Evelyn Moriarty, 67, was shaken for a moment. Her lively fluff-ball Marco Polo, a 10-month-old Shih Tzu, had catapulted off the bed. Marco yelped, cocked his head, perked up his ears and wanted to play. Evelyn was immediately at ease.
"Sure, I was awakened a bit earlier than usual, but I figured Marco had to go for a walk," she said. So at 4:45 a.m., about 15 minutes after one of Los Angeles' biggest earthquakes, Moriarty strolled out of her North Hollywood apartment and acted as if nothing had happened. If Marco didn't care, she didn't care.
She carried Marco over piles of glass in the lobby and through a shattered doorway and used a flashlight to identify her neighbors. Her carefree calm seemed to be infectious.
"I was fine," Evelyn said. "It was just a hassle later to find bottled water for Marco. I mean, I drink tap water, I don't care, but not my dog."
Maybe her morning wasn't \o7 quite \f7 ordinary. After their walk, she sat down to a pre-dawn breakfast, pouring cereal and milk into a bowl. The Grape Nuts tasted odd. She squinted at the box. She was eating Marco's Eukanuba out of his heart-shaped dish.
As soon as I heard the epicenter was in the San Fernando Valley, where I lived for five years, my thoughts went to the many people I knew there.
In one sense, an earthquake is a great example of a shared experience. It happens to all of us at the same time. But experiences are never the same for different people, and as I collected the stories of my friends, I found I was always surprised at how each one reacted.
Hard-core curmudgeons were shaken to the core. One woman saved a house from burning. One friend is ready to move out of California. And the ones I thought would be shaken up the most--like Evelyn Moriarty--shrugged it off as one of those things that happens now and then.
Rick Carl in Studio City remembers screaming "Nooooo!" during the shaking. He was trapped upstairs by a bookshelf that crashed halfway down the stairwell, and he found himself scaling the banister and avoiding glass shards. Days later, his things are stacked around his apartment and he still doesn't feel safe sleeping there.
Caryn Forrest, who lives in the trendy Encino Oaks complex off the Ventura Freeway, admitted she always teased her neighbor, attorney Randy Spencer, for having an "earthquake cabinet" of food and water. But as she crawled through debris in the dark, it was Randy she called to, and he rescued her and gave her a flashlight and radio.
Actor Greg Cummins helped evacuate the building and check for damage. Caryn took an hour to come down because she had to tidy up. "You never know who's going to come into your apartment during a disaster like this," she said.
Greg and Caryn went in search of breakfast.
"As we drove down Ventura Boulevard we saw people lining up at pay phones in their pajamas helping each other, and there was glass all over and we saw whole storefronts had fallen into the street," said Caryn, who teaches at Sylmar Juvenile Hall.
"I guessed then that I probably wouldn't be going to work for a few days."
My friend closest to the epicenter is insurance representative Dan Niswander, 35, who lives in Van Nuys on the fault line. Dan isn't a world-class housekeeper, so it was hard to tell what happened. But he wants to move, and he said: "I'm now aware that by living here you have to know how you're going to react at a moment's notice wherever you are. I'll never be unprepared again."
He's definitely not prepared to go back to work on the 19th floor of his Van Nuys office building. "I'm thankful I'm alive, I'm thankful that I've met some of my neighbors for the first time ever, but I'm scared," he said. "I think I've felt about 750 of the 800 aftershocks."
I knew Barbara Palermo in Woodland Hills would be worried about her three cats. During the quake, she clung to her husband, Phil, as the bedroom window blew out, the chimney crashed through their roof and plaster showered them. Then she checked on her cats.
Even Chester, huge and orange, lost his cool and seemed jittery all day. He kept sitting under a hole in the roof near the fireplace, and Barbara kept moving him. The other two hid.
Barbara and Phil picked through the rubble trying to remember what each piece used to be. Heirlooms were ground glass. Every plate was shattered.
But a tiny bone China bowl given to them by Phil's mother three decades ago sailed off a cupboard's top shelf and remained intact.
That night, Barbara and Phil had a candlelight dinner with neighbors: canned pork and beans cooked on a camping stove.
Jerrianne Hayslett has a high-stress media relations job and once had to evacuate her family out of Iran when the Shah was overthrown, but she was left shaken by the quake.
"I have a terrible headache that just won't quit," Hayslett said. "I feel woozy all the time like the house is crooked."