Archive for the ‘San Francisco/Peninsula’ Category

My friend Louie and I were really excited to get into the ballpark. My first World Series game ever. We took the escalator up to the upper deck as our seats were there, a dead center field view. We stopped so I could make a phone call to my wife in Clovis, CA. My wife had gone to the movies and said she would be looking for me in the crowd. It was a minute or so after 5 pm as I hung up and we walked through the tunnel to look for our seats. We stopped, looked out at the field, players could be seen warming up. I grabbed the railing, to assure myself, that I was actually at my first World Series game!

I heard a roar, thought it was a jet plane flying over or near the stadium. Looked up and saw nothing. As I scanned the stadium, I saw the light standards swaying, then to my horror saw the entire stadium moving as a mold of jello moves if one shakes the plate it sits on. Louie looked confused, I remember telling him to grab the rail, it’s an earthquake. It shook for what felt like minutes, the only thought was if the stadium falls, please Lord let me fall on something soft so I don’t die! Candlestick did not fall!

When the shaking stopped, we saw players from both teams scrambling to get to the center of the field. We calmly walked to our section and promptly sat in our reserved seats. We heard a loud yell and saw a young man with a piece of concrete on his shoulder, literally running down from the highest rows with his prized possession. People around with radios began talking about a possible cancelled game. One individual with a small watchman tv said the Bay Bridge had fallen. Not even asking, I grabbed the small tv and there were photos of the section of bridge that had fallen and a car hanging over the edge. We sat talking and soon after it was announced that the game was cancelled, hold on to your rain check ticket.

Walking out was a little surreal, no panic, no yelling, everyone walking out, strangely quiet. It was close to 6 pm when we got to the car. Little did we know what lay ahead. After what seemed an hour , we got on to 101 South and proceeded home. The radio was our only contact with the outside world. We learned of the Cypress Freeway collapse, the fires, and the destruction the earthquake caused in and around the Bay Area. Each time we got under an underpass, we prayed for traffic to move. There were few lights to be seen on each side of the freeway, and the traffic moved ever so slowly. Our fear was that one would fall on us as we sat there in the car. At approximately 9:30 pm we were in San Jose. We stopped for gas, and someone there said Pacheco Pass was closed. I didn’t want to think about driving to King City and cutting across the hills and into Coalinga, so on a chance that it was open, we took 152 East in Gilroy. We were fortunate, it was open and I finally got home close to 1 am.

Louie and I did return for the game 9 days later, we both held our breath when the lights flickered in the 7th inning. My Giants lost the game, and then the series, but that day in San Francisco is one that will be with me as long as I live!

By Froylan L. Ramirez


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I was raised in Bonny Doon, but living in San Francisco at the time and working down in Sunnyvale. That morning I got up and drove to work. On the way, I got into a small accident – actually scuffed a guys bumper in downtown SF by Market St. He was a lawyer and we exchanged info. Really, it was a small scuff and he said he would not mind if it was his car, but that the car belonged to his wife and that was a different story.

I was sitting in a cube in Santa Clara working on an early pre-Power PC Mac when the earthquake hit. Usually, I used to think they were somewhat fun, but this was different. I tried to move to a safer location, but the jolts were too strong, so I went under a puny desk. I remember laying on the ground looking at the walls just wave back and forth and then the duct work started falling down from above.

We all went outside and listened to the radio for a while. I recall one report saying the Bay Bridge fell down. Well, that certainly put a picture in my head. After about 30 minutes or so, we went back into the office and began to work again – all of a few minutes when an aftershock hit. I recall our VP of Engineering saying “I’m blowing this popcorn stand.” and he left. He ended up moving to SoCal to get away from quakes only to get hit by the Northridge.

I began to drive back to SF on side streets making my way to 280. I recall in Los Altos the strong smell of a broken gas line. I got up to 280 and along they way there was a separation of the roadway in the Los Altos area – the crack went across the entire freeway. Up around Crystal Springs there was a Standard Gas station that was open. I needed gas and filled up. I recall that being the only gas station I saw open from Sunnyvale to my place in San Francisco.

By the time, I hit Van Ness Ave. it was dark. I recall it being dark going up the street and all the street lights were out. I also recall soldiers, Navy, Army whatever different branches of service directing traffic in the middle of the intersections on Van Ness Ave. I made it to my apartment on Pine and Taylor. Pine St. I’m told has a gas line that supplies downtown SF. Our power was out for several days. It was really weird/scary walking around SF in the pitch dark. I recall cop cars driving around at night with the alley lights on lighting up the left and right of their cars. We heard that looting was going on down the street.

Many people in the apartment complex were in the building as they were home to watch the World Series. A few days earlier, there was a friend of mine who was going to bar tending school. He lived upstairs and had bought all this alcohol to practice making drinks. Well, apparently he began mixing cocktails for the complex and so when I arrived home it was like happy hour with a bunch of people who could not handle being without electricity. I on the other hand being raised in Bonny Doon am used to no electricity. So while others ate cold beans out of a can I fired up my Weber and took food out of the freezer to cook – Chicken Cordon Bleu. I also grilled some vegetables.

At the same time, I was trying to call my family in Santa Cruz. I had one of those huge cell phones, the phone had a cord that went to a giant battery in a bag. Circuits were busy, but I finally got ahold of my mom or grandparents after a day or so. My father was on business travel and in Denver he saw the news and thought it was an anniversary for another quake somewhere else. He realized finally that it was in Santa Cruz. His flight was routed to Reno where he called an offsite car rental agency. He was able to get the last car and drive to the Bay Area with his co-worker. As I recall, he drove down through Morgan Hill to get to Santa Cruz via some backwoods way.

Gratefully, the damage in Bonny Doon was very limited. My parents and friends have many stories about being in Santa Cruz. My mom was interviewed on CNN when they were getting ready to smash down the Cooper House – she thought they should have done more to try to save that building. They had a friend in Soquel that had major damage and they went to help them. The damage was extensive. One son of their friend cut a wire to a light bulb in their car port – after he cut the wire the car port fell – it was the only thing holding up the structure. I heard other stories of a toilet breaking off the bolts and flying over a bathtub and out the window. Another story of someone’s propane tank rolling down a hill for a very, very long way.

I had a cousin who was driving on the Bay Bridge when part of it collapsed. She ended up walking over to the East Bay side and making her way back home in Oakland.

I knew a woman who ended up dating a widower. His wife died in a fire in Marina District. He was with her at the time, but she was pinned and he could not get her out of the fire – tragic.

After the quake, I used to think a lot about “I don’t want to be in this specific spot in an earthquake.” It was somewhat a fear, that persisted for a good 2 years or so. I used to take the train into SF and there is a tunnel built I believe during the Civil War and it is made of brick with water that used to seep through. I did not like going through that tunnel for quite a long time. I also did not like being in the train with the closed freeway (280) above us. You would think more of your location.

Okay, now for the most unreal memory. My sister was involved in a “Christian” youth group. She invited me to go to this prayer service in Santa Cruz at this small little house. Anyways, people were praying for people and this kid who looked a little high, starts saying that he has sinned and committed. There was a group saying “Satan reveal yourself, Satan reveal yourself.” At the same time, I’m quietly and skeptically looking over this whole escapade. The next thing, the walls start shaking and I for a brief second think – Oh, My God – ye of little faith. Only to a second later realize that it was a very strong aftershock of the Loma Prieta. The group did not miss a beat and believed they accomplished their goal.

As for the attorney, I never heard from him. Perhaps, after the quake a scuffed bumper did not seem so bad.

By Sean Michael Conley

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I was on the way past the first level walkway behind home plate, to my seats about 25 rows directly up from first base. I had just walked past Ozzie Canseco and Esther (Jose’s wife) in the crowd and heard a loud noise, looked up to right field and saw a mini-wave pass quickly through the upper deck concrete facade (this was very odd to see a wave move through concrete!). The power went out in Candlestick and everyone was quite confused for a while and it was really quiet, very eerie – we all knew something happened, but did not know what it was. I worked my way to my seat, and the man behind me had one of those Sony “Watchman” handheld units and so we gathered around him to see what was happening.

We saw the Marina District on fire from the helicopter news camera, the collapsed span of the Bay Bridge, and worst of all, the 880 upper decks pancaked on the lower level. It was horrifying as we watched. We then began to hear sirens in the distance and emergency power came back on in the stadium, all the players on the field and more confusion. I knew at that time the game would not be played and headed for the parking lot and my car. As I got near my car, I saw a man next to me and did a double take to see it was Joe DiMaggio! I said hello to Joe and we both had the same idea, get out of there!

I attempted to take the back streets to my hotel in Burlingame, but when I got to 101, it was closed. What made it most painful what that on the back streets, it was pretty tense, people throwing bottles at cars, out on the streets and no power. Eventually I found my way (it was dark now) back to my hotel and attempted to call my family in Seattle – but could not get a call out for hours. I was stranded in the hotel and Bay Area for two days before I could get home. A very memorable, sad and lifelong experience to recall.

By Keith Cupp
Vancouver, Washington

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It’s hard to believe this month will be the 25th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake. But the proof is in my baby girl about to celebrate her 26th birthday:) It was just another Tuesday, and I ran down the escalator to catch the 5:00 p.m. train home to get home to feed my new baby. Down the stairs at the Embarcadero Bart station ticket in hand like a thousand days before, but missed the train. A few minutes later, the ground shook violently and as I looked around at the people around me I realized we were having an earthquake and it was bad. The lights went out momentarily and people screamed, then they flickered back on and people began to run. I hesitated, afraid of a stampede up the now still escalator, then joined the crowd as the Embarcadero station sign waved crazily above me.

It was over quickly, but when we came up to the light people were running around dazed. I didn’t know what to do and headed back to my office where I encountered several shaken colleagues who told me they had been on the 25th floor and swayed several feet. The bridge and BART were closed and phones were down (no cells yet); we spent the next several hours in the Mandarin Hotel Lobby huddled in fear (but drinking free wine:). Finally phone lines became available and we were able to let our families know we were okay. Eventually BART was declared safe and I got on the first train around 3 or 4 a.m. to get back to Concord. People were saying the Bay Bridge had collapsed. I was scared but wanted to get home. I spent the next few days watching the surreal news clips showing some of the horrific things that had happened. It seemed it could have been so much worse and I was thankful to be alive and well.

When I got the courage to return to work the following Monday, the nice doorman whom I chatted with daily told me his son was still missing and assumed dead in the Oakland freeway collapse, and it hit me that even though the death toll was “low” people had lost their friends and families, and I was heartbroken for them. I was afraid for a long time, but we humans are so amazing, in time I stopped thinking about it. Until, a few years later I was at Universal Studios and happened upon a ride – an EQ simulation. Against my better judgment, I entered. When the ground started shaking and the phony “Embarcadero” sign waving, I started to cry and begged them to stop. I was embarrassed but my fear just bubbled back to the surface. I knew I didn’t want to work in SF any more at that time, and a few years later I ditched the corporate commute, and got a job right down the street – and lived happily ever after. It felt good to write this down!

By Sheila Hill, via this blog’s Facebook page

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We turned left on Powell Street and came across a young man sitting on the front steps of his building, listening to a portable radio and smoking a Camel, the scene lit by his motorcycle headlight. “What’s new?” we asked him.
“Well, they got the fiuh unduh control in duh Marina,” he said with a New Yawk accent you could cut with a knife. “Brought in a fiuhboat. Pumpin’ fuckin’ seawatuh.”
That calmed us down somewhat. I bummed a cigarette off him, for which Laura gave me a disapproving look, and we chatted a while. He’d only been out here two weeks, and everybody back in the Big Apple had warned him about quakes. “I says, No way, dey ain’t had a real quake in 90 yeuhs. So today I’m comin’ up Kearney Street on th’bike ‘n’ it starts shakin’, ‘n’ I t’nk, shit, a flat, so I pull ovuh, stop, ‘n’ it’s still shakin’. Den a big ass piece a glass comes bombin’ out th’sky ‘n’ misses me by dat much ‘n’ explodes in a million pieces on th’sidewalk. People are screamin’, runnin’ around like crazy. I ducked under a jeep ‘n’ didn’t come out for five minutes.”
Was he going back to New York?
“Heck no, I like it heuh, people are friendly. This happened in New Yawk? You’d get ya fuckin’ throat cut if you stepped outside.”
Why do New Yorkers seem to say things like that with a note of pride? Laura went on to ask him what had brought him out here, was he married, who’d he live with, did he know where the nice parts of North Beach were. We wished him luck and headed for Green Street. “Took rather an interest in him, didn’t you, Dear?” I remarked.
“When you were young and courting me on your motorcycle and didn’t have your pot belly, I took an interest in you,” she answered. But she hooked her arm through mine and laid her head on my shoulder as she said it, and so we walked through Washington Square, past tents and flowers. Ah life, ah romance.
Fire engines roamed the streets, six men to a truck, spotlights probing. We walked by the police station on Vallejo. It was lit, the emergency generator chugging away in the back. We asked a cop if it were true the Marina fire was under control. He said it was. Laura asked him about looters.
“Yeah, they’re out, down in the neighborhoods where the less fortunates live. Better stay off the streets till morning, they’re running around in packs, and they’re working their way up here.”
Anybody who thinks that cops don’t lie lives in a dream world. Still, this gross exaggeration was an effective way to keep people off the streets, and that’s effective police work right there.
Back to Laura’s we hastened. If not timid, we were both tired, and we certainly were starved. Once there, I tried the phone. It worked and I got through to my parents in San Mateo. My mother answered. “Everything all right?” I asked.
“We’re fine. A lot of shaking but no real damage. How’s your place?”
“Place and self doing fine. I don’t know if you tried calling me, I’m at Laura’s.”
“Oh, that’s nice. How is she?”
My mother adores Laura and hopes some day I’ll grow up and marry her. I told her Laura was fine and started to relate details of San Francisco’s night of drama. She interrupted me to advise that we get off the line. It’s not that my Ma doesn’t love me; she’s just practical, that’s all. Emergencies bring out the German sensibility and English coolness in her. It’s my Irish father who goes in for the tumult and drama. She told me not to use the phone more than necessary but do check on my sister Martha who was at Candlestick, oh and do give Laura her love.
I did both. Martha had just got home; she was going to nominate the driver of the 28 Funston for Muni Man of the Month. In a three-hour odyssey with a busload of distraught passengers, he had negotiated his way across town using back streets and got everybody home. He’d even stopped so the beer-swollen sports fans could have a pee break a couple of times. Martha’s place was disheveled, her bookshelf down, dishes broken, fish tank a mess of glass, water, and unmoving Carassius Auratus, who turned out to be the only casualties in my family.
Laura had already talked to her relatives except for Mama. She was in Quebec on a tour with the Italian-American Federation. Just as well: she is a good woman but quite prone to nervousness, and her being out of town was one of the kinder acts of God that day. As it turned out, she didn’t even learn of the quake until the next day because, thank God again, she and her friend Milla could not figure out how to work the TV in their hotel room.
I don’t remember what we had for dinner, probably just tuna sandwiches, but we devoured it ravenously along with a bottle of sauvignon blanc. Sated, Laura went to make some more phone calls and I attempted to correct essays. I couldn’t even focus on them. I sat and thought about fear, fate, fun, and mortality. I looked out her kitchen window toward the dark knoll of Telegraph Hill with its sable silhouette of Coit Tower. I listened to the discordant concert of sirens and helicopters. Then we went to bed, by candlelight, as we had dined. Kind of nice, actually.

– Peter McKenna
San Francisco
16 July 2011

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I ran into some friends of my cousin’s, drank a little wine with them and watched the sun go down. And there was something weird about it, a big red orange blob it was, settling into a faraway fogbank ever so slowly, shimmering above it amorphously like a distant hydrogen bomb (which in fact it is), and when it finally sank below the horizon, by God, there came a green flash, like the blink of a camera bulb.
Then the eeriest aspect of the Quake of ’89 became apparent: not what there was but what there wasn’t, and that was light. They city lay as dark as the forest primeval except for caterpillars of car lights along the main arteries: Market, Geary, Van Ness, Pine, Bush, Franklin and Gough. But that meant more stars than ever were appearing in the night time sky.
Still, I had to get across that Sea of Darkness to North Beach, five minutes as the crow flies, twenty minutes by car in a normal rush hour. How long by motorcycle in a blackout? I felt like Odysseus returning to Penelope. Across the wine dark sea I must set my course, through roiling waves, through pirates and plagues, through demons and dragons, home to my beloved. Of course Odysseus had a little romance along the way too, so maybe I was also thinking of that.
It turned out not too difficult, really. Slightly nerve-wracking but surprisingly smooth considering a couple hundred thousand people were trying to get across a dark town. At stoplighted intersections, people treated them like four-way stop signs as you’re supposed to when they don’t work. The tendency was to wave the other guy through which can get confusing, but traffic moved. However it was noisy if neighborly: people leaned on their horns a lot or blatted out shave-and-haircut or some tympanum. Sometimes volunteers stood in intersections – white guys, black guys, Asian guys, homeless guys – with flares and flashlights, directing the cars: Wait your turn now, brother, now ride it through, brother.
I picked up a hitchhiker at Haight and Lyon and took her as far as Laguna. She was a shorthaired young woman with glasses; no busses were running, she said, and she didn’t want to walk by herself by the Pink Palace Project though she felt safe on a motorcycle with a stranger. Speaking of safety, most of the trip was one calculated risk after another: riding down the center of the street to pass long lines of much slower cars, trusting that drivers saw me before trying the same thing. Residential streets seemed safer than the main thoroughfares though of course they did lead through the projects. But was that a problem? Hell no. Folks on porch stoops, on street corners called out: Yo! What’s happening? How you making out? Ride that hog!
When I got to Laura’s at Mason and Green, she was still in her Subaru listening to the radio. We always greet enthusiastically, but this time I believe we knocked the wind out of each other. She was anxious to move around and for that matter so was I. Wasn’t much else to do without power except sit and talk, and um, that other thing, which we were much too keyed up for, and besides it was too hot.
We walked down Mason, across Columbus to Grant, then up to Union, and thence up to Coit Tower. We met many another couple or group, often with flashlights or candles, finding their way about the unlit streets. There’s something a bit spooky yet romantic about crowds moving in darkness. They looked like pilgrims lost in the catacombs. Up Telegraph Hill, our Golgotha we went, to the Tower and its parking lot embraced by the statue of Cristoforo Columbo. The Tower was closed, the parking lot was about half full, illuminated by headlights, cigarette glows, a rising three-quarter moon, and the burning Marina backlit by the western sky.
Overhead, helicopters were flying this way and that, big ones and little ones, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and KGO, plus that ominous luminous Goodyear gasbag floating above the switched off skyline, those wazzing motors propelling it lumberingly along. We gathered with some other folks around a radio, but pretty soon we got visual as well: the owner of North Beach Pizza showed up with a 4-inch Sony along with a few large house combos, one with anchovies, one without. On the screen was an earnest local newscaster on the most important night of her professional life giving the word:

Lady on TV: We have received reports that the Richter scale reading is 7.0…
Crowd: Wow! No shit! Dig it!
Lady on TV: …and that the epicenter is somewhere in the Santa Cruz Mountains west of Los Gatos.
Crowd: Santa Cruz! No more Boardwalk! What about the Dipper?
Lady on TV: Let’s go live now to Candlestick where our correspondent is standing by…

Cut to awkward looking sports reporter who must suddenly dispense information not about batting averages but geologic and social upheaval. He mumbles something about the structural integrity of the stadium and the lack of integrity of the looters in the dark beyond. The Coit crowd is appalled: Shoot ‘em! Gas ‘em! Lynch ‘em! The ugliness of real danger, not from Mother Nature but Brother Man, sends fear and loathing among the TV watchers. Not that any of us have seen anything but brotherhood so far. Earlier shots of the stadium shake are shown – the shuddering camera, the picture going dead, and then back again with players and families going about the field: Canseco and his Barbie bride, Clark and his clinging kids, Rueschal hand in hand with his aged Ma and Pa wandering around the pitcher’s mound. Go Big Daddy! someone says. Then comes the news that the Series is postponed indefinitely.
More about the Bridge: everybody has heard rumors of its collapse, but many aren’t sure which one, perhaps both. But from Telegraph Hill they both appear to be standing, the Bay Bridge grey and functional under the rising moon, the Golden Gate reflecting the Marina fire. The TV lady says, “It has been confirmed that a section of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge east of Yerba Buena Island has collapsed, opening a hole in the lower deck. Witnesses report several cars plunged into the Bay before traffic came to a halt. Coast Guard cutters and helicopters are searching the waters for survivors. This shuts people up except for the now-common refrain: Unreal. This is like a movie.
Then came the news of the Cypress Freeway collapse, which caused more gasps. Some people, myself included, got the bridge and the freeway mixed up and thought the half-mile collapse was on the Bay Bridge, not Nimitz Freeway. That made it seem more horrible. However there was no confusion about the casualty estimate: over 200 dead, and rising. Then the program cut to the Marina and the fire still out of control due to broken water mains. By that time the smoke had wafted over Russian Hill and was smellable, even breathable.
“Can we go home?” Laura asked.
I said that was a good idea. I was thinking about what would happen if they didn’t get it under control. Would it jump across streets, would it jump Van Ness Avenue, would it work its way across the city, would they dynamite buildings to stop it the way they did in Ought Six, an effort worse than useless? That smoke cloud: would it blind us, choke the very life out of us? Where could we run? Hey, what happened to the party?
We walked quickly down Filbert Street discussing the efficiency of the San Francisco Fire Department. Of course they would stop it, they’ve got emergency reservoirs all over the city, they’ve got backup mains to pipe in seawater, they can waterbomb it the way they do forest fires, oh they know how to fight fires in Frisco, they learned in ’06. Sure, the quake back then knocked down a third of the town, the fire burned another third, and the overeager dynamiters blew up the rest.
Freeways and bridges were closed; perhaps we should get down to the waterfront and steal a boat. That’s when I remembered the Gallant, the USS Gallant, the Galloping Gallant, the marvelous minesweeper docked at Treasure Island, in which I serve as a weekend warrior in the Reserve. It hadn’t occurred to me to check in with them. Perhaps a general recall was in effect, the way they were calling all police, fire, and medical personnel to report for duty. The National Guard was on alert, but the Guard and the Reserves aren’t the same thing, the Guard work for the Governor, the Reserves for the Department of the Navy, and it would take an act of Congress to get us involved. That was part of my rationale for not checking in. The other parts were, what’s a minesweeper going to do in an earthquake, how could I get to Treasure Island other than by swimming, and who needs me more, Laura or the Navy? I knew who I needed more. Still, I almost regretted not putting myself in uniform with sidearm. Hmm, little boys, big boys.

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Will we ever forget what a warm evening that was? One of those hazy, desert heat shirtsleeve evenings that only come to San Francisco during the brief interlude between summer fog and winter rain, the welcome infiltration of Indian summer. People were out and about, talking to neighbors whom they’d done naught but nod to before, if that. The guy in the lowermost flat said he’d been on a ladder painting. He hadn’t fallen, hadn’t even spilled any paint. However he had just finished plastering all the wall cracks and now there were some new ones to deal with.
Down to the corner of Cole and Parnassus, exchanging how ya doins with folks and then Oh my God. It looked like the whole side of this four-story apartment building had just peeled away. All the bricks were in the street or resting on a new blue Honda, making a deep impression. Up and down the Parnassus windows were cracked or broken or just plain gone. The charming outdoor fruit stands of the Cole Valley Market had distributed their plums, peaches, apples, oranges et cetera like jams, jellies, and preserves across the sidewalk. The outdoor displays at Cole Hardware: brooms, rakes, patio furniture, were sprawled on the sidewalk; sacks of fertilizer had broken open, lending a fresh country aroma to the atmosphere. People were lined up on the sidewalk for all those things like batteries you’re supposed to have for an earthquake but probably don’t. “Give us a few minutes to clean up our own mess, folks, we’ll get back to you.” But once the last saleable commodity had been removed from the sidewalk, they shut the door and put up the Closed, Sorry We Missed You sign. Would be patrons groaned.
The Val de Cole Liquor Store was a challenge, perhaps a delight to anyone desiring to savor the bouquet. Fragrances from thousands of bottles of wine, whiskey, beer, gin, brandy, rum, port, sherry, liqueurs, and mixers rose from a glass infested pool six inches deep. Lethal to dive into, on one didn’t need to. Lingering about the entrance and drinking in the aroma sufficed to inebriate. “Do you have insurance?” I asked the Greek proprietor. “Yes, could be worse.” Accompanied by a glum nod, this would be heard often from shopkeepers and property owners in days to come. Of course not all of them did, and the reaction would vary from resignation to rage.
Finnegan’s Saloon was intact and open for business though without TV, cash register, soda gun or juke box. Whiskey Finnegan could provide, and I drank it down while a tattooed Florida native remarked, “Ah moved here fower days ago. Fower days! Ah got sick a hurry-canes, so ah left. Now what the hale!”
Back up Cole to the corner where a cop was stringing red Keep Out tape around the Honda and the brickpile. A crowd had gathered, among them three little children, two boys and a girl, a redhead with glasses who said, “Maybe the Big Bad Wolf did that. Wooooof. Wooooof. Wooooof….”
I couldn’t resist. I turned to one of the little boys and asked sternly, “Did you do that? Did you blow that wall down, young man?”
“No, I didn’t!” the mite replied in all seriousness.
“Did you? Did you?” I asked the others.
“Oh no! We weren’t even here,” the redheaded girl replied. “We were in school!”
I smiled, but they didn’t smile back. Whoops, I thought. Fascinated the kiddies might be, frightened very possibly, frivolous, no. Nothing makes you feel more awkward than a joke misunderstood, especially by kids. They looked at me like I might arrest them for the earthquake, or worse. Kids tend to personalize things. So does just about everybody else, I was later to find out, but that’s another story.
Back home I went, pausing to listen to the radio of a parked car, around which quite a few folks were clustered. The announcers were talking about the confusion at Candlestick, the commissioner canceling the game, the players wandering around the field, wives and children in tow. We heard confused reports of the Bay Bridge collapsing, buildings collapsing, law and order collapsing. Standing around a car radio on Cole Street on a balmy evening, people wandering about, chatting, gawking, generally upbeat though a few teary folks were being comforted: it all seemed unreal. “This is like a Charlton Heston movie,” someone said.
“Charlton Heston parting San Francisco,” someone replied.
At the flat, my roommate Robert was back. I remembered that he’d gone off to work on his car that afternoon, and if there’s one time I never feel fully secure, earthquake or no earthquake, it’s working under a car. Robbie was a little shaky. “I was just about to jack it up, I could have been under it, I could have been hamburger!”
He kept wandering from room to room, examining, sniffing stale beer, repeating himself about the hamburger. Maybe that’s why he’s a vegetarian.
The phone rang, Laura again. Surprisingly she was calmer. I say surprisingly because she is a worrier by nature, about everything from her mother to diseases to nuclear war. She’d been sitting in her car listening to the radio, talking to her neighbors. But she still wanted me to come over. “Get here before it’s dark, please? I’ll be scared if the lights don’t come on.”
So would I, come to think of it. I thought of the New York blackout of 1977. No small business, no solitary pedestrian had been safe, if you believe the accounts. I thought of the traffic nightmare that would surely occur and decided on the motorcycle over the Volkswagen: a little less safety but a lot more maneuverability.
I thought of taking a gun along. I had my .22 pistol handy, but the Browning 9-millimetre was locked in the old Coke machine Thomas stores his camera equipment in. A .22 is a lousy personal defense weapon against anything larger than a rabbit. The Browning is about the same as a .38 and holds thirteen rounds in the magazine. But how to get at it? Shoot the lock off with the .22? Or just pack the .22 and trust in its usefulness in terrorem? Or stop being ridiculous and leave all firearms behind: that’s what I decided. Everybody I’d seen in the last hour had been friendly, much more so than usual, and San Franciscans should not be shooting each other on this of all nights. Anyway, guns usually get you into more trouble than they ever get you out of.
I packed a clean shirt and socks, plus my swim trunks, goggles, and towel for tomorrow’s swim class. I figured it would be business as usual at CSM. Hell and high water wouldn’t stop Dickhead Donner’s swim class, and certainly a little old earthquake wouldn’t. Thus I set out on the ol’ Yamaha 650.
Only damn me if I didn’t take a detour. Sundown was twenty minutes away, Twin Peaks was five minutes away, and I just had to see the city from on high! And so I did. Warm it was even on Twin Peaks; quite a number of folks were up there. I imagine there would have been even without the earthquake, it was such a nice evening.
As for San Francisco, it did not look like Hiroshima by the Bay (a year later, Oakland during the fire did). As a matter of fact it was difficult to tell anything had happened, with one notable exception: the plume of smoke rising above the Marina, black, sinister, climbing higher, expanding wider. Above the pall floated the Goodyear Blimp, neon sign still reading Goodyear…salutes…Giants…A’s…Bay Bridge Series…1989! It looked like an alien spacecraft, one of those silver cigar ships rubes are always reporting, attacking the Land of the Yuppies. “Goodyear’s bombing the Marina!” someone cried.

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