On October 17th 1989 .I was working at a Rental Car Company in downtown San Francisco. A older couple from New Jersey was returning a Chevy Corsica they rented at the airport,after they learned the 46 story San Francisco Hilton wanted $50 a day to park their car.
As they approached the counter the building shook. I asked them to hold on to the counter.
Across the street from the office is a six story residential building and next door to that building is an 15 story residential building. For a second you could see light between the two buildings as they separated and then slammed together. Showering the street with glass. The power went out, I remember saying, this is the BIG one, which wasn’t comforting to the tourist in the office.
In a small voice the woman said, how do we get to our room?, were on the 34th floor.
After the couple left, I walked the building, colleagues turned on the radios in the cars to hear the news. I couldn’t find any significant damage the building. In the basement, a small support that ran underneath the sidewalk had separated
The challenge was closing the office. There were two large electric doors and no one knew how to manually close them. Everyone quietly decided to stay the night to protect the cars in the building. Ramps were blocked and on every floor, on the radio we all listen to KGO.
The stories were unbelievable. There were reports of the Bay Bridge collapsing. Which we immediately dismissed. After all we were downtown and there were no fires, no collapsed buildings. For us it was a gross exaggeration .
Then there report of a massive fire in the Marina district. My family lived in Cow Hollow District and the Marina was four blocks away.
If you live in California, you live with the possibility of the big one.
The news on the radio was coming in a massive clip. Reports of freeways collapsing, and holes in the roadways. Reports of a massive out of control fire in the Marina made me anxious. The phones were down, My wife, son and two month old daughter were home alone. But I’m the boss, I need to stay with the building, but my family ………
One the drivers told me to go home and check on my family.
I have said this several times. San Franciscans can be aloof (New Yorkers are nicer) but people came together worked together in this crises. You hear about this all the time, people helping people. Here in my town ,there were homeless people using cardboard as brooms sweeping glass from the sidewalk Regular people directing traffic, and people being super kind and patient in SAN FRANCISCO!
Driving home wasn’t difficult at all. There seem to be people all over directing traffic. All was well until I hit the wall. Van Ness Avenue. At the intersection of Van Ness and Filbert no one was directing traffic. Cars were crawling. I could see my apartment building on the other side of Van Ness ,but I had no way of getting there.
Van Ness (101) is the route most people use to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. 30 minutes went by, no one was giving an inch and as I sat, my mind went into overtime. What if the building collapsed on my family? What if there was a gas leak? I wanted to turn the radio off, but I couldn’t. A man and a women walked into the traffic and forced drivers to allow me through the intersection. I don’t remember thanking them.
As I drove up unto the sidewalk and there they were. My son and my wife was holding my daughter . I was overwhelmed with emotion. I just needed to see them, needed to make sure they were okay.
I was back at the office in 20 minutes. As I approached the office, one of the doors was down. An employee who lived near the office knew how to manually close the doors. I traded my Cavalier for a Chrysler Minivan. I drove southwest to get home which was north west of downtown.
Before stopping home, I parked the van and walked over to Van Ness. Nothing was moving, I will never forget seeing men and women crying. Trying their cell phones hundreds possibly thousands of people helpless. It was true, a section of the Bay Bridge had collapsed. My wife and I talked about moving to Richmond across the bay. That could have been us, trying to pick up our children in the east bay.
With cell towers down ,we wouldn’t be able call anyone, hoping that they would protect our children. But what bout their children? their families? Thousands unable to communicate with their Day Care providers. That was NOT going to happen to us. (A few years later we moved to Sacramento) I picked up my family and went looking for friends who lived alone.
Now before you think,I’m really nice man. My purpose was selfish, completely self serving. I didn’t want to be called to identify a body and figured it best that we all died together. I fully packed the minivan, and drove to Daly City for flashlights and supplies.
The Walgreen’s at the Westlake shopping center was a Zoo. There were many available flashlights but no D cell batteries. There were mini skirmishes in the store over C cell flashlights. I lucked out and located four C cell flashlights. We stopped at a fast food restaurant and returned to Cow Hollow .
On the way home my son peed on the seat of the minivan.
The next morning , I drove to the office and there were several people attempting to return their cars. People were afraid to drive on the area roadways. Most of the people wanted transportation to the airport and nine people wedged themselves in the seven passenger minivan. On the road ,I noticed one man in my rearview mirror. Every few seconds he would rise up in the rear seat.
Ooooh, he’s sitting in my sons piss.
Three Quick Old Skol Takeaways from the Earthquake
- Cell Towers fall, or are blown away. Phone lines are underground. While we didn’t have power for two weeks our landline worked the next morning. I have a corded phone today.
- Most flashlights are powered by D Cell battery. Avoid purchasing any light or radio that requires Dcell battery.
3. When cell towers are down and power out your plastic is usless. Keep a some old fashion cash at home.