Saturday, October 18, 2008
The old time San Francisco natives used to call it “earth quake weather”. A day that was so hot and humid, that no wind and or fog would blow in from the Pacific Ocean. The Ocean and air are perfectly calm. It was one of the most beautiful days I can remember up until that point of living in San Francisco but it ended up being one of the most terrifying days of my life.
It was an extraordinarily hot day, too hot as a matter of fact for a typical summer day in the city of San Francisco. I started out the day not unlike any other, I got up, gathered up Max and his leash, stopped and grabbed a coffee from Java Jolt and headed for a walk in Golden Gate Park. The date was October 17, 1989, the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s were playing the 3rd game of what was being called the “Bridge Series”. The whole Bay Area was at a standstill and the eyes of the Nation and the world were watching.
After I got my coffee fix, Max and I walked down Haight Street to the Pan Handle of the Park. We did our normal loop; around the play ground, passing by Hippy Hill, up around the tennis courts, through the Rhododendron Dell then finishing up at the Strybring Arboretum. It was around 9 am and it was already in the 70’s. Although it got this warm quite often in the Bay Area, I had no memory of it ever being this warm so early in the morning. We ended up seeing our friend David and his dog Baja on our way back hanging out on Hippy Hill. Hippy Hill is a sloping hill of green cool grass that slopes down to a field. It is at the beginning of Golden Gate Park so it is a pretty popular place to hang out. On a sunny day there is nothing like it! It got the name because the “hippies” used to hang out on back in during the Summer of Love in the 60’s. Rumor had it that a Monterey Cyprus tree that sat at the bottom of the hill used to play host to Janis Joplin, who was known to get tanked on Jack Daniels, climb up it and then fall out of it on a fairly regular basis.
On this particular beautiful warm morning though, there was no sighting of Janis Joplin or any other hippie ghosts for that matter, myself excluded of course. David and I hung out on the cool grass of the hill while our dogs, Baja and Max played in the field below. I have to say it was a perfect morning. No wind, no fog and no work. I had the night off from my bar tending job that so I had not a care in the world. David and I made plans to go surfing the following morning if there were any waves and went our separate ways. He gave a parting shout of “Go Giants” though. I chuckled to myself over that. Secretly I was rooting for the Oakland A’s, but living in the city of San Francisco I had to be careful. It was like being a New York Yankee’s fan living in the South End of Boston I would imagine.
Max and I meandered our way home, stopping along the way to say hello to friends, and grabbing a burrito from Chabellas, one of the best Mexican restaurants that there ever was I must say. When we finally got home it was around 1 pm; four hours till game time! Around 3 pm I decide to go up on my roof and bring my portable battery operated TV up there with me to watch the game. In San Francisco, a lot of the roofs on the old Victorian apartment buildings are flat. I imagine this was an easy form of building back in the early part of the 20th century, or just a way to get buildings up in a hurry, which they had to do after the earthquake and ensuing fire destroyed most of the city. The roof on my building was a central hang out place for the other tenants in the building as well. My apartment was one of three in my building and on the third floor. There were assorted lawn chairs and other furniture up there so it was a great hang out spot. I was alone though this day and that was ok by me. I climbed up the back ladder and marveled at the view. I could see a good portion of the downtown area of the city to the East, and Golden Gate Park and the Pacific Ocean to the West. To the North was the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County with Mount Tamalpais and it's brown hills rolling into the ocean. It was a perfect view and a perfect day.
I’m not sure how long I was asleep for, it couldn’t have been more than an hour could it have been? I turned on the TV and heard Al Michaels welcoming us “To the 3rd game of the Bridge to Bridge World Series”. I looked at my watch and it was 5 o’clock exactly. I was still groggy from sleep as I got up out of the lawn chair to stretch. All of a sudden I felt a slight rumble under my feet. At first I thought it was the 43 Masonic diesel bus that went by my apartment every 20 minutes, but something felt different about this rumble. It started slowly, like a motor being turned on, it became progressively more violent though, and within a few seconds the whole roof was moving under my feet. It was like someone had taken one corner of the roof and gave it a shake; like a rug almost. I was violently knocked to my knees by the force of the quake and I remember thinking at the time, I hope that the roof wouldn’t collapse. The brick chimneys on my roof and the roofs surrounding me where falling apart, crumbling. After what seemed like an eternity, the shaking stopped very suddenly. What I remember then was how quiet it was. In the few seconds after the quake stopped it was dead silent, except for the glass falling. Everywhere I could hear broken glass falling out of windows. As I stood up, over the TV I heard Al Michaels saying “Welcome to San Francisco everybody”, and then the TV went dead. I stood there dazed and then I heard the scream. A woman from a nearby apartment let out this blood curdling scream which prompted me to head for the ladder and Max. I started to panic at this point as I didn’t know the extent of the damage in my apartment below and what had happened to Max. As I neared the ladder I called out to him and when I got to the ladder there he was, on the back stairs staring up at me looking almost as scared as I did I’m sure.
The fires and loss of power and aftershocks that happened afterward were almost as frightening as the actual earthquake was. A building on my block caught fire because of a gas leak and our block had to be evacuated. There were a few big aftershocks, one registered at 6.1 which in itself would be a pretty good shaker. The Loma Prieta earthquake as it was later called, registered a 6.9 on the righter scale. 67 people died that day and It's an experience I will never forget.
This is Max on the back deck of 648 Cole.