Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life - Neil Strauss (2009)
Part V. RESCUE
It wasn’t long after joining C.E.M.P. that I experienced my first natural disaster.
Since being accepted as an applicant, which entailed six months of training followed by a three-month probationary period, I’d bought my first ham radio. WTSHTF, if both land and mobile lines went completely dead, I’d need some way to connect to the outside world to find out what was going on, what areas were safe, and, if necessary, call for help.
Katie didn’t like the radio, especially when I left it on the earthquake channel. The station was completely silent because it was hooked up to a machine that detected seismic activity. If it started emitting tones, this meant the machine was picking up tremors and anyone listening should immediately duck, cover, and hold.
“It’s like another presence in the room I can’t see,” Katie complained. “What if we’re sleeping at night and this static comes on, and all of a sudden we hear a creepy voice saying ‘I’m watching you’?”
I laughed. I actually thought she was kidding. My mistake.
“You probably think it’s totally unrealistic. But, honey, it could totally happen. It’s scary.”
“Have you ever realized how much your life has suffered because of your fears?” I needed to do something to help Katie. If she continued like this, she’d end up as a crazy old spinster sealed in a house full of cats. Except she wouldn’t even have cats to keep her company, because she’d be afraid they’d sit on her chest and steal her breath while she slept. “You’re always fighting with your sister because she resents driving you everywhere, and you’re constantly canceling plans and job interviews because you can’t drive anywhere by yourself.”
“I guess you’re right about that.” She took off her reading glasses and put down The Fear Book by Cheri Huber, which I’d bought in an attempt to help her. “I would take a taxi, but I don’t trust taxi drivers.” The book clearly wasn’t working.
“Or you could take driving lessons.”
“I don’t know. I’m scared I’m going to turn the wheels the wrong way and hit things. And I’m worried about other drivers crashing into me.”
“That’s why you need to learn about a car before driving it. In order to engage in life fully, we sometimes have to subject ourselves to small, calculated risks. And though we can’t control anyone else’s behavior, we can learn to control ours to minimize those risks.”
I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth. Somehow, during all this, I’d actually stopped acting like a whiny, clinging child and grown up.
When it came to driving lessons, Katie resisted for a couple of days. But when her sister forgot to pick her up one afternoon and she missed an interview for a job she wanted at a television production company, she relented and agreed to face her fear.
The following afternoon, an elderly Hispanic man with a white beard picked her up for her first driving lesson. Katie peered into the car, then turned to me. “I trust him,” she said. “He reminds me of Lola.”
Lola was our goat. She’d arrived earlier that week—affectionate, curious, and very pregnant. Katie had named her Lola after the showtune lyric, “Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.”
“She’s a pretty little goat, and we will spoil her like we never spoiled Bettie,” she explained.
While Katie wreaked havoc on the streets of Los Angeles, I drove to Santa Ana and took my FCC Technician Class exam, which enabled me to receive this license, a call sign, and authorization to broadcast on ham radio:
The day after my license was granted, I was home alone with the radio on the earthquake channel while Katie was taking another driving class. Suddenly, a warbling pitch emerged from the speaker.
I dove under a desk in the room and gripped its sides. As I did, the house began to shake as if a giant hand had taken hold of it and was rocking it more solidly into its foundation. Then it stopped. Its magnitude was 5.4 on the Richter scale.
No one was hurt. Nothing fell off the shelves. But it was humbling nonetheless. I thought of the analogy I’d heard so much from environmentalists: that we were fleas on the back of the earth, which was itching to get us off.
Since I was safe, I called Katie to make sure she was all right. Then I walked outside to check on Lola and ensure the neighborhood was secure. Next I called C.E.M.P. and asked if they needed me.
It felt good to know what to do.