Adobo in Union City

Monica Espiritu

I had just turned 25. I was hanging out with my folks for an early dinner in front of the television in their little Union City house. Like most people in the Bay Area, we planned on watching the A’s and the Giants, just the three of us. Several people in their neighborhood pulled into their driveways around 4:30pm. My parents were already finished cooking dinner by the time I walked in the house.

My dad and I were in the kitchen spooning rice, adobo and vegetables into bowls for the dinner table when suddenly a rumbling began.

My parents had experienced earthquakes in their youth in the Philippines. As a Bay Area kid, I’d gone through a handful of drills. In high school, I accused a kid in math class of kicking the back of my chair when in actuality we were in the midst of an earthquake, but I knew to jump under my desk when he said, “It wasn’t me!”

“Just another earthquake,” I thought in the nascent moments of the Loma Prieta.

I then found myself standing with my feet shoulder width apart, holding on to the counter and watching the lawn in the background roll in waves and my parents’ 25 foot mulberry tree sway. My dad set down the bowl he was carrying, kept his balance by holding onto the counter, and stared at the swaying tree. In my mind’s eye, the entire scene seemed to have moved in a weird suspended animation because I had enough time to glance in the other direction to the front yard through the living room’s picture window. I saw a couple of cars parked across the street ride asphalt waves. My mom was standing, slightly swaying, on our walkway watching the same scene.

After the rumbling and waves subsided, she came back in the house. My parents and I put the few books that tumbled off the family room shelves back in their usual places. We put all the food on the table. “Wow, that was a big one, ” my dad said nonchalantly. My mom and I agreed. We sat down to eat. My dad turned on the television as he had done hundreds of times in that house. We passed food and drinks back and forth to one another like another dinner we’d had together. Had we become desensitized to earthquakes?

Then, the clanging of silverware on plates and chitchat ceased as the image of the Cypress structure, flattened and with clouds of dust and debris surrounding it flashed on the TV screen. It brought a pall to my parents’ home. The Cypress structure where our family had driven time and time again since we relocated to the Bay Area from Hawaii. The stretch of Highway 17 that we loved because when my mom or dad drove on it at 60 miles an hour, we undulated. With the Cypress Structure in our little VW Squareback and later our Chevy Nova and VW Van. We used to ride the waves on that stretch of Highway 17 in our cars. It was suddenly gone and I felt my heart flattened along with it.

Carmel Photo Shoot

Tracy Wheeler

It was the time of day photographers call the ‘magic moment’ when the sun is soft and golden and generous. We were shooting an ad campaign at a ranch high on a hill above the Carmel Valley that we had made over to be the pretend home of a pretend family with impeccable pretend taste.

I was in a barn-turned-wardrobe room helping a little boy put on perfectly distressed jeans and a tiny leather jacket when we heard the horses outside scream. The dogs, some sort of hound, joined in, and then everything began to both roll and jump; confused by two distinct rhythms—one sultry and the other furiously impatient like a child kicking the back of a seat.

Fifteen seconds isn’t long except when it is. You know what I mean even if you haven’t been in an earthquake. It’s like falling and watching everything in slow motion with time enough to wonder if you’ll come out okay or end up in the hospital.

I brought the boy outside and to his mother and then made my way over to a model named John. We stood side-by-side and watched seismic waves ripple the top of the range across from us like a shudder moving through the body of an elephant. The trees like hairs as they waved together in one long motion. John put his arm around me and I felt joy, tremendous pulsating, electric, gorgeous joy. There’s a word for moments when what you think about the world and what’s happening are perfectly aligned. When there’s no gap between the idea of what’s happening or should be happening or you want to be happening and what is actually happening. I can’t remember what that word is because it pretty much never happens to me. But during the earthquake it did. I think because I stopped thinking all together and just was.

Then it stopped. Things went really, really quiet. The only sound I remember is the snort horses make when they’re pissed off but I might be making that up.

“Back to work. We’re losing the light!” yelled the producer.

Maybe it’s because we weren’t from California, or maybe we were all just selfish, but it wasn’t until we finished the last shot and realized that there were no lights on in the valley below that we understood something big might have happened.

For some inexplicable reason one of the books in the old house on Long Island where I grew up was a photographic account of the 1906 earthquake. Huge curlicue captions—Disaster! Destruction! Despair!—emblazoned the cover. Those are the images that filled my mind as we listened to the radio. Buildings and horses brought to their knees or toppled completely over, streets torn open, small blurry figures with the crisp panorama of the burning city behind them. Vintage images so removed from the present that once I might have thought they were pretend.

Retrieving Rose and Yaya

Reno Rapagnani

I was driving my car south on Divisadero Street when the car I was driving started rocking from front to back. I then looked to my right and I saw a wave that made the buildings rise and fall as the wave past through them. It was incomprehensible to see that happen. I then realized that we were having an earthquake: I immediately made a U turn and drove the opposite direction towards the Marina as my 2-year-old daughter, Rose, was there.

I got to the Marina and picked up Rose, as she had been with a family member. The scene on that block was unbelievable as gas from broken underground pipes was shooting like a jet through the broken street. The smell of gas was sickening and I expected an explosion at any moment.

As I got to the Marina, I realized that Mayor Art Agnos’ mother lived just a couple of blocks away from where I was, so I drove to Fillmore Street where I discovered that “Yaya” was trapped in her apartment. (I was the detail leader for Mayor Agnos.)

Yaya was stuck inside her home, as her front door was jammed because her building had settled. I was able to force the door open and I grabbed her hand. I wrote on the front door using her lipstick, “I GOT YAYA– RENO.”

Rose and Yaya1989

I placed the Mayor’s mother in the car with my daughter. I then drove directly into the intersection that we all saw on TV with buildings on fire and other buildings collapsed onto the street.

It took several hours to drive the Mayor’s mother to the Mayor’s house and for the entire ride, Rose and Yaya were speechless. (If you know Rose, that was an amazing event.) We had a whole bunch of Guardian Angels with us that day.

Game Three

Leanna M. Dawydiak

My memories of the Loma Prieta quake are so vivid that it could have happened yesterday.

The day of the quake, I had been looking forward to going to World Series Game 3 at Candlestick Park. I had great seats because my husband, Reno Rapagnani, was the Chief of Security for the Mayor of San Francisco, Art Agnos, so I was going to get to sit with his staff just left of home plate along the third base line. I had driven out there with my father Gene Dawydiak, stepson Reno Jr. and my sister-in-law Diane: Gene and Reno Jr. were sitting in the upper deck but Diane was below with me. We had planned to meet back at the car after the game we were sure we were going to win. Reno was busy handling things for the Mayor and I had no idea where he was.

In any case, just before the game was to start, I was looking out towards the Sony Jumbotron and suddenly I felt like there was movement under my feet and the stadium seemed to move in a circular direction; a shift, if you will, and I think it was towards the right. I could actually SEE the movement. I can only describe it like Candlestick Park was a cup on a saucer and someone was twisting the cup on top of the saucer. Being a native San Franciscan, I knew we had just had an earthquake, but I didn’t worry too much as I had been through many in my life. I think it was the “neophytes” who alerted me that this was no regular earthquake so I got moving, trying to make my way up to where my dad was sitting.

When I got to my dad’s seats, he and my stepson were sitting there like nothing had happened. I told my dad, “We need to go, this was a bad one.” He said, “You’re overreacting… the game will start any minute.” All this, in spite of the fact that both teams and their families were all down on the field holding onto each other and not at all looking like they were ready to play baseball. I tried telling my dad, “Look, the Jumbotron isn’t even working…There’s no game, Pa.”

World Series Game 3 1989

I finally got my dad to move by saying, “Let’s go down to the cop substation and see what’s up.” I was an officer in the SFPD and I knew my dad would come with me if I told him we were going to where the cops were. Sure enough, that did the trick and we found a quick route to the substation. On our way there, someone in front of us had a portable TV, which showed the Bay Bridge collapse and all the people that were trapped. After seeing that, we all knew that we had to get out of Candlestick Park in the event there were aftershocks that might bring the stadium down.

It seemed to take forever to get to our car, and then it was a very slow trek back to my parents’ house in the Richmond District. In fact, when it rains it pours, as they say, as my car started to overheat, which it never had done before. I had no idea where my husband was and worse, where my 2 year old daughter was: she was with her “surrogate” mother/babysitter, who lived on Webster Street near the Safeway in the Marina (where, as we found out later, took the worst of it).

When Reno finally got to our daughter, he couldn’t get “Mama Rosie” and Frank to leave because Frank was frantically looking all over the house for cash he had hidden all over the place (not unusual for old-fashioned Italians to do). I think my mother eventually got them out.

After dropping my father off at home, I knew I had to get to my house and make sure it was secure; this was on Museum way near the Randall Museum. Once I saw things were fine, I immediately suited up in my SFPD uniform and headed to the Hall of Justice as the call had gone out that any off-duty officer who could get into the City was to report ASAP.

I could write so much more about my duty on 6th and Stevenson…my “guarding” the Giants when they came to the Moscone Center to visit people who were homeless for the time being and getting to specifically “guard” my hero, Will Clark, who towered over me. I had to warn them that the people in the Moscone Center weren’t like the ones in the Marina, but that it was more like the inside of a prison with there being knife fights and the like.

Asian Art Museum

Laurie Wagner

I was at work at the Asian Art Museum in Golden Gate Park. As a 3rd generation Californian, my first reaction to earthquakes isn’t panic. But I realized instantly this was a big one. I remember thinking a) that the floor was actually rolling toward me like a wave and b) I could die then and there.

As abruptly as it had started, it stopped, and my instincts screamed to get out of the building. We tried to go down the back stairs; a guard came up shouting hysterically that we couldn’t go down because a light fixture had fallen. We were more worried about the heavy stone lintel hanging over the other exit, but couldn’t convince him that was a greater danger so dashed under it. On the ground floor there was only one exit we could use (security of the collection comes first) and it was under the tower that had been identified as the building’s Achilles heel, most likely to come down in a big earthquake. A guard stuck his head out looking up at it, then turned back to us and said “Run!

We did and suddenly being outside was anticlimactic, everything was still. Charles offered to drive me to the bus terminal. We drove slowly through a chastened city. Stoplights weren’t working but people were very politely taking turns. He dropped me off at the East Bay terminal where the bus driver was explaining, “The top level of the Bay Bridge collapsed.” People kept repeating over and over “Yes, but when will we go?

Realizing that with a broken bridge there wouldn’t be any ‘going’ anytime soon, I went to find Charles, stopping at a small convenience store for water in case I didn’t find him. It was dark and the cash register wasn’t working. As I left the store Charles was coming down the street and suggested we go to where we could listen to the radio. He had a friend who owned the last Blacksmith shop in San Francisco where they had a generator. When we entered the shop his friend handed me a rum and coke and introduced me to the guys. They had a Friday tradition of partying and supplies.

We spent the evening in chairs on the street listening to a radio hooked up to a truck battery, somberly watching the billowing black smoke from the Marina. Seeing the fireboats on the Bay coming to the rescue was reassuring; they weren’t dependent on shaky ground. There were very few incidents of crime that night, but the radio reported groups roaming with baseball bats. Later in the evening one of those groups walked past our quietly drinking group. One of our guys started to get nervous and vocal, Charles said quietly, “Remember the women and children.” The guy calmed down; the group passed uneventfully, looking as lost as we all felt.

Around eleven Charles and I went back to his place where his East Coast family and friends started calling to be sure he was ok. That was the first of many nights I felt anxious about being inside during aftershocks; there were a lot of them in the weeks to come.

Clift Hotel

Cathy Morrison

I was working as Purchasing Manager at the [then] Four Seasons Clift Hotel at 495 Geary. The Clift was built in 1913, allegedly the first “skyscraper” built after the quake of ’06. Naturally early skyscraper construction did not inspire much confidence in me, so when I first saw my “office” at the hotel – in the basement, next to the dumpster – I laughingly told my friends, “If there’s an earthquake, you’ll be digging me out with a pickaxe.”

The day was bright, humid and unseasonably warm. I was happily anticipating the Giants-A’s game that night. Preparing to leave work, suddenly the building shook violently. I ran to my doorway and encountered the two women who worked in Human Resources. The three of us hugged each other around a pole or column in the doorway. We could hear pipes clanging and the building moving. The shaking stopped – and then the lights went out.

We were just starting to breathe a sigh of relief when, from the deep basement of the hotel (domain of the housekeeping, laundry, and mechanical departments) emerged our Chief Engineer, who had a flashlight. He led us upstairs to the lobby, towards sunlight.

Several large plate glass windows were shattered. Many of the guests were out because the Clift was full of celebrities who’d arrived for the baseball game. Some that I can recall were sportscaster Al Michaels and actor Timothy Busfield. The hotel General Manager, Paul Pusateri, decreed that every guest present could have free champagne. The Room Service crew put flutes on round silver trays and graciously offered champagne to flustered visitors. The kitchen began to make sandwiches. Remember, it is unsafe to cook with gas after an earthquake!

The entire downtown, including the area in which the Clift is located, had no electricity. However, telephones were working. The Chief Engineer called his wife in Petaluma and she bought a huge supply of flashlights and batteries and drove them down to the hotel. When it began to get dark, as guests returned, everyone on hand was called into service to walk guests up the stairs with a flashlight. There were candles and tealights in the public areas on the main level, but no candles were allowed up in guest rooms.

We had strategy sessions to plan for food and guest services. The cooks were able to use Sterno to prepare very simple dishes. The freezer was still holding its temperature well, and we started to use as much as possible from the refrigerators.

The next morning, I planted myself at the food storeroom since I figured that neither of my employees would come to work. It was a huge surprise when the produce delivery man came around the corner! Their warehouse was in a part of The City that wasn’t impacted seriously. So the guests got lovely strawberries and fresh salad the day after the quake.

Power was out for three days, impacting cooking, lighting, elevators, and the water pump on the roof. Guests were asked neither to shower nor to flush unless necessary. Management staff was asked to stay overnight. I ended up staying at the hotel for two nights, because I lived in Berkeley and it was impossible to get home. On the third day, we were released from duties at the hotel and a friend with a car drove me home via Marin County and Highway 37.

Mr. Pusateri, our GM, was very appreciative of the way the management staff pulled together in the aftermath of the earthquake. Virtually everyone stayed at the hotel and worked 12-18 hours a day to keep the guests safe, happy, and comfortable. He treated us to a fabulous party sometime after. We were served Dom Perignon and everyone was gifted with an engraved MontBlanc Rollerball pen, as well as a framed certificate of gratitude from Isadore Sharp, the President of Four Seasons Hotels. I’ve lost touch with my Four Seasons friends, but I will never forget the October 1989 earthquake. The certificate is one of my prized possessions.

Art School

Lexa Walsh

It was during a 10-minute break from Camille Pineda’s Creative Writing class at CCAC. I had moved to California just the year before, having transferred to CCAC from Parsons, which was a new day dawning, so to speak. I loved how I could be free to be myself and ‘let my freak flag fly’ in Oakland, not to mention the weather and food were great.

So there we were, playing double dutch or small talking, when the shaking began. “Whoa! This is sooo coool!” I thought. The glass windows of a new, not so popular gallery space were shaking right next to us, and we all cheered for them to break, in a moment of anti-construction solidarity. The shaking eventually stopped, and the windows did not break. We went back to class, remarked a bit about it, but moved on.

Upon leaving the classroom, word got out about the damage. My free wheeling attitude quickly changed into shock. I rode my bike home to my shared house on Monte Vista Avenue and found only a few things shaken off the windowsill, but the phones were dead and I felt lost. I rode back to school, as did many others, and we stayed there on campus most of the night, ruminating about the state of the world, the reasons for the magnitude (the military industrial complex, of course!), and simply supporting each other by being together.

The next night someone drove me past the site of the downed Nimitz freeway. We couldn’t get too close. (Unbeknownst to me I would end up settling right in that neighborhood for the rest of my 25 years in Oakland.) I went into a fairly deep depression for a few months after, and made art about destruction: cracking buildings, giant rats. overflowing toilets… it was hard but a good creative tool.

I have feared being stopped under highway overpasses ever since.

When a quake shook me out of my sleep last month I thought to myself: no big deal- this isn’t as big as the Big One.

UC Davis

Catherine Cross Uehara

I was sitting in English class at UC Davis when we felt the earth ‘do the worm’. I was sitting in the back of the classroom and the Venetian blinds on the windows of our first floor classroom started to undulate. Our TA was young and new and very nervous – she was pacing back and forth across the classroom and didn’t feel it. Just about everybody in the classroom shouted ‘earthquake!’. She stopped and pressed her back to the chalkboard and screamed.

Bay Bridge

Jim Murray

I was driving just east of Yerba Buena Island when I felt like I had like had a flat tire and heard a loud clank like running over a large piece of steel. The traffic was stopping, and still I was not aware of anything special until I saw people getting out to their cars. Then Dave, riding shotgun in the car pool, said the bridge had fallen. I then remembered the “flat tire” bit from driving in a previous earthquake. We could see the piece of the upper deck, with the white lines, looking like a ramp to go to the upper deck about 50 yards in front of us. Some father with a baby wrapped in a blanket was running back to the island, which has always stuck in my head as the oddest thing I saw that day. It was a pink and white blanket. Anyway, our other engineer in the back seat suggested that we go up to see what happened. I prevailed, and we walked to the island.

bay bridge 1989

We arrived at the island just as an Alameda bound AC Transit bus was making the turn-off to head back towards San Francisco. The driver agreed to give us a ride back. I thought it would be back to the TransBay Terminal. As soon as the driver was westbound, he floored it, and he did not stop accelerating until his bus was off of all elevated highway. There was almost no traffic in either direction. He was going to get his Alameda passenger home, but he was not going to go over water at either the San Mateo or Dumbarton Bridges.

Traffic started building back, and by now, it was dark. Really dark, there was no electricity anywhere. Traffic crawled along the Alviso Milpitas Road, with no electricity there were no signals, ie everything was a four way stop. There was one unfortunate lady with us who looked more than eight months pregnant, but she was able to control her bladder with a lot of squirming. About 8 PM, we were roaring up the Nimitz. Another lady, at about Hayward, started screaming about God knows what to get off the bus, and she was left at a freeway ramp. There was a young man sitting in one of the cross seats in the bus with a transistor radio of the time plugged into his. He looked like he might have mildly developmently challenged, which is not the PC thing to say. He would blurt out the news updates. “The Marina is on fire.” “The freeway in Oakland has collapsed.” ETC. So we were hearing all the bad news as it hit the airways while on the bus.

The driver ran his route backwards, and got rid of his passengers in a completely darkened Alameda. He agreed to take us to the MacArthur BART Station because that was not far out his way and he was taking the bus home and would return it in the morning. Well, getting from Alameda to the BART station meant taking an underwater tunnel, which tonight, the driver did not like any better than bridges. The bus started accelerating a couple of blocks before the ramp down into the tunnel, through the tunnel and the up ramp into Oakland.

The Contra Costa County “bus bridge” was lined up when arrived, and we got on the lead bus just a bunch of folks, who got a ferry, arrive walking from Jack London Square. The bus left almost immediately thereafter. I got home about 10:30.

Redwood Estates

Redwood Estates

Laura Winter

My husband and I were both home that afternoon, as we had met with our realtor earlier after having recently made an offer on a house on the other side of the summit off of Laurel Road. We lived in “Downtown” Redwood Estates, right across the street from the grocery store and post office on Broadway.

redwood estates 1989

We were watching the baseball game on TV when it hit, and although we tried to get outside, we were repeatedly slammed to the ground. Longest 15 seconds ever; this was seriously violent shaking, especially as this was only 10 miles from the epicenter. I have never felt so helpless in my entire life. We lost every piece of glass we owned, but we were so fortunate. Our neighbor’s house burned to the ground and many houses there were uninhabitable afterwards. My in-laws had major structural damage and had three huge aquariums explode and flood the inside of their house next door to ours.

The next seven days were surreal; it was like living in a third world country: no power, no running water. Food wasn’t a problem, though. All the neighbors joined together to bring the food from the refrigerators & freezers and our grills to cook for the entire community. We really took care of each other in the aftermath. It didn’t matter if you had never met a particular neighbor before, if someone had a need, we made sure to fill it.

The national guard was sent up with canvas trailers of water we could use to flush our toilets and a tent for showers. The entire community was stuck up there as the CHP held a community meeting the next day: they told us we’d be arrested if we drove on Highway 17 if it wasn’t an emergency, as Caltrans had to assess the condition of the road.

None of the Santa Cruz Mountains communities had water for the next 4 months. Our antiquated water systems literally crumbled to bits.

About that house we were trying to buy…2 days after the quake, the Mercury News somehow managed to get the newspaper up to us. There was a color photograph on the front page of a home that had split into two with one half down in a ravine. I still remember the address: 24085 Schulties Road. It was the house we had fallen in love with, destroyed. The sellers had no insurance and they had to demolish.

No bank would lend for mountain property for a long time after that, so we had no choice but to head to the flatlands of San Jose, where we live in another neighborhood where people look after each other.

I still miss the beauty of the Santa Cruz mountains, but each earthquake we’ve had since then, I become unglued.