Night beckons, babies.

Shall I tell you another bedtime story?

It’s an early Valentine, of sorts…

Cuddle up closer. Let’s begin.

The Night the Milky Way Appeared in L.A.

Look at anything too closely and you begin to see the flaws. Those velvet gloves pictured above aren’t silk, they’re synthetic. The sparkles are bits of glass and quite a few have fallen from their setting.

Was it a glorious wonder when you could see the galaxy glowing in the skies of Los Angeles? Hardly, but that didn’t make it any less beautiful.

4:30:55 a.m., the morning of January 17th, 1994, came with a profoundly deep rumble and a rolling sensation like that of being on a choppy sea in a small boat, and yet the denizens of Los Angeles were all being pitched about on dry land. In the 6.7 magnitude earthquake people suffered heart attacks from the fright — facades crumbled away from old apartment buildings — and the towers of downtown swayed on their foundations…

Did I comment on the noise? I did. But I’ll say it again for emphasis. The noise of the continent shifting was bone rattling. I woke with a gasp, the room lurching, to find the mister shielding me from the windows above our bed. Cradled in one of his arms, his body balanced on an elbow, he said, “I’ve got you.” And he had, and he still does, is it any wonder?

Where were we? Oh, yes. The Milky Way. The first aftershock followed moments after the primary event. The phone rang in the dark — we had always been told the phone lines would go — yet it was my brother on the line from San Francisco making sure I was all right.

Just a little later, when we had thrown clothes on and grabbed flashlights to walk through the house, we saw our housemate saunter out of his bedroom in a luxurious vintage bathrobe, survey the damage in the living room under the beam of our Rayovacs, and with great sangfroid, return to bed.

No bed for the mister and I. The mister set up a camp stove in the driveway, brewed several pots of coffee and started handing out mugs to the neighbors, along with an assortment of flashlights I didn’t even know we had. We met people who had lived next to us for years, and never spoken to. In the midst of the disaster and the dread there was goodwill unlike I’d ever experienced in the city, and then a woman said, “You know, we’re in blackout, look up.” And I did.

That’s the night the heavens shone so bright, like an ocean so vast and encompassing and deep, that if you just reached out you’d be swimming in a sea of stars.

Sleep tight!


  1. This was magnitude 10 on the Lanier Scale!!! I rode the Sylmar of 1971 and was ringside at Market and Castro for the rolling wave that was Lima Preita. You’ve inspired me to revisit that one… stay tuned!

  2. judith dm

    Beautiful description of that dreadful, dark early morning. Amazing so few lives were lost, because of the hour. Hours later it would have been a great tradgety. Remember it well. Our young children were sleeping in our room and slept through it. We were terrified!

    • Yes! We were so very fortunate it struck when most of L.A. was sleeping. I just read in the news lately that there’s a fault line running underneath Rodeo Dr. There’s also one going right down Hollywood Blvd. The flip side of the earthquakes and fires is living here, and that is indeed sometimes very beautiful.

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