Earthquake Weather

The San Francisco Chronicle, who's shelves are not exactly lined with Pulitzers, was a tad bit off. The final tally was more like 25.
The San Francisco Chronicle, whose shelves are not exactly lined with Pulitzers, was a tad bit off. The final toll was 63.

These warm Fall days always remind me of the Loma Prieta quake. With the World Series in town again those memories are reinforced.

For years San Francisco’s best kept secret was that its summer weather comes in September and October. The tourists have since caught on.  The Wal-Mart whales still show up in July in their tank tops and cut offs. A sight that never ceases to amuse in the 56 degree fog. But October is no longer our own private Idaho.

In 1989 I left work at 5:00 so I’d be home in time for the opening game anthem, probably the most inspiring of all the anthem genres. I walked out of 345 Californis, turned left and saw a cloud coming from the Fireman’s Fund building. I thought it was on fire so I crossed the street. In the middle of California I heard this horrid rumble beneath me. It was mortar dust, not smoke, coming from the brick building. We were having an earthquake.

I ran for cover under the metal canopy of a Wells Fargo ATM and stood with a dozen strangers waiting for it to end. I focused on the street lamp in front of me. It swayed endlessly like an upside down pendulum in a 20 degree arc. Then it stopped. We stood quietly for a few seconds. I took off up the hill.

When I got to the top at Stockton and Pine I turned back to survey the scene. For all the chaos it seemed so still.  There were no horns honking, no sirens. The traffic lights were out but cars were observing four-way stop etiqiuette. The Financial District was playing nice and cooperating, not its usual type A self.

I walked one more block and ran into a woman with a platinum helmet of hair. It was Ann Richards, the Texas State Treasurer. At the time she was best known for her keynote address at The Democratic Convention; a year later she would be elected Governor. It was just she and I alone on the corner of Pine and Powell. We looked at each other then moved on without saying a word.

When I got home my kitchen cabinet doors had swung open and anything on a south wall had fallen. Except for the lack of power, the rest of the apartment was as I left it.

Loma Prieta Ann. The quake rendered us both speechless.
Loma Prieta Ann. The quake rendered us both speechless.

I improvised a meal with my friends Jane and Walter from down the street. My gas stove seemed to be working so we risked another ham and eggs fire and grilled hot dogs. Unsure of the safety of tap water, we drank our stashes of beer.  It would have been a shame to lose those due to a lack of refrigeration. One national catastrophe a day was enough. The brews were supplemented with any other spirits we could find.

The next morning Union Square was a ghost town. There were no cell phones then, landline service was spotty, we pieced together by word of mouth what was going on with our friends. After 24 hours, unless you had heard someone was in trouble you assumed  everyone was okay. There wasn’t much to do but wait and wonder.

Two days later we did hear of a friend whose house was left on a slight 45 degree angle. It had just been condemned. Finally, there was something useful to do. David and I took his pick up and helped him move.

That night at 3 am I was awakened by a blaring television and the lights finally coming back on. It was over. Until the next time.

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