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