The Great Leveler

Loma Prieta EarthquakeMy short residency on the West Coast immersed me in a culture that was dramatically different from what I grew up with in Western New York:  California has an entrepreneurial spirit that puts most of the rest of the country to shame; but in the area where I lived it also had a pretty shallow me-first attitude that was annoying to the point of disgust and was one of the key reasons why I decided to move back East.

But Northern California sure is beautiful, and aside from a few very hot, dry months the weather was pleasant most of the year.  You could plan an outdoor event six months in advance without worrying about possible inclement weather.  It rarely rained and never snowed.

All that beauty comes with a price tag that affects you immediately, and a price tag that affects you long-term.  Housing costs are an absolute killer and what we might consider substandard housing is the norm in many communities:  One or two-bedroom bungalow houses crammed on postage stamp lots sell for twice what you would pay for a four-bedroom newly-built in Clarence.

The long-term price tag is that ever-looming threat of earthquakes – the great leveler.  While most of my friends didn’t fret about losing their lives because of an earthquake, those homeowners that I knew were paranoid about losing their homes.  None of them had earthquake insurance for the same reason you don’t get flood insurance in New Orleans:  Cost.  None of them had a plan B – other than perhaps a government handout.  All of them lived for today, not an unpredictable future. 

I’m sure that yesterday’s magnitude 5.6 California quake was a vivid reminder to many residents in the San Jose area that they have built their lives on shaky ground.  I doubt that any of them would consider moving elsewhere because of it.

Living in an earthquake zone probably seems as irrational to me as living in a snowbelt does to them.



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