Architectural Arrogance

I knew there was a very good reason to not read guidebooks. I knew it. Because they tell you as much about what you don’t want to know as what you do.

We decided to brunch it in downtown LA today.

I was flushed with success at navigating back from Warner Studios yesterday at rush hour using only a street plan: clear roads before us but traffic jams at every point in the opposite direction flow. Proving my superiority over Satnav once and for all. So I decided this morning to grab the guidebook and to oversee our route.

Mistake. I became sadly distracted by all the other irrelevant sections in the book including the bit about the forty or twenty or so (big numbers, whatever) tectonic fault lines criss-crossing LA and the 99 percent chance (certainty) identified by some study in 2008 of a massive quake in the next thirty years.

I didn’t need to be reading this as we approached the skyscrapers and underpasses of Downtown. Gazing over to the glistening reflective glare of this absurdly arrogant cityscape, I suddenly felt very vulnerable.

Was it better to be on the street or inside? Falling masonry doesn’t sound appealing, but neither does getting buried alive. I’ve read the blurb in the hotel guest services book and it recommends taking shelter in a sturdy doorway. Not helpful when driving the streets.

We were looking for somewhere for brunch. R headed into a gloomy pit of a place looking like something from the prohibition era. Was this a good thing or a bad thing? The gothic horror had presumably stood the test of time, but on the other hand it could have been irredeemably weakened in the most recent quake. Who could know for sure?

As we began to tuck in to a great breakfast, I noticed the coffee in the mug in front of me slopping around. I watched in horror for several minutes, unable to taste my food, until I realised the table was wobbly.

Walking around later on the California Plaza, I heard an ominous rumbling. No one else seemed alarmed. Frozen to the spot, I looked around for a solid architrave. And noticed the guy pushing along one of those huge skip bins.

I wonder how people live with this imminent threat on a daily basis? Obviously you can’t think of it, because it induces a psychological paralysis. But how can you ignore it for ever? How can you plan anything long term? How could anyone continue to build skyscrapers here? However much genius engineering is involved, no one seriously thinks these towers of steel and glass are quake proof, surely?

LA’s a brilliant place, it really is. As are all the bits of California we’ve visited so far and I must love it here to have survived 10 days without giving thought to the Next Big One. But it’s not easy to push to the back of my mind the fears suddenly surfacing today in the heart of downtown.

I think I need to give up watching those third rate one star disaster movies late at night. And do what Californians do. Live for the moment. Which is a pretty good rule for life wherever you happen to find yourself.

5 thoughts on “Architectural Arrogance

  1. How funny you should start thinking about tectonic shifts in LA – for me the threat of upheaval was much more present in SF where, on my last visit, the remnants of the last quake were all too apparent…… You’ve reached the right decision though to forget about it and enjoy each moment!

    • I thought about it in SF but managed to block it out. Although cycling the bridge was terrifying in gale force winds every time I thought of disaster stuff. But really it was reading the bit in the time out book and seeing the skyscrapers; I just felt shock at the investment in this unforgiving environment. It makes the unreality of the whole Hollywood thing even more unreal but maybe that’s all part of the same mindset

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