I was in my late 20’s at the time of the earthquake and was walking home from my job at a cafe on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley with my incredibly fly girlfriend, Wendy. (Yes, young-ins, “fly” was briefly an adjective in the late 80’s and a good thing to be.) The quake hit when we were a few steps from the southeast corner of Haste and Ellsworth Streets. The thing that made that day otherwise noteworthy is that my feet had felt hot all day, so I decided to walk barefoot, which was the only time I’d ever done so in Berkeley.
The ground absolutely heaved and I couldn’t find the sky because instinct had kicked in and I had dropped to a four-point stance with one knee and hand on the ground to keep from being thrown down. Palm trees were slapping loudly against houses and the overhead (literally) electric lines were turning nearly circular paths like jump-ropes. That seemed like a bad thing — I remember one line arcing slightly where it spliced into a transformer — so I sprinted out into the intersection.
By that time the main action was over and Wendy and I just sort of gaped at each other and mumbled things like “wow”. She was no less impressed as a native than I was as a fairly recent import to the Bay Area. I decided to put my shoes on at that point fearing shards of glass, although I don’t recall seeing windows blown out of houses. And even though a fair number of car alarms were going off, I do recall there was also a certain sense of stillness as though all the creatures of the world were in psychic recuperation from being sucker-
We went and watched the police impound garage on Shattuck Avenue burn for a while, but decided to get home as news started being passed by word of mouth and from people with portable radios. We walked the rest of the way back to our place on MLK Way and the power was out when we got there. So we threw together a cold meal from whatever was in the refrigerator and waited for the juice to come back on. When we had TV again we more or less just sat there watching endless reports of tragedy, not saying much.
The other thing I recall is that the daily paper was exceptionally thin the following morning, perhaps only 16 pages or so. Certainly their printing and distribution had been affected like the rest of Bay Area life, but it seemed odd that such a slender publication would have to bear the weight so much bad news.