of me, he’s my only friend in town that I didn’t meet from work. I sent him a text message asking if he was ok. I never got a reply. I thought I should get on my bike and pedal down to his house and check on him. Working with 1 hour of sleep in the last 2 days left me slow and lethargic. The forces of good and evil, of checking on Ben and laying in bed during the middle of the day doing nothing, waged a small battle. Evil won. I figured Ben was ok and proceed to rest in bed.

I got an email from Ben two days later. He was staying at his girlfriend’s apartment in San Francisco when the earthquake hit Napa. He was unharmed. Ben said he would be splitting time between his brother’s place in Sonoma and his girlfriend’s in San Francisco because his house had caught on fire. What wasn’t destroyed in the fire was ruined by water from the firefighters. His place was a total loss.
p.s. What do you think? When your life was difficult from losing a job, a relationship, getting injured, or some other devastation; did you put your problems aside and try to provide some kind of value to others? If so how did that make you feel?
Let me know your thoughts at

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