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A Dark Night in the City
read by D. A. Wilson, February 2, 1992

A DARK NIGHT IN THE CITY
Memories of the World Series Quake

by
D. A. Wilson


Being born and raised in the Bay Area, and for the last several years a resident of the great City of San Francisco, I have lived my whole life with an awareness and experience of earthquakes. Many times I have felt the world shift and move and heard the physical and psychic rumble of natural forces unleashed.

I was not, therefore, unduly alarmed on Tuesday, October 17, 1989 at 5:04 p.m., walking across the third floor of an old brick South of Market warehouse, when the walls began to move and the rumbling began. This warehouse was my place of employment, and I was on my way to slide my badge across the computer time clock before leaving for the day.

I looked over at the work crew. Almost all of them were Filipino, and most were cousins and neighbors from the same small village outside of Manila. They were standing in a group by the clock, waiting to punch their cards at 5:05, and I noted in their faces a growing collective look of alarm and fear. The deep rolling became a roar and the workers began to scream, and some dove for cover beneath a nearby table. These people sure are over-reacting, I thought, it's just a bit of a shake, but then I noticed that the movement was increasing, not diminishing, as was the noise. I looked over at a counter, behind which stood two off-duty San Francisco police officers, moonlighting as security guards. The wall behind them was undulating in a jagged way, and the cops were looking increasingly powerless and worried. The frightened faces of the screaming workers in front of me swayed and seemed to swirl as the floor moved beneath them. This is big, I thought, I'd best go stand over there in the doorway, and, my daughter is in North Beach, I hope that she's all right.

Then it stopped. The power was off. I can't punch out on the computer. My fellow employees were hurrying for the door, some were crying. An old Italian lady, who continued to work despite being well into her eighties, and who had been in San Francisco as a small child during the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, was cackling and giggling in a quietly hysterical manner.

"It's all right," she said. "It's over now, but it will start up again. Hmmhmmhmm. It's over now, but it will start up again. Hmmhmmhmm."

I went outside and walked up the street to the bus stop. A stream of cars would stop and inch their way through the intersection. There was a crowd on the corner waiting for a bus. It occurred to me that the buses ran on electricity (most of them anyway) and that there probably wouldn't be any going by. I had to get to North Beach right away, so I began to walk. There were cars everywhere and sirens as fire trucks and ambulances weaved through traffic. People were out on the sidewalks looking shaken and confused, many nervously smoking cigarettes or swigging from cans of beer.

I didn't want to walk through the Financial District; most of it is built on landfill and I wasn't sure that all the shaking was over. I decided to walk up Third to Market, then along Kearny to Columbus Avenue. I saw Muni trolleys stalled all along the streets, some in the middle of intersections, but the car drivers were remarkably courteous; stopping to let pedestrians cross the streets.

There were groups of people gathered around battery-powered radios and television sets. Game Three of the World Series had been scheduled to begin just after five o'clock at Candlestick Park: this explained the many portable radios and TVs. The San Francisco Giants had already lost the first two games to the Oakland A's across the bay at the Coliseum. I had attended Game Two on Sunday night as a guest of my father, John O. Wilson, who had acquired the best seats I had ever had at a baseball game. We were in the first row, directly above the Giants dugout. We saw Ernest Riles score the first of what proved to be very few runs for the Giants in the Series. During the Seventh inning stretch, looking up at the huge video screen above the outfield, I saw John O. and myself towering over the stadium, big plastic cups of beer clutched in our hands. After the game, moving along at a snail's pace on the crowded concrete ramp that connects the Coliseum with the BART Station; some guy was watching a tiny portable television set. He was watching "Star Trek: The Next Generation." I was impressed. I'd never seen one of those little sets in action before; less than two days later, I saw many of them being watched avidly on the streets of San Francisco, immediately following the World Series Quake. I wanted to know what images these scattered knots of people were seeing on those tiny screens, but I couldn't stop to find out. I had a little girl in North Beach, and getting to where she was, that was my only concern. Even so, I began to hear scattered bits of conversations as each block passed:
     "Which ever side of the Bay you're on is the side of the Bay you'll
stay on... the bridges are all down."
     "Yeah, and BART's fucked up too."

People were drinking in the dark inside of the Jerry and Johnny Newspaper Bar on Third at Mission. Later, when the Inspectors went through, that building was condemned.

I carefully crossed Market Street, passed Lotta's Fountain. Kearny was packed with hurrying people, as was the big concrete plaza in front of the Bank of America building.

A drunken homeless man was sitting in a dilapidated doorway across from Portsmouth Square, swilling from a bottle of Thunderbird and shouting:
     "The Giant's are going to hit big tonight!"

Then I was walking up Columbus Avenue through the heart of North Beach, all restaurants and shops dark and closed. A woman in an apron was telling a man:
     "I tried to turn on the water, but it's not working right; what comes out is... yellow!"

I passed by Washington Square Park. Many people were gathered on the grass. I walked down Mason to Lombard to the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center where my daughter Brenna was supposed to be. Adrenaline and apprehension were flowing through me as I stepped down the stairs and into the darkened children's center.

Brenna was there; standing in a half circle with four other kids, looking a bit worried, but relieved to see me.

Mary Ann, the center's director, was getting encouraging words from somebody's mom.

"Are you sure you don't want me to stay?"

"No. It's all right."

I grabbed Brenna and gave her a big hug.

"You know where I was when the earthquake happened, daddy? I was in a tree! But I jumped down and ran in here and got under the table."

"The children were all very good." Mary Ann said.

Brenna was worried because she couldn't find her homework, but Mary Ann and I assured her that her first grade teacher would understand. Then Brenna and I started home.

We went back past the park and started to walk up Union Street. I looked up in the sky and saw the Goodyear blimp. This must be a big deal, I thought, to remove the blimp from the game out at Candlestick. There were men putting yellow strips of "caution" tape around a big apartment building at the corner of Union and Jones. I noticed that the windows were all broken out.

"Look, Brenna." I said. "This is the first damage I've seen."

Then we were over the top of the hill and could see a high plume of smoke rising from the Marina district. We hurried along south on Hyde Street. I was anxious to get home. It was now after six o'clock, but still hot and quiet. Perfect earthquake weather, I thought as we passed by U-Lee Chinese restaurant. That was on the corner of Jackson Street where the cable car ran onto Hyde. The cook and waitresses were sitting outside, fanning themselves and looking rather bemused.

We reached Clay Street, walked down the block to our building and went inside. There was plaster on the floor and the stairs were pitch black as we slowly groped along to the third floor landing. Finding the right keys to the apartment was difficult in the dark, but at last I did and the door opened. Late afternoon sunlight was streaming in through the west window.

The first thing I noticed was my carved Scandinavian troll. He had somehow leapt from the shelf where he usually stood and was laying on his side on the floor staring up at me. There were some books and tapes that had fallen from the shelves and then Brenna discovered that two framed pictures of her had come down and the glass that covered them had broken. She got very upset and began to cry. I hugged her and told her that it didn't matter; the important thing was that she was all right. It was very hot and stuffy in the apartment.

I opened a window, then turned on a battery-powered radio. I'd borrowed this radio from my mother about nine days before, so that I could listen to a baseball game at work (the game in which the Giants won the National League pennant by beating the Chicago Cubs). My mom said I should keep the radio, in case I ever needed it in an emergency.

So, tuning to all-news station KCBS, I began to get some information beyond the immediate sights I had seen:
     - A collapsed deck on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
     - Freeway down in Oakland (hundreds feared dead).
     - Huge fire burning out of control in the Marina (I could see the smoke from that one out my window).
     - Phone reports from various scenes of disaster, the voice of the anchorman on the air, and my own growing consciousness of the enormity of the events that were gripping the Bay Area.

Turning to the kitchen sink, I discovered that the water was still running, so I filled every container in the place. I got out candles and began to place them around the apartment. It was getting dim as the afternoon began a long fade into evening. Brenna was worried about me lighting candles. She said she was afraid we would forget to blow them out and they would start a fire.

I drank a bottle of beer and began putting candles in a daypack. My plan was to walk down the hill to Jones and Geary to check on our friends Margo and Fritz. I tried to call, but the phone lines were all jammed up. I had Brenna get her coat and we were ready to start when our phone rang. Brenna rushed over and answered it.

"Hello?"

I could hear the voice on the other end. It was Helga Wilson, my mother.

"I was so worried about you!"

"I was in a tree!"

They talked for a bit then Brenna handed the phone to me. Helga said that everyone in our family was all right. John O was out at Oakland International Airport where he was the Facilities Engineer and might have to work all night. Grandma and Grandpa (who lived in Richmond) were fine. My brother Daniel had stopped by to check on her. There was little damage out where they lived in Martinez and the power hadn't gone off. At first the phone had been completely dead and now it was difficult to get a line through. She said she wanted Brenna and I to come to her house as soon as BART was running again. I said we wouldn't try to leave the City that night and that after we were finished talking to her we were going to go out and check on Margo and Fritz.

"You be careful!" Helga said. "It's getting dark now and there aren't any lights. Also, on the news they say that people are acting really crazy!"

I told her that we would take care and that I would check in again soon. We said goodbye and hung up.

Brenna hurried about the apartment blowing out the candles I had lit, while I slung the nap sack over my shoulder and tucked the radio under my arm. I also had a flashlight, one of several that I'd found while rummaging through drawers for useful things. We stepped out into the hall and I pulled the door closed behind us. It was even darker than before (which was hard to believe), but we had the beam from the flashlight to guide us. We carefully made our way down the stairs to the lobby and out the front door.

Dusk was gathering outside as we went around the corner and started to walk down Hyde Street. There were two cops with orange plastic vests directing traffic at California and Hyde. All along the sidewalks people were milling about. All buildings were dark, except for Saint Francis Hospital, which was lit with emergency power.

We kept on down the hill until we got to Margo and Fritz' building on Geary Street near Jones. I had a key that let us in, and used the flashlight to guide us through the black corridor to Margo's apartment in the back of the building.

Margo Skinner and Fritz Leiber were very dear friends of mine. They were also many, many years older than me, and had some difficulties getting around. I was worried that they wouldn't have any light, and knew that they wouldn't be able to hear any news, so I brought along the radio and a bunch of candles. In times of crisis and possible danger, it is good to be with your friends.

Using my key, I opened the door of Margo's apartment and leaned in.

"Hello!" I said. "This is David. Are you home?"

"Hello!" sounded a chorus of voices from the dark interior. Brenna and I went inside, closed the door, and made our way down a short hall to the main room.

Margo and Fritz were there in the small room, along with a friend, James Minor. Margo was in her usual place at the edge of the bed, with her two cats, Lulu and Mr. Mouser. Fritz was in his easy chair next to the silenced television set. James was standing by the coffee table in the middle of the room, on which a single candle sputtered in a saucer.

"Brenna! David! I'm so glad to see you!" Margo said, enthusiastically.

"I brought some more candles..." I said, setting down the gear, "...and a radio. Do you guys want to hear the news?"

"Please." Fritz said. "Turn it on."

So on went trusty old KCBS and we began to get more reports on the severity of the quake and its aftermath:
     - Hundreds trapped in Cyprus Structure collapse on Nimitz Freeway.
     - Major damage in Santa Cruz and surrounding areas.
     - Out of control Marina district fires.
     - Collapse of building at Sixth and Townsend kills six.
     - BART closed until damage checks completed.
     - Red and White fleet offering free ferry service to East Bay.
     - Game Three of World Series postponed until further notice.
     - Quake measured at magnitude 7.0 on Richter scale.
     - The City in darkness!

The vastness of the disaster was something none of us had grasped.

"I was sitting in the Opera Plaza Cinema," James said, "at the beginning of a press screening of "Drugstore Cowboy". William S. Burroughs' name appeared on the screen at the exact moment the quake started. I thought, Wow, surround sound! What a great effect! Then a guy came out and said that there had been an earthquake and the movie was canceled! My first thought was to come here. I didn't see any damage on the way, except for a broken window on Geary."

"I didn't notice anything different than in other earthquakes at all." Fritz said. "Except, of course, the electricity going off."

James and I were putting candles around the room and in the kitchen. This lit things up a bit, as it was now full night outside.

"Tim, the manager, has been very good." Margo said. "He turned off the gas right away."

"Is your water working?" I asked.

"Yeah. It is." James said.

We filled some bottles with water, and then at Margo's request, James went outside to see if he could track down Tim for a building status report. James returned a few minutes later and told us that Tim was watching the front door (to make sure that no one entered the building who wasn't supposed to), but he would stop by and check in when he could. James also said that the corner store was open and the shopkeepers were letting people in one at a time.

"Now might be a good time to go." he said. "I don't know how long they'll stay open."

Margo made up a quick shopping list:
     "A loaf of bread... two packages of cooked ham... some potato chips. Fritzie? Do you want some Coke? You guys probably want some beer... batteries."

Fritz gave James a fifty-dollar bill with which he started for the store. Brenna said that she wanted to go along, so the three of us crossed the blackened street and got into a line that snaked around the corner.

Everybody in line was shocked. Most were at least part drunk. Everyone had stories to tell.

"I saw a cop and asked him, When are the lights going to come back on? He looked at me like I was incredibly stupid and said, What do I look like, a magician? I'm a cop! I want the lights to come back on!"

Another guy offered this bit of useful information:
     "That bar down the street; they're selling drinks to go. Buy them there, and take them with you when you leave!"

A group of men staggered by with mixed drinks in their hands, falling about and shouting, "Are the lights still off?!"

Across the street a group of prostitutes were congregated on the corner. They appeared to be doing very brisk business; getting into and out of a steady stream of cars.

We finally reached the front door of the store where the Chinese grocers greeted us with several flashlights and a hand held calculator. We had them fill our order from Margo's list, two guys getting what we wanted while a third shined a light on the calculator and the fourth totaled up the bill:
     "...and two six packs of Coors Talls," I said. "and a bag of ice, and... batteries! "D" batteries; two packs."

James paid for the groceries, and we carefully re-crossed Geary and re-entered the apartment building.

Sandwiches and chips followed, as well as beer for James and me, Classic Coke for Fritz, vodka for Margo and a strawberry soda for Brenna. Dinner was accompanied by the voices from the radio; a constant stream of information about what was going on in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area. Everything sketchy and disjointed. Communications were difficult after the quake.

We ate and listened by the glow of candles.

I got a call from Helga at a quarter to eight.

"Marjorie called, which must have been tough for her to do. Nicole panicked. She's worried about you. You can call her at Bonnie's house. The number is..."

Nicole is Brenna's mother, my ex-wife; she had left me in May.

I called Nicole at Bonnie's house. She came on the line cold and distant, but she did say she was glad that I hadn't been crushed by falling bricks. She and Brenna talked some and that seemed to comfort them both.

"You know what, Mommy, I was in a tree."

After talking with her mother, Brenna and I played a game of Backgammon: a game that went on a long time with the board hard to see in the murky room. It was never resolved, though I think that I was pretty far ahead when both Brenna's and my concentration dissolved in the shadows.

Tim stopped by and had a beer and said that everything seemed to be all right in the building, and that he would let us know if that changed and would check in again when he could.

Margo, Fritz and James played a few rounds of Alphabets. Alphabets was a knowledge and memory game invented by Margo and another friend. One letter of the alphabet was selected and the contestants took turns naming either real or fictitious famous names of people, or the titles of books, shows, movies, songs, etc.

The radio continued the constant flow of information:
     - People leaving Candlestick attacked by gangs on Third Street.
     - Reports of muggings in various parts of the City, and some guy who got shot and killed while trying to direct traffic.
Well, I thought, Brenna and I aren't going out again tonight.

The news was punctuated from time to time by the following Emergency Broadcast System Announcement:

"There has been a major earthquake. The shaking may not be over. If you are in your car, pull over to the side of the road. If you are at home, stay there. Be prepared to function on your own for some time to come."

Following would be advice on things to do: fill tubs and basins with water (if water was running), check for gas leaks - other things of that sort.

I was sitting there in a chair drinking beer and Brenna asked me if we were going to stay all night.

"Yes." I told her.

Fritz was in his chair smoking cigarettes, wreathed in smoke and shadow with the candlelight flickering on his eyes.

"I don't think I'll be sleeping much tonight." Margo said.

Brenna was another story, and despite shock and excitement, I could tell that she was ready for bed. Margo and Fritz had an extra mattress that was leaning upright against the wall (although he had his own apartment on the same building's sixth floor, in those days Fritz often spent the night at Margo's). I set it down in the middle of the floor. Brenna lay down, stretched out sideways right across the middle of the mattress, and soon fell asleep.

The rest of us held out for a few more hours, as the long night grew old and the radio voices continued their steady outpouring of facts and rumors.

"We'll have to wait until dawn for a true assessment of the situation."

A voice transmitted and received informed us through the airwaves.

At last we all drifted off to sleep. I slept on the floor at one end of the mattress, using it for a pillow, my head next to Brenna. Fritz went to sleep on the floor on the other side of Brenna. Margo was in her bed with the two cats, Lulu and Mr. Mouser. James crashed in a chair.

The gray light of dawn was coming in through the smoke-smudged window when I woke.

The atmosphere that morning was quiet and subdued. We all woke up early and shuffled around the tiny apartment, not saying much. I went outside and the same eerie quiet was evident on Geary Street. Not too many cars were on the road, and the few people standing about on the sidewalk were silent.

I walked up to a corner news rack and found that the Wednesday morning Chronicle was there. The banner headline read:

"HUNDREDS DEAD IN HUGE QUAKE"

I went back to Margo's apartment and read the paper. It had the first pictures I had seen of some of the major damage (the fire in the Marina; the collapse of the Cyprus Structure and the upper deck of the Bay Bridge, but the picture I liked was one of a fan at Candlestick Park holding a sign which read: That was nothing. Wait until the Giants bat!

After awhile, James went home and then Brenna and I went back up the hill to our own apartment. We fell in next to a young man who walked with us for several blocks up Hyde Street.

"Yeah, man! That was some earthquake!" he said. "I've been watching the coverage on television... we've got TV down in the Mission. When it was happening I just kept thinking, I've got to get to my kid! Take it easy man!"

He crossed the street at Cala Foods market (which was open), and calling back over his shoulder, added:
     "Hey! Some break for the Giants!"

Brenna and I reached our apartment at Clay and Hyde Streets. We had water and gas, but no electricity. I cooked up some pasta with pesto sauce and then took a luke-warm shower, which was very refreshing. I tried to make some phone calls, but couldn't get a line through. Most of the time I didn't even get a dial tone, then when I did get the tone and entered a number I would get either a busy signal or recorded message telling me that:
     "We're sorry, all circuits are busy. Please try your call again later."

Eventually I got a call through to my grandmother in Richmond. I told her that I was planning to leave the City via BART (which I knew to be running from radio reports) later in the day, and bring Brenna to my parents' house in Martinez. Grandma said she would call Helga and let her know, since the phones were working all right out that way.

My recollections of Wednesday, October 18 are somewhat unclear, as opposed to the sharp and vivid images of the night before. This was probably a physical reaction: the free flow of adrenaline during the high point of the emergency, followed by fatigue in the immediate aftermath of the crisis.

I remember that there were military helicopters flying back and forth over the City. Maybe I got though to Helga on the phone. I seem to remember talking to her that morning, and her telling me:
     "John O didn't get home 'till midnight and he left this morning at six."

The day grew warm and calm, but unlike Tuesday when the City was vibrant with excitement over the Bay Area World Series, Wednesday was eerily quiet. The sounds were of a few cars, busses that were running again, the occasional wail of a siren, the chop-chop-chop of helicopter blades and the call of birds.

Let's see... we visited Margo and Fritz again. I bought a copy of the Examiner, which had many photographs of areas of great destruction. Both the Chronicle and the Examiner of October 18 became instant collector's items, and both were reprinted as souvenir editions on Halloween.

It's interesting that although the World Series Quake was a major regional disaster, areas of severe devastation were limited, and the death toll ended up at less than a hundred. Yet, the media eye of the nation (and much of the world) was focused on the Bay Area during the first hours, indeed the first few days after the quake. The implication that went out via satellite (or so I gather in retrospect) was that San Francisco had been very nearly destroyed. My family got worried calls from relatives in New York and Germany (who spent hours trying to get connections through jammed phone lines, all the while confronted by images of devastation that flickered on their television screens). Fritz' son Justin called him from Texas and said that the news programs kept showing the same scene of disaster (the collapsed section of the Bay Bridge) over and over again from different angles.

It was a strange feeling of confinement being in the midst of a calamity that gripped the world's attention. Yet by our very presence in the center (being unable to see the view through the global eye which is the television camera and screen), I, along with millions of others, had grown accustomed over the previous decade (with the advent of CNN satellite news) of seeing important events as they happened in far away places where I had never been, brought directly into my living room.

When the power went off, we lost the electricity that ran the television and the cable-delivered satellite signals.

Out in Martinez where my parents lived, they never lost electrical power, but the cable system went down for some time and the phones were a mess for several days.

We were part of instant history: helping bring the world together by increasing consciousness of the world as a unified, very finite place on which we all struggle to survive (I can hope for the best in humanity, though I worry greatly about what kind of world is being brought together. I fear it is the world of the owners of the television cameras, satellites and cable systems).

On the night of October 17, we were in something akin to a reverse black hole. Information and images, however incomplete and distorted (which again leads me to wonder about the "reality" of instantaneous visions of far away places), were being viewed around the world in places where light and power still functioned, but we were unable to see the carefully packaged television story which we were a part of. We were alone in that small dark room, except for each other's company and the battery-powered radio voices broadcasting from a building with a generator in another part of the darkened City.

Wednesday, October 18: Brenna was showing signs of stress although she insisted that everything was fine. We left the radio with Margo and Fritz at their place, and then went back up Nob Hill to Huntington Park. Brenna didn't really want to play at the nearly deserted park, so we went home. Men were working on the roof of the building directly across the street from ours, removing bricks from a chimney which had come apart during the quake.

About mid-afternoon I decided to take a ride under the Bay and go to my parents' house. I knew that BART had not sustained damage and was running trains on all its routes. The public was being assured that BART was one of the soundest bits of engineering in the Bay Area (although at some point during all of this there were reports of leakage in the Trans-Bay Tube). In any event, I was rather nervous about the ride and had a double shot of Scotch, neat, before we set off.

The train ride was smooth and uneventful and we soon arrived at Lafayette Station. Helga picked us up and we rode to the family home, making a stop at the local Safeway store on the way. Everybody in the store was, of course, talking about the earthquake, but it was obvious to a survivor like me that the impact out here was nothing like it was in the City. Helga said that her greatest concern had been for Brenna and me. Even though she had spoken with us very soon after the shaking had stopped, she said she was worried until she picked us up at the BART station.

We pulled into the driveway of my parents' house in the hills of Martinez, and Brenna got out of the car and went across the street to see some kids that she knew.

"Hi, Brenna." her friend Derrick said. "Where were you when the earthquake happened?"

"I was in a tree." Brenna said, and then immediately she was talking a mile a minute, telling all that she had been through.

Good, I thought. That's exactly what she needs to do.

I went inside the house and turned on the television set. For the first time I saw the media eye view of what had happened and what continued to unfold. There was the collapsed Oakland freeway with police and ambulances all around. The fifty-foot slab from the top deck of the Bay Bridge that had fallen onto the lower. Fallen bricks in Santa Cruz. Sad, shocked, newly homeless people in the Marina. Houses off foundations in Hollister and Watsonville. And a steady flow of information from reporters and officials throughout the region.

It was indeed strange to sit there in my parents' familiar and, apparently, untouched house watching the television reports, no longer in a darkened radio world. The reports informed me that much of San Francisco, including downtown, was still without electricity.

"So I guess it didn't shake too much out here, Mom?"

"Yes it did. I don't remember what I was doing at the time, but everything was shaking. I went out in the backyard. This is really the best place to be in an earthquake."

"In the early evening I visited my friend Dan James who was down the street at his family's home. We smoked a joint and swapped earthquake stories. Dan told me that when the shaking happened they sure did feel it in Martinez, plenty! I told the tale of the darkened City.

"I've never been part of a major disaster." I said.

"Now you have." Dan said.

I walked back up the hill, got Brenna from the neighbors' house, and settled her down in my parents' living room watching a kid's program on Nickelodeon. I was in the kitchen making sandwiches for dinner when John O got home. He gave me a bear hug. He seemed glad to see me.

"As soon as the shaking stopped, I had continuous work." he said. "I didn't have an adventure like you did."

Ah, but an adventure nonetheless, John O. We all had an incredible adventure.

We called his Aunt Dorothy in Minnesota to tell her that we were all right. A few weeks later she wrote a letter with this message included:
     "Brenna!
You are the smart one! Trees are our friends!"

I slept that night in an extra bedroom, a deep and restful sleep.

The next day (Thursday) I felt a great tedium and restlessness. I kept trying to get through to work, but could seldom get an open line, and when I did get through the phone just rang and rang. I looked up the number of my manager, who lived in Concord, and called him at home. He said he hadn't been able to reach the company, but would call me if he did.

Late that afternoon he called back and said that we were working Friday. So early Friday morning I got a ride to BART from John O and rode back into the City.

I exited the subway onto nearly empty Market Street, looking east at the gold dome of the Ferry Building (which survived the 1906 earthquake) and noted that the flag pole on top was tilted towards the south at about a ten degree angle. That remains for me a stark image of the aftermath of the quake. It is a memory picture that I doubt I'll ever forget.

It was very busy at work. We had been real busy, planning to work lots of overtime before the quake hit, and two days off had made the situation worse. It was good to be busy. It kept us involved in our tasks and distracted from our common nervousness.

Everyone had stories to tell, mostly adventures of getting home on Tuesday night; five hours of convoluted bus travel to Daly City; grid-lock drive to the East Bay over the Golden Gate and San Rafael-Richmond bridges; who did and who did not have electric power.

When I called Margo that day, she told me about her friend Robyn, who took care of people's pets when they were away, and that she had spent all of Tuesday night driving through the dark City to check on each and every one of her charges.

My friend Pine told a remarkable tale of riding around town on her scooter the evening of the 17th:
     
"I was in my kitchen when it hit. Everything was moving. One of my roommates came in and said that the Bay Bridge had fallen down. I got on my scooter and rode down here to see, but I found out that you couldn't see anything from this side of the Bay.
     "I went riding around town and I ended up in the Marina. The sidewalks were all torn up. There were buildings in the street and then I was a block away from the fire. I stopped and lit a cigarette, but a cop came up and said, Put it out! There were broken gas mains everywhere, I hadn't even thought about that. A fireman came running up, pushing back people with cameras. He was yelling, This
isn't a fucking movie! And I thought, This isn't a movie, this is real. I'm sorry! I'm moving back to Minneapolis!"

I went back to Martinez Friday night and saw the collapsed Cyprus Structure from the window of the BART train. They pulled a man alive from the rubble the next morning. He lived for several weeks before he died from his wounds. It was eerie and solemn to view the ruined freeway from the West Oakland BART Station as I passed through it over the next few weeks. First seeing the upper level sandwiched onto the lower. Then the flood lights and wrecking ball cranes, even working at night to remove the tons of broken concrete and twisted steel. Finally empty space where the freeway had been (In October 1990, I was riding BART into the City at sunset on a Saturday evening. The train was held for five minutes at West Oakland Station in the wake of a brief mild earthquake in the North Bay).

Saturday, I worked. It was raining. Wind and dark clouds where passing through the City when I exited the train at Market Street. The City seemed so quiet, almost deserted though, of course, it was not.

Sunday night: Brenna and I returned home. Power was restored. I discovered that my VCR was dead. Apparently, a power surge had burned it out. I couldn't feel very upset about the loss, knowing that people in Watsonville and elsewhere were in tent cities in the rain, and that other people where dead.

Monday: Back to work for me, and school for Brenna.

Slowly, people began returning to their everyday routines, but things were not as they had been before.

The World Series resumed after a delay of ten days, and Oakland completed a sweep of the Giants at Candlestick Park. I returned to the Oakland Coliseum on December 6 with Brenna to attend an earthquake relief benefit concert with the Grateful Dead. The connecting ramp between the BART station and the Coliseum complete (where John O and I had been crowded, unable to move anywhere fast, two days before the quake, and I had observed that fellow watching Picard and Riker on a three inch television screen) was closed, having been damaged in the quake and now considered unsafe for use. Brenna and I had to walk a long way around to another overpass that was still safe and open.

One afternoon, I was surreptitiously drinking beer on a bench in Washington Square Park. A Latino man sat down next to me and sparked up a joint.

"You want to get high, man?" he asked.

"Sure."

We smoked the marijuana and talked about the recent earthquake. The man, his name was Diego, took out his driver's license and said, "Look at my birth date."

"October 17, 1959." I read.

"That's right." Diego said. "The earthquake happened on my thirtieth birthday. I had a bag of weed. I was on my way to my mother's house for my party and to watch the Game. Suddenly the whole world was shaking. God was telling us, we have it too good. That was a message for us to be more humble, man."

It took a month to get the Bay Bridge repaired and reopened. Bridge workers attached a figure of a troll (unofficially) to the underside as a good luck charm.

Aftershocks continued for several weeks. I was awake, sitting in my kitchen very early one Sunday morning when an aftershock hit. I felt a thrill of panic in my heart, wondering if the big shaking was about to start again.

As long as I live here, I can never with certainty know when the calm may be shattered and the big shaking will start again.



1989 Earthquake Reports and Photographs

San Francisco Earthquake History - October 17, 1989

Sirens at Lotta’s Fountain 1906 Earthquake Ceremony - April 18, 2015 at 5:12 a.m.


Roarshock Page - Volume 1, Number 9 - October 9, 1999

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