For many, the prospect of California crumbling into the sea is a
cause for celebration, if only to remove one of the few remaining
obstacles preventing a complete Electoral College sweep for the
Republican Party. Others might relish in the thought that the bloated,
sweaty, smog-filled cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland
might someday be but ash-filled memories of rubble and flame. I for one
would not feel the pain of such a catastrophe, although I do worry
about our dear Mr. Lieberman, who continues to reside in one of the
least hospitable cities on earth. True, I am a Colorado native and have
only visited this Pacific Paradise, but my wife spent the majority of
her existence in the Golden State, and her stories are quite enough,
thank you, to produce a few howls of excitement whenever presented with
doomsday scenarios for that most populous of states.

The late Marc Reisner, who so wonderfully chronicled
California’s water wars in Cadillac Desert, has now given us a dire
warning from the grave; a horror story of what indeed might occur if a
major earthquake hits California in the next several years. His
scenario takes place in February of 2005 along the Hayward fault, and
reduces most of Oakland to a crumbling inferno, causing catastrophic
damage to that area’s most vital transportation links, the Golden Gate
and Bay bridges. His nightmare takes up the last half of the book,
which is itself under 200 pages and one that can be finished in one or
two sittings (the average Californian might need several dozen or, in
light of the last census, an interpreter). The madness reads like a
dystopian horror novel, complete with a first-person account of the
author’s desperate search for his family while looking at images of
bloated corpses filling San Francisco Bay. Interspersed with the
author’s race for home are news accounts, radio broadcasts, and
on-the-scene descriptions of destroyed schools, hospitals, and office
buildings. Still, because Reisner attempts to be as geologically
accurate as possible, it is eerie in its plausibility.

The first half of the book, by comparison, is as scary in its
implications, but without the dramatic narrative. Reisner describes
California’s history in quick bursts of insight and disgust,
chronicling the greed that built the state and continues to inspire its
leaders. Here is a state founded by seekers of quick fortune, funded
largely by the federal government (the defense industry being the prime
example), and always improbably successful, despite its lack of water
and livable land. Reisner gives us the droughts, the mudslides, the
fires, and the quakes, none of which are “breaking news” (especially
for battle-hardened Californians), but nonetheless have a greater sense
of urgency in Reisner’s hands. As he reminds us, a massive quake is
certain to disrupt California’s already fragile water supply to such an
extent that an unheard of level of rationing would be the rosy side of
the picture. And given the concentration of wealth in California, most
of which is built on the least stable land in the continental United
States, a few jolts will be quite enough to send an already shitty
economy further into chaos. It sure as hell isn’t pretty, my friends.

So why in the hell would anyone continue to live in such a
state, what with the possibility of Armageddon always lurking around
the corner [Because it won’t suck as much as Colorado until after
the quake – Ed.]? Never mind that Reisner doesn’t even begin to tackle
the already entrenched problem of illegal immigrants and a distinct
Caucasian minority in the midst of what can only be called the real New
Mexico. The cultural implications are swept aside, which of course is
another book for another author (and someone who is not Michael Savage
or Pat Buchanan). Still, as a man who only has to deal with the
occasional snowstorm, I continue to be fascinated by California’s
“unsettling fate,” for it is bound to reduce the impact of 9/11 to a
mere footnote in our national psyche.