Disasters: Nature's way of telling you to find a new ZIP code

December 10, 1998|By Kevin Cowherd

AN OLD FRIEND of mine lives in San Francisco, which is a great place to live if you don't mind the Earth splitting open occasionally and buildings collapsing around you.

Anyway, Steve called the other day to say that the Bay Area had been hit by another earthquake just before dawn. Apparently, it was a pretty good jolt, too -- 4.1 on the Richter scale.

Me, I'm the type of person who gets jittery watching Jell-O quiver in a bowl.

If the walls started shaking and I got flung out of bed by an earthquake at 4 in the morning, I'd be knocking back fistfuls of Valium like they were Tic-Tacs.

"Were you scared?" I asked Steve.

"Absolutely," he said. "After the bad one in '89, we don't take any earthquakes for granted."

Luckily, damage was minimal and this was not "The Big One," the devastating quake that's been predicted for years. But after hanging up with Steve, all I could think was: Why doesn't this dope move?

In fact, I wondered: Why don't all those dopes out there move?

Because even though the cable cars are neat and you can't beat the Chinese food, there are three main problems with the Bay Area: a. You're on a major fault line.

b. The tectonic plates under the Earth's surface are constantly colliding, signaling an impending upheaval, possibly "The Big One."

c. If it hits, you're all gonna die.

ZTC Quite frankly, that last one alone would be enough to make me dial my Realtor. But given all three of these reasons, wouldn't you be persuaded to move? To a place where -- I'm just thinking out loud here -- they don't have killer earthquakes?!

It's the same thing with other natural disasters, such as tornadoes.

For instance, there's a tiny town in the Texas Panhandle, I think it is, that's been wiped out three times by a tornado.

Think about that for a moment.

Here you live in this bucolic town, right? You got a nice spread, a few acres, the requisite Ford pickup in the driveway, some cows and pigs out back.

Then one day, a tornado touches down. It turns your house into kindling, whips the pickup into a tree, sends the cows and pigs flying to another ZIP code.

But you, you're a plucky son of a gun. So you take the insurance money, empty your life savings and build another place, buy another pickup, more cows and pigs, etc.

For a while, you're rolling along, singing a song. Then sure enough, another tornado comes along. And this one wipes out your place again, totals the pickup, air-mails the cows and pigs to Oklahoma, etc.

Now if that's me living in that town, I gotta be thinking: time to move, Jack. In fact, I'd have a "For Sale" sign stuck in the front lawn before the twister roared out the back door.

Because I'm pretty sure that twice enduring a rampaging twister packing shrieking winds of 300 mph -- a storm capable of catapulting livestock, for God's sake -- would be enough for me.

But most of the people in this town didn't move -- even after the second tornado! Instead, most of the residents built another home, bought another pickup, bought more cows and pigs.

Then another tornado wiped them out again.

Yes! For a third time!

After the third tornado, of course, the place became legendary. Pretty soon, the satellite trucks began rolling in and TV reporters with Hugo Boss blazers were sticking microphones in the faces of the stunned townsfolk who'd lost everything again.

Most of the townsfolk looked into the cameras and said wearily: "Yeah, that's it, we've had enough. We're moving."

But, unbelievably, a few of them did not. One old coot spit on the ground, hitched up his pants and drawled: "Naw, we ain't leavin'. This is home. We're gonna build agin."

As I watched this old codger on the 11 o'clock news, I was struck by a sudden urge that was almost overpowering. At that moment, I wanted to jump on a plane and fly down to whatever podunk airport was closest to him.

Then I wanted to rent a car and drive out to the old coot's place at about 100 mph. I wanted to come fishtailing into his driveway in a cloud of dust, leap out of the car, grab him by the lapels and scream: "ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?! A$%&* TORNADO HAS WIPED OUT YOUR PLACE THREE TIMES! NOW PACK A BAG, YOU CRAZY OLD COOT! YOU'RE COMING WITH ME!"

That's probably what I should do with my friend Steve.

Except the price of airfare to the West Coast, man, it's through the roof.

Pub Date: 12/10/98

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