Where were you when earth moved in Northern California twenty years ago?
I was working in the five hundred block of O’Farrell Street in the Tenderloin, a couple from New Jersey was returning a Chevy Corsica from the Airport after discovering the Hilton charges 50 dollars a night for parking.
The weren’t happy about the airport charging them a fee for leaving the Corsica downtown. Just as the wife was going to give it to me, the ground shook, the color washed from there faces. I asked them to hold on the counter.
In what seemed like minutes, I looked across the street and briefly saw light between two apartment buildings,glass broke as the building slammed together, the lights flicked then dark. Suddenly there was huge cloud of dust. The couple held on to each other. What do we do the woman asks? If you like you can stay here, she said no, all are things are on the thirty forth floor of the hotel.
My staff gathered on the floor and we all stepped out onto O’Farrell. The notorious Tenderloin was quiet. Suddenly people came out of the buildings, with the power out, citizens began directing traffic, all was calm. I’m not sure why, perhaps San Franciscans mentally prepaid for this one.
We predicted a slow day due to the World Series and of the satellite offices were closed except for pier one, next to the Ferry Building. With the phones out, I asked one of my service agents to drive and check on her.
No one knew how to close the two large electric doors and since this was the Tenderloin, it seemed everyone was prepared to stay the night. We blocked the ramps and armed ourselves for the evening.
More people were on the street talking about the damages in their apartments. toppled bookcases, broken glass. People were talking about buildings that collapsed,one group said the Bay Bridge collapsed, naaa we all said.. this is an exaggeration.
You mind thinks or all sorts of things in silence. Buildings falling, nooo, our building is fine, and with the acceptation of broken glass and dust, everything seems to be normal. all the tall buildings are standing.
I go to one of the cars on the main floor and I turned on KGO, it was one of those emergency stations. The bridge Did collapse, the Bart had shut down, there were fires in Oakland and a major fire in the Marina District here in San Francisco. I lived in Cow Hollow a street or two away from the Marina District.
My wife was home on maturity leave with our new daughter and my five year old son. I guess I had a look on my face when a staff member told me to home and check on my family. I grabbed a Cavalier on the floor and drove northward. Taking Jones Street, the traffic seemed light until I hit California Street. With the Bay Bridge closed, it seemed a million people were headed to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Drivers inching along had a zombie’d look, I noticed people crying in their cars. I thought to myself, wow this could be me ,.trying to get to my children in Richmond. (my wife and I had thoughts of buying a home there)
I zig zagged until I reached Russian Hill and Filbert Street, there the sky’s was dark with smoke. I looked down at my street and every thing seemed normal. Unlike the Tenderloin, there were no citizens directing traffic and Van Ness Avenue was a wall. The wall separated me and my family who could all be dead, sure things look normal.but that old building that we used to joke about could have collapsed on them.
With my heart pumping, I eased the Chevy into the three lane wall. If you live in California,your familiar with the dead ahead stare pretending I don’t see you routine. When I initially pulled forward the man stared ahead, with my lights on he looked, the car behind him stopped. Two more lanes to go, a woman in white Audi sped up to block my path. Inching in my car brushed her bumper,in her car I could hear her scream. but she didn’t get out. A man in his truck let me through. Southbound traffic was non existant.
I’m not sure how they knew or if it were a coincidence, but my family walked outside as I drove onto the sidewalk. Overwhelmed, I openly wept. They were fine, my daughter was asleep on my wife’s shoulder. My wife was concerned about our friends who lived alone.
Inside the apartment,all was fine,no broken glass, however, the wooden outer shell on the side of the building had broken in one large piece and was leaning against the building next door. You could see daylight by simply removing a nail from our bedroom wall.
Were fine, you need to get back to work ,my wife said, were ok.
There was virtually no southbound traffic on Van Ness Avenue . On a typical day, both sides are packed with cars. I was concerned about getting across Van Ness towards the Tenderloin. I figured I would have to drive to Mission Street and turn left there so I was a relieved to see the police department directing traffic on Pine Street . there were additional officers on Post Street and I was able to turn left there.
There were more people out than I remembered. At the garage my staff was outside as well, apparently there had been a series of aftershocks. I told most of the people they could leave, but no one did. Mark, the service agent I sent to check on the Pier One location said the parking lot of the had sunk at some locations. and he and Sandy moved some of the cars.. As we where talking one of our drivers walked by, and he said he knew how to manually close the gates. With ladder and flashlight, he closed both doors in a matter of minutes OUR HERO. Closing the office was a matter of seconds…with power and phones out,. it was just of matter of closing the door.
I grabbed a Mini Van from work, and took on the frightening task of checking on the condition of our friends
Now I would like to say, that the primary intent was to make sure everyone was okay. I would like to say that…but it was more self serving , I didn’t want to have to identify a body or bodies.We were all going to die together in my apartment.
Most had moved in with other friends or left town. The two I picked up was happy to see me. It was weird driving through San Francisco in total darkness. There was no music available, only news station with reports of doom.
I picked up my family and we headed south on the hunt for more candles and flashlights in the minivan. My son Chris, excited about the minivan ,sat in the rearmost left seat.
Power had been restored the parts of the Sunset, and other areas of the city. At the Westlake Walgreen in Daly City, were a ton of people all looking for the same things. There were no D cell batteries and the only flashlights left were the rechargeable kind. One black lady and Chinese man came across of what might have been the last battery powered flashlight in the store. The struggle was intense but short lived as they broke the flashlight.
On to Lucky’s, where we were able to get to candles. and one C cell flashlight. No one seem hungry, and are beds were full. We could hear the building make noise with every aftershock which seemed larger than the original quake.
My wife, family and friends drove to Galt to stay with her mother….
Next morning, at work, Gates closed, there where people attempting to return their rental cars. With the gates unable to open I filled my 7 passenger mini Van with 10 full sized adults and drove them to SFO. On route, I noticed one man, rising up every few seconds. It was the left rearmost seat were my son was sitting/sleeping the night before.