Exactly 20 years ago today (actually at 4:31 a.m.), Santa Monica shook, rattled and rolled during the 6.7 Northridge earthquake, hitting parts of our fair city extremely hard. My apartment felt like a cement truck had just plowed through it.
Down with the flu, I was awakened by a sore throat. As I was gargling an antiseptic, suddenly the bottle flew out of my hands. Thirty seconds of shaking felt like 30 minutes. It was so violent I literally held onto a chin-up bar in my bedroom just to remain vertical.
North Santa Monica got hit the worst, including Saint John’s Health Center. Elaine Lazar, one of my neighbors at the Shores, had her office devastated.
For Elaine it would become a seminal moment and eventually the first steps on her journey to a whole new career and life. Elaine was recently featured in the Dec. 16 L.A. Business Journal series “8 Over 80,” about prominent entrepreneurs over the age of 80. The only woman profiled, Elaine was between real estate tycoon Eli Broad and legendary movie producer Roger Corman.
Elaine was a reporter in the 1980s for the now defunct Herald Examiner. Because of a prolonged labor strike, she transitioned to the advertising and P.R. business and opened an office at 1337 Third Street Promenade — until the quake essentially closed the office.
Desperate, Elaine made so many trips to the office to salvage files that the police warned her, albeit nicely, “Lady, if you come back here we’ll have to arrest you.” Yikes.
For the next two years, Elaine tried to save her business, but to no avail. It became clear that she would have to find a whole new career. Not an easy thing to do at age 64.
Having recently taken up transcendental meditation, Elaine chose not to be depressed or frightened about her future, but rather open to signs of the path she should take.
“My mother had always preached to accept life’s bumps with a ‘Que sera, sera’ attitude, that whatever will be will be. And that’s what I did.”
And sure enough, before long a direction did come to her. To this day, Elaine says of her new direction, “It wasn’t just me. It came from a higher power or the cosmos, or whatever anyone might want to call it.”
The idea was to enter the world of translation and interpreting. It wasn’t totally out of the blue. An avid traveler, and fascinated by all cultures, one of Elaine’s recent clients needed documents translated into Burmese and loved that assignment.
“I’ve always been fascinated with getting rid of communication barriers.”
So she bit the bullet and began her homework.
Ever energetic, Elaine did endless research at UCLA, asking questions of the language departments and becoming more and more intrigued by her newfound field.
“It was also a case of the right time and the right place,” Elaine says modestly.
Indeed, during the mid-90s and on, Santa Monica, and even the country, experienced a wave of immigration that would leave the U.S. populated with new and diverse cultures. And businesses that served those cultures would need translation and interpretation services. Enter Elaine.
Elaine has gone from a two-room, 300-square-foot office with one employee (hers truly) to a 1,600-square-foot and nine-employee office. (Including her daughter Lisa Solomon, a former school administrator.) As Elaine puts it, “How wonderful is it to have my daughter here and work with all the other bright, eager minds of my staff?”
After many years of learning about the business and building it up, today, Lazar and Associates contracts with over 700 translators worldwide. Its client list includes Metro, Caltrans, Tricare, and the Department of Homeland Security. The company also translates the Santa Monica Seascape in partnership with We the Creative.
Lazar and Associates’ success is pretty impressive for a girl raised in Depression-era Pennsylvania. Especially one who, in 1970, found herself divorced and a single mom with three small children. Interestingly Elaine attributes her success to being in touch with her spirituality. (Begging the question, where do I sign up?)
At 82, Elaine still works long days but does take Friday’s off. She does water aerobics five days a week and makes time for traveling, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures and just enjoying life.
With her children long grown, Elaine lives at the beach and has a magnificent ocean view. She also has no plans to retire. “My life is full and rewarding. I get a chance to help clients and teach my staff the benefit of what I’ve learned over the years. How could anyone ask for more?”
Back to the earthquake. On the 20th anniversary, am I worried about another one? I’ve decided to follow Elaine’s mother’s philosophy: Que sera, sera. That said, I’m not taking down the chin-up bar.
Jack can be reached at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.