Archive for October, 2011

I lived in Marin County, just north of San Francisco for most of the 1980′s. I don’t remember feeling many if any earthquakes until the October 17 1989 Loma Prieta quake.

At the time I was working at the Good Earth Natural Foods store in Fairfax on Bolinas Road, and doing housecleaning jobs all over Marin.

This particular day started out normally, I did my morning job and then went by the store (GE). While I was there I started getting this real ‘hinky feeling’, for no reason I could explain I called and cancelled my afternoon house cleaning job down in Sausalito (just north of the Golden Gate Bridge). Then I proceeded to buy large bottles of water, candles, matches, easy to prepare food stuff. I felt like I was in a daze, not quite all there. I drove down to the Post Office in Fairfax and ran into a couple friends, we both commented on a ‘strange day feeling’ and went about our business.

I drove to San Anselmo, where I lived at the time. I parked my 1968 VW bus in the driveway of the house where I lived, which wasn’t something I usually did. (The owner didn’t like it.) My room was the lower floor of a 2 story brick older home.

I remember setting the bags on the floor in the middle of the room and I sat down there too. This was not the ‘normal’ routine. Nothing about the day felt normal.

The next thing I remember was hearing a very loud ‘CRACK’ sound, my first thought was that something in the adjacent garage had been knocked over, but before I could get up the TV which was on a wimpy tv rack was on my back. I got that back in place and realized what was going on.

I opened the door to the driveway and watched as my bus bounced up and down, back to front – over and over again. Imagine what a rug looks like if you shake it out, the ripples in it.. the earth was rippling under my feet.

I looked up at Mt Baldy and the trees were doing hulus.. I had never seen anything like this before.

It seemed to go on for a very long time.

I went in and turned on the TV.. and got the news feed coming from the World Series at Candlestick Park in SF..

In a daze it became apparent this was a big quake.

Outside in my neighborhood people were screaming and running with babes in arms..where to I don’t know or understand. My landlord called and said, “Don’t let the old man next door turn off our gas or we won’t get it back for weeks.” I did stop him from turning the gas off. There was really little damage in San Anselmo, or Marin, a great shaking up but nothing like what was happening in the city, or really further south in the Santa Cruz area, where this quake’s epicenter was at.

I became glued to the tv watching all the horrors of pancaked houses, freeways, and bridges collapse. For days.

More than anything, I started to pay attention to this ‘feeling’ I had had that day. I call it my earthquake radar, and many times I have felt it before a quake hits, sometimes I get a ‘hinky’ feeling days in advance of something big. Mainly I need to get out of the way and pay attention to it.. it is right more times than not.

By Bobbi Kensler Wisby (reprinted from her own blog)

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I was living in Santa Cruz, up on Beach Hill. Had a nice little studio in the basement of the big blue barn looking house up there.

I was young, 19 years old, just out of high school spinning my wheels, nothing going on. I had been working as a car salesman out at Dave Hart Nissan in Watsonville, and as a warehouseman for Erics Deli on Coral St. in Santa Cruz, however, I was currently out of work.

I would borrow money from my folks for rent sometimes, and I had a plan, I was going to get in on this gig selling portrait sittings for Olan Mills picture studios. In case you are under 40, you may not recall them, but Olan Mills was a “traveling” portrait studio that would go from town to town, set up shop, make a bunch of appointments by telephone from a makeshift call center in a hotel room set up a bunch of “sittings” and then move on. They were legit, they took the pictures sold people prints etc, but it was just a sleazy sales job.

Well I had been “hired” which is a funny way of saying it, because they would hire anybody who was willing to sit down at a phone and read their script to the people on this list of phone numbers they gave you. I was on the job, nice thing, I could see the commission checks coming in, the promised payout was huge, something like 20% of the photo fees which were nearly $50 bucks!

They said the script took 2 minutes to read, and I had a list of hundreds of “Hot Leads” they said, so I was going to be in the money. If I was good I could go on the road, town to town like “Emma” or “Erma” I honestly can’t recall the woman’s name who was running the show. All I can remember is she was from Oklahoma.

My first shift started at 5 pm on October 17, 1989 at the “Travellers Inn” on Ocean street.

I was early 15 min or so, first day on the job, really wanted to get at it. Rent was due, well 17 days past due I guess, and I needed to log some time and get to work.

Erma, (Lets just call her “Erma” though I honestly don’t recall her actual name) got me started by going over the script, showing me the why’s and wherefore’s of what you needed to emphasize and say at what time etc. during the call. Total training time was maybe 10 minutes and at about 5:02 I sat down to make my first call.

(Warning, much of this that follows is a strenuous effort at recalling many faded details, caveat emptor)

Let’s see, David Alivos, number 867-5309 (you children of the 80’s will get the phone number reference)

Ring Ring….
Ring Ring….
Ring Ring….

David: Uh, Hello?

Paul: Hello Mr. Alivos ( the script had a nice blank spot where you inserted the leads name)

Paul: my name is Paul with Olan Mills picture studios and we are calling because we have come to this community to provide photographic portrait services to the residents in this area, we will only be in town for two weeks and I wanted to offer you a special…
(I’m reading from the script here, trying hard, it’s my first call, alot is riding on this, I need this job…)

David: Uh, what’s that… You know, things are shaking here, uh, crap…

Click… Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…..

The sound of a dead line.

“That’s not good” I thought to myself in the 3 seconds it took for the shock wave to travel from where David was in Aptos to where I was sitting on Ocean street in Santa Cruz.

Then it happened…

The shaking as I recall started with a big jolt, closely followed up by an up and down motion that was sort of diagonal?

I thought to myself “Wow, cool, this a good one”

I looked to Erma, and quickly deciphered from the horror in her eyes, that in her world…
This was not cool.

Erma, as I said before was from Oklahoma, and as I pontificated on this event later, there are not many earthquakes in Oklahoma. I was barely a year old in 1971 in Hollywood California when I felt my first one, a 6.5 in San Fernando. Mother says I slept right through it, not a peep, I’m not surprised, I still sleep like the dead. As a child, I recall smaller quakes the happened from time to time, we would ride through them, cheer about them a little bit, commiserate after they were over, call neighbors etc.

No big whoop.

Erma was clearly having a “Big Whoop” about this one.

It lasted longer than any other quake I had been in, and was way more violent. Being from Oklahoma, Erma didn’t know to get in the doorway where I had stepped to immediately after dropping the Pac Bell standard phone back in its cradle. She had started running about the room grabbing belongings, and whispering something I can only think was some sort of prayer.

I took her by the shoulders and led her to the door, at about that time the cover to the wall heater in the room popped off rather dramatically and bounced about the room, off the bed etc. She made a sound like someone who has just been caught in a net and snared to the ground, sort of a wheeze with a little sigh…

We stayed there in the doorway for what seemed like about a couple minutes, in retrospect I realize it was only about 10 seconds? 20 seconds? but I was mesmerized by the lantern that hung in the entry way to the motel and how it swung from side to side bashing itself against the roof of the carport and the glass falling to the ground around it.

The quake stopped, not suddenly, but like you were slowly turning the dial down over a few seconds.


And a symphony of sound.

Car Alarms, Burglar alarms, the sound of
Beep Beep Beep Beep
Wrinnnggggg WrrrrinnnnGGGGG, WrrrrrIIINNNNGGG.
Bwoooga, Bwoooga, Bwoooga.
Rang out from all over the lower ocean Street area I was in.

Erma was silent but skittish, as though she was waiting for some kind of final blow. I was curious and walked out into the parking lot just outside our door. The door was right up at the front of the motel near the office, I looked up behind me and all of the guests on the upper level had come out of their rooms to stand on the balconies.

A middle aged man and his wife in bathrobes looked down upon me and said in a strange accent…

“Wow, you have many uhf doze around hereabouts’ mate?”

I said “No, that was a big one.”

By Paul Sosbee

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