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Hearts of L.A. / How the Quake Rocked Our Spirits and Changed Our Lives : COPING WITH CHAOS : 'As time goes by, we will all forget the terrible fear.'

January 30, 1994|Gary Apfel and Serena Apfel | Apfel, 41, is a Los Angeles-based partner of the New York law firm Kaye, Scholer. His wife Serena, 36, is a native Californian who teaches dentistry at USC. They live in Los Angeles with their five children, who range in age from 10 years to 6 weeks.

It was clearly the most frightening experience of my life. Bar none.

But not more than 10 minutes after the quake, a really interesting thing happened: The phone rang, and we both assumed it was Serena's parents. It was my younger brother calling from London. He's a stock trader, and he was sitting in front of a computer screen in London and across it flashed something saying that a major earthquake had hit Los Angeles. And he was able to get through to us.

I was just so relieved that everyone was OK, (but) so shaken that it didn't even occur to me at the time to do something cheery with the children. I just thought: We're all together; we're all OK. But they were scared.

So, a couple nights later, we all got into our bedroom and I asked each of them to tell me how they felt about the earthquake. They all said they were scared, and I told them that there's nothing wrong with being scared. Frankly, I said, we were scared, too.

There's nothing wrong with being scared. It's very human to be scared, but one has to be brave. That's the definition of being brave--being scared yet not letting that keep you from doing whatever it is you're supposed to be doing. We were very proud of our children.

After all, we were scared, too. In fact, as soon as I calmed down enough to start thinking semi-rationally, I said to myself: What do I need this for? I'm from Manhattan, and I was just thinking to myself: This is crazy, I should move my family back East.

But I'd say about a day later, I really thought about it, and realized we love L.A. We're very happy here. My wife and my children are happy here. It's just a nice place to live. And even with the riots and all the other problems that we've been having, having lived in New York for 36 years, I have no desire to move back there. I'm a real L.A. booster.

You know, conversion is the right word here because, when Serena and I decided to get married, we discussed where we'd live, and I said to her the last place on earth that I would live is L.A. Never!

But, as a New Yorker, I'm able to experience here the things that really appealed to me about New York without the negatives--the freezing winters, the gray skies 90% of the time, the hot and sticky summers, the blackouts. And the hot subways, the multitude of people on the street, the pushing and the shoving.

You know what was great about our experience the morning of the earthquake? Everybody was out. And that's unusual. I mean, we rarely get to see our neighbors except for the ones that we socialize with. It was a real feeling of community.

As with every other experience in human nature, as time goes by, we will all forget the terrible fear that we experienced and get back to our lives.

Life will go on because that's human nature. But I guess for me having lived through this now and seeing that we are able to survive and the city is able to survive and we're able to cope with it. . . . If, God forbid, something like this ever happens again, I just know it will be a lot easier to deal with.

And it definitely doesn't make me want to leave. To go back to the freezing cold in New York? What for? What for?

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