From the Blog

Fun New Paranoia Part II

I recently wrote about how I almost got hit by a car. Like most people, when urgently reminded of our mortality, I saw my life flash before me, and there were two new little faces that eclipsed everything else. And it was suddenly much, much more important to me to not get hit by a car.


I used to joke with Dave that I was crazy. I insisted. No, really, I am. And he’d roll his eyes and say I was the least crazy woman he knew, or certainly the least crazy woman he’d ever dated. I figured I had given him fair warning.

The difference though, is that no one is more aware of my nuttiness than I am. (So I’d like to think.) I follow trains of thought through their neurons and synapses, through tangents and microscopic details, into bizarre, not-normal territory, and think, yes, I just entered Crazytown.

For example. I always sort of have the Cascadia Subduction Zone brewing in the back of my mind. I wrote about that over here (We Are So Screwed). I also read this book. As I have said, I don’t want to be scared, I just want to know. The Cascadia Subduction Zone can, and will, produce a giant Japan-style earthquake. The average time span is every 300 years. The last one went off in 1700.

Okay? So it’s on my mind a little. Dave and I have camping gear and we figured that was the extent of preparation we needed.

Now, babies. And everything changes. It’s okay to poke at paranoia when it’s just me and my husband I have to worry about. But now the anxiety has a sharp bite to it. Now it feels like we had better get our shit together. It’s okay if Dave and I subsist on spaghettios or canned corn for a few days or weeks. Or if we might be a little chilly or wet because our house fell down. But the babies are a different story.

Going back to work and being away from the boys during the day reminded me of how unprepared we were. I commuted every day on the bus. We went over the Ross Island bridge. That bridge has always irritated the hell out of me, and I avoided using it. On the bus, I didn’t care how tortured and haphazard it was to get on that stupid bridge because I wasn’t driving.

But whether I realized it or not, I was always a little antsy stuck in traffic on that bridge. Not because I thought it would collapse with the weight of all the traffic…but because we could have a huge fricken earthquake while I’m on the bus, on the bridge, and we could fall in the river. And holy crap, being lit on fire sounds more pleasant. The monotony of the daily commute eventually took the edge off, but I always breathed a little sigh of relief once we were back on the ground.

As I worked downtown, in a big office tower, I thought about how little we knew about plate tectonics in the 1970s when the building was constructed. And I sent mental messages to giant earth-shattering earthquakes to just hold off until after I got out of work.

But then, of course, I worked on the westside. Our house is on the eastside. and if there’s a huge earthquake, all Portland’s antique bridges are going to come crashing down. Or certainly, they aren’t going to let anyone try to cross, even if they were still standing. Would they coordinate other ways for people to get across the river? Will there be boats?

In my mind, mapping out the post earthquake chaos, I already determined I’m not going to wait for everyone to figure it out. I’d swim across the river. I wondered, do you swim with shoes on? Do you take them off and try to bring them with you? If I don’t have shoes, then I’d have to walk the 3 1/2 miles to get to my house barefoot. That sounds awful. I bet there will be lots of broken things after an earthquake. So I better mentally prepare how to bring my shoes if I ever have to swim across the Willamette to get home to my babies. If there is ever an apocalyptic earthquake which could happen at any moment. Like right now! Or right now!

Isn’t this entertaining?

So. I am aware this is nutty. Probably not healthy. It’s not even productive. In moments of boredom, I’d decorate my elaborate disaster fantasy with new details, or alternative solutions to outlandish possible scenarios. Maybe I could steal a boat! Wait, I don’t know how to drive a boat! Maybe I could find a canoe or kayak! I bet that would be better than walking 3 1/2 miles without shoes! But I’d have to paddle upstream, and my arms will get tired! Etc.

Now, if it was just me, having to deal with post apocalyptic earthquake chaos (it could happen right now! Or right now!) I wouldn’t be so worried. But I have a husband, who at least works on the eastside and wouldn’t have to worry about soggy shoes if he has to walk home. And now babies.

I finished working downtown, and now I’m home with the boys. Our camping gear is ready to go. I feel a little better about the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

(It could happen right now!)

(Or now!)


  1. Mary Sue says

    1) Leaving work, take a bin liner from a garbage can at the office.
    2) When you get to the river, take off your shoes and pants and put them in the bin liner.
    3) Swim across the river, making sure you watch out for debris.
    4) Remove dry shoes and pants from bin liner, put them on, now you don’t have to walk in wet trousers.

    I have spent waaaaaaay too much time thinking about this.

    • throw a small washcloth in that bag to dry off with too, so you don’t chaff. chaffing sucks. and i bet it would suck worse after an cataclysmic eathquake.

  2. NOW i am pondering this… if the bridges collapsed, it would seem like there would be an absurd about of debris in the water – like crazy dangerous. Steel and concrete, and given our rainy situation right now i’d imagine the current is fairly strong… I think we need to give this more thought.

  3. Aunty Laurie says


  4. I have 1 year old twins, live on eastside and husband works on westside…I too am obsessed with the impending earthquake and it occupies my thoughts way too much. I made my father-in-law (Floridian) go disaster shopping with me and the babies. He thinks I am crazy. I was so overwhelmed I walked out with 3 gallons of water and a bucket. Hmmm…
    Thanks for this post! I don’t feel so neurotic now. :)

  5. As an architect with a very solid dose of engineering background, i too worry about most of Portland infrastructure. A subduction earthquake 100 miles off shore will not necessarily bring the bridges down, but will make them impassable for quite some time while inspections/ repairs are made. Old masonry building will be in trouble, along with many (large) buildings built before 1980. Old wooden houses are relatively safe with only three major issues; 1. house not fastened to foundation properly. 2. masonry chimney falling over. 3. gas lines breaking starting fires. There are fault lines all around Portland most of these will produce quakes in the 5-7 range. Still large enough to do major destruction due to their proximity. Remember it is not a matter of if it will happen but when.

  6. HeatherR says

    I’m glad it’s not just me. Of course here we prepare for ice storms, etc. But there’s always those crazy thought in the back of my head that I prepare for too… what if I was stuck in the car with the kids ~like in Cujo….

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