Saturday, October 17, 2009

Twenty Years Ago Today

Twenty years ago the Lovely Mona and I were living in San José, California, with our daughters and many, many pets. I was working at Watkins-Johnson Company in Scotts Valley, CA, as a Purchasing Agent. I was still playing in A Cruel Hoax and I was a Lector and Acolyte at St. Francis Episcopal Church. I was wrestling with the idea of entering the Ordination Process. The Lovely Mona and I were thinking about moving "over the hill" to either Scotts Valley, Ben Lomond, Bonny Doon, or Bolder Creek so that I wouldn't have to commute so far. Things were quite good.

Twenty years ago today I decided to leave work a bit early. Although I am not a sports fan, I thought it was pretty cool that the Oakland A's and the San Francisco Giants were in the so called World Series, and many people had already left to catch the game on the television. I decided to head home. I left the building, lit a cigarette, walked up the hill to the parking lot to my Terrible Car, a 1974 Country Squire station wagon (of course it had fake wood siding!). I got into the car, turned the key in the ignition and the car started shaking like crazy! I thought, "Man, I gotta get this thing tuned!" It started shaking harder, and I thought, "I some wanker crazy guy jumping up and down on the bumper?" I noticed that the ground was shaking and all the cars in the parking lot were slamming against each other and the sand hills were collapsing. Then it stopped. I put my cigarette out, sat there for a few seconds, then decided to go home. I started the car again, pulled out of the parking lot and headed up the hill, on Highway 17. There was nothing on the radio, just static on every station. I started to wonder if this was The Big One. I hadn't gone very far when I had to turn around as the mountain had moved into the freeway. I turned around and headed back down the hill. I picked-up a hitchhiker, who told me he had been on the summit when the quake hit. His car was buried and he had to dig his way out! We went back to Scotts Valley and sat in the parking lot of the Denny's while deciding what to do, riding the many aftershocks. Lots of cars were driving into the Denny's parking lot. My passenger decided to continue walking home. Someone came to the window of the car and said, "I have a mobile phone and I'm talking to my husband in San José. Is there anyone you want him to call?" So I gave her my number and asked her to let the Lovely Mona know that I was okay but I didn't know what time I would get home. About an hour later we heard that the old road, Highway 9, was still open but the CHP was getting ready to close it, so I decided to take my chances with a big stupid station wagon on an old winding road. It was dark by the time I started on the road, and as I passed through the little towns on that road I noticed that all the lights were out. I still had no idea of how strong the quake was, and there was nothing on the radio.

Meanwhile, back at the house, the Lovely Mona and the girls and the many many pets were all fine. We were supposed to have rehearsal that night, so Norm and Steve came by. Norm checked to make sure there were no gas leaks and they all figured rehearsal was canceled for the evening. Travis had learned that the epicenter was on the other side of the hill and kept calling the house to see if I had come home and if I was all right. The Lovely Mona had power and water so she was able to make dinner for the girls and things were pretty much was passes for normal in our home.

I finally arrived at the bottom of the hill, in Saratoga. My grandparents lived in Saratoga so I decided to check on them. So dork in a volkswagon nearly ran me off the road just before their house. When I arrived at the house I noticed the vw was in their driveway. It turned out the driver was Grandpa's physical therapist and he was worried about Grandpa. Their block was the only one in town with power and lots of people were there. I went inside and Grandma was cooking and asked if I wanted some dinner. Well, one must be insane not to eat Grandma's cooking (she had been a cook at several restaurants) so I stayed. Their telephone was working so I could call the Lovely Mona and let her know what was going on. She wasn't worried as she had received a call from the mobile-phone guy.

I arrived home about an hour later. It had taken me over four hours to get home that night, but I was relieved that everyone was okay. The television was on and I saw the footage of the Cypress structure and the Bay Bridge. I had been driving on the Cypress structure just the week before and wondered what would happen during a quake. Now we all know: it collapsed!

Highway 17 was closed for a few days so I didn't have to work, but I was pretty jumpy and nervous with all the aftershocks. When it was announced that Highway 17 would be closed for a week, I drove back over the hill and stayed with my Aunt Sally and cousins Matt and Josh in Capitola for a week. Slowly but surely things started to return to normal and the ground stopped shaking and we all stopped diving under our desks or tables during the occasional aftershock. We never did move over the hill, as we figured all the places we had been looking at were probably sitting in the creek by now.

So, Dance Party Folks who were in the Bay Area twenty years ago, I invite you to share your memories of the Loma Prieta Quake in the comments.


Paul said...

I was chatting with coworkers when the building began to shake. A native Californian, I was blase for a few seconds then said, "this feels like a big one." For a second longer I was grateful to be in a doorframe when I remembered the glass in the transom over our heads. Peter, another really big fellow, and I dived under a small table. When the shaking stopped everyone exited the building. Facade had fallen off the brick building across the streets and there was a cloud of cement dust. I held on colleague as she was shaking terribly. Another shouted, "my child" and hurried off in her car. We saw black smoke rising in downtown Berkeley - a tire fire in an auto shop. We all then headed home, totally unaware of the larger picture.

I took surface streets instead of freeway. All the traffic lights were out and people were taking turns in intersections. People were incredibly gracious and cooperative. I got home rather quickly. The only damage in the house was one vase that had hopped off a bookshelf and shattered. I was able to call family. I waited for Bill.

It was hours before he got home as he had to take a bus, instead of BART. I tried to stay positive but was a bit of a wreck until I heard his key in the door. He took the car and gave one of his coworker's a ride to the BART parking lot in Richmond so she could get home.

I worked for a biotech firm. There was major damage in the labs. We stayed home a few days. One friend had driven home on the Cypress Freeway before it collapsed. Some friends were at the World Series. Everybody had a story. I doubt any of us have forgotten where we were and how that day unfolded for us.

motheramelia said...

I had moved back to California in August and was living in an apartment in Albany (next to Berkeley). Some friends from Vienna had arrived to spend a few days and I had picked them up at SFO. We drove across the Bay Bridge and I asked if they would prefer to go into San Francisco or stay on the Berkeley side. We were standing in the living room when the shaking started. The apartments were built on Albany Hill and quite new, so they stood up to the shaking very well. I commented that it was either very close and just a moderate quake or it was a big one farther away. Tania hadn't experienced a big quake before, but Nick had been in Mexico City during one. Their English "stiff upper lips" did them proud. The power stayed on and although the TV was out for a while, I did get a radio station, probably KCBS the news station. The next day instead of going to the city I drove them north to the Napa Valley and we did a bit of wine tasting. The place was nearly deserted. We drove back down Highway 1 along the coast (which they closed the next day) and across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge back to Albany. Most of the drive down 1 was in the dark, so if there were cracks I didn't see them. Taking them back to the airport meant going down to the San Mateo bridge avoiding the Cyprus Structure. They never did get to see any of SF, except for TV news coverage of the damage from the earthquake..

it's margaret said...

I was trying on a new piece of clothes my mom had just sewn.... so I was naked. The house started to jump around, the dog barked, and mom started to laugh and say, "whoooohoooo! It's the big one. Hold on baby!" She laughed through the whole thing. I fell on the floor....

Joel was driving home from work, and thought that the axle of the car had broken. So he pulled the car off the road and parked it. Started to hike home, and stopped in the store to buy some scotch, and realized it was an earthquake because everything that should have been on the shelves was on the floor. Including the scotch....

My brother in law was in the stadium watching the game.... took him two days to get home to Sacramento....

Paul said...

Motheramelia, we lived in a townhouse on the east side of Albany Hill. We had to have been neighbors and not known it. Hello, former neighbor!

JCF said...

I was in Portland, OR, at the time, but I'm originally from the Bay Area.

I hurried home from my restaurant job, to catch The Game (am HUGE Giants fan, and this was the first time ever they were in the Series. They've only been once more in my lifetime, and lost that one, too. Sigh.)

When I turned on my little TV, "Roseanne" was on, not The Game! WTF!

Now, I KNOW Bay Area weather in the fall, and I knew it wouldn't have been rained out. I actually asked myself, "Could it have been an earthquake?"

Ten minutes later, the news cut in to say Yup.

Thence began MY cycle of frantic phone calls...

Mary Sue said...

I was all of ten years old and ready to watch my San Francisco Giants beat the As in the World Series. As this was an important historical event in our household, the usual television rules were relaxed and my sister and I were in the living room watching the pregame.

Mom and Dad were in the family room reading. The TV started to fritz, then started to wobble a bit. Mom and Dad yelled, "Get in the doorway!" I vaulted the couch and ran for the kitchen door, getting there in time to feel the last waves under my feet.

We spent the rest of the evening watching the news, and spotted my cousin at one point. He worked at a garage near the flattened parts of the Cypress and was helping people get off/out.

Anyone remember that video of the cars on the Bay Bridge who didn't realise the section had fallen? It still features heavily in my nightmares.

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