October 17, 2009 | 10:48 am
October 17, 2009 | 10:48 am
It’s the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake today. I’m thinking hard about it. I’m grateful to my friends who were my friends then and who are my friends now. We’ve been filling in the details of that crazy night together. Here’s my POV.
I was working downtown at an art school. That day, we were goofing around and put a World Series Death Toll chart on the dry erase board in the classroom. The Giants and A’s were in the middle of the Bay Bridge Series and my fellow teachers and I felt sure that Bay Areans would not be able to behave themselves and some kind of disaster would go down. Har, har.
I came home around 4:45, and discovered a strange cat in my apartment. She had come through a slightly open window and was just sitting in my roommate’s bedroom, meowing incessantly. Thanks, cat — sorry I didn’t realize you were warning us. The little girl from upstairs appeared at my door, crying — the cat, improbably named Fluffy, was hers.
I started changing into workout clothes and got on the phone to reserve a spot in a 5:30 aerobics class at Cole Valley Fitness. That’s when the shaking started.
I had a brief, comical moment of staring at the phone, wondering how the handset triggered that, until my bedroom window broke right next to me and I lurched to a doorway.
You know the sound that the recycling truck makes when it empties a dumpster full of bottles? That’s the massive breaking sound I remember from the quake. Pictures down, walls cracked.
I remember gripping onto a doorknob (I thought I had been standing in a doorway, but really I was standing in the hallway, under a huge glass lighting fixture), feeling annoyed and terrified — I wanted to go downstairs and outside but I knew I wasn’t supposed to. But what if the apartment collapsed? Was the apartment going to collapse?
Then it stopped.
Meanwhile, 370 miles to the south, my mom looked up to see the television fritz out in the middle of the World Series warmup. At the same time, my stepdad yelled up from his boat — he could see the waves from the earthquake in the harbor. Uh oh, she thought. She had two kids and a newborn grandson in San Francisco.
I went outside. The drag queens from the bar a couple doors down were milling around on the sidewalk. Drag queens, at 5pm on a Tuesday? Am I remembering that right? I thought I was calm until I realized my jeans were completely undone. I went back upstairs.
My roommate Tracy got home. We had yet to grasp the enormity of what happened.
We took Polaroids of each other, posing dramatically slumped amongst the wreckage. I still cringe with guilt about that.
As we realized the power was out and as it started getting dark, Tracy fled to her boyfriend’s. I fled across the street to Moya and Rebecca’s.
Things become a little vague here. Aftershocks. The corner store gouging us for beer, snacks and batteries. Some tears. At some point, Lisa showed up, stranded on this side of the bay. We all took turns with the headphones, listening to the radio. Helicopters flew outside, as did the rumors. San Jose was levelled. Thousands killed on the collapsed Golden Gate Bridge. The Embarcadero on fire.
I went to my boyfriend’s, a few blocks away. The only thing that happened to his place was that a can of cooking grease fell off their stove. I went to bed, wondering what the hell just happened.
The aftermath was much, much worse. More tomorrow.