It was about thirty years ago that I last saw my big sister, who was a high school English teacher, an educator with a love for words. I was living in southern California and she was in Phoenix. She called to tell me that she had won a trip in an Arizona radio contest. The prize was a trip to Ventura for the weekend. The radio station would be busing the winners in that next Friday night. She suggested I drive up and meet her at their hotel on Saturday morning for breakfast. They had some promotional responsibilities and obligations that they had to take care of after lunch but we should have the whole morning to catch up. I told her that this sounded like a great idea and agreed to meet her for breakfast around 7:00 am.
It was a little under a two hour drive from my house to Ventura so I got an early start that Saturday morning. It was the middle of June, and the marine layer was in. It was cool and foggy but I knew the gloom would burn off by mid morning. Everyone who was alive, remembers that date. It became a momentous occasion, after all – the world changed that day – changed on the backs of ten lucky listeners from Arizona who each shared a fondness for popular music.
The ten winning contestants were being lodged at one of those nondescript business hotels like Ambassador Suites or Hamilton Lodge, you know the type. The rooms are junior suites and feature kitchenettes and a big breakfast buffet in the mornings.
It was easy to find the group in the breakfast room. They had pushed tables together and were all eating en-mass. An employee of the station was explaining their itinerary for the day. After breakfast, their morning was free. They could go shopping or sightseeing or whatever they wanted, but they needed to rendezvous back at the hotel by noon. They would all be bused to the beach for the live broadcast which would take about two hours. The rest of the weekend was theirs again. Brochures of nearby attractions and tours were spread out on the tables. I noticed that everyone in the room, excepting the minder from the station, was large.
I spotted Helen and waved. She beckoned me over and I gave her a hug, “Get some breakfast,” she told me. “I had an idea that you might want to write about this. It could make a great story.”
“Why’s that,” I asked. “Fill me in.”
She explained that the contest had been the brainchild of KAKTI Radio and they had gathered all their largest listeners for this trip to California. This afternoon they were going to the beach for the live broadcast and a session of calisthenics, with an emphasis on jumping jacks.
“The object,” she explained, “is to make California fall into the ocean and move the coastline to Arizona.” She laughed. “It’s all in good fun,” she said, “and these guys are all really nice.” She introduced me to some of the other winners, seated nearby. Jack was a software engineer from Tempe; Silvia was a single mom who worked on a road crew and lived in Buckeye. Jim and Katherine were a couple who both worked in the Aerospace Industry. I don’t remember specifics of any of the others, but I agreed with her. I thought it would make a good story.
We all tucked into our food and I subconsciously began gathering back stories from the other winners who were seated around me and Helen. I made interview appointments for later that day and Sunday morning. I wanted to get to know these people better. I smelled an interesting story.
The food, the company, and the conversation made the morning pass quickly and pretty soon the room was empty except for me and my sister. We sat and talked until the rendezvous and when everyone was gathered again, I was allowed to ride the bus with the winners to the beach.
To make a long story short, the plan worked and the Ventura coast buckled under the strain of the ten contestants jumping up and down on the sand. Eight new islands were formed. They have since been named: Anacapa, San Miguel, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Clemente, San Nicolas, Santa Barbara and, Santa Catalina.
The DJ and I were the only survivors from that group who had been on the beach that day. They had set up the broadcast equipment on higher ground, up nearer the highway, and I was sitting with him. It took a while for the break to occur. Everyone was laughing, having fun and, jumping up and down. Suddenly the earth moved. I lost consciousness but when I came to the DJ and I were wedged between rocks on a high point of the island that is now known as Anacapa, and is part of Channel Islands National Park. It sits about eleven miles off the coast of Port Hueneme. My sister and the other winners were swept out to sea on the tsunami. No trace of them was ever found.
Each year in June I take a day and, like a pilgrim, come back to this island peak. I gaze towards the sea and remember those brave contestants who forever changed the face of our planet, altered our geography and, created these beautiful islands. May they rest in peace.