I was a few months out of Cal, living in Emeryville, and working at the yarn supply store Straw Into Gold, in an old 2-story warehouse at the corner of San Pablo & Ashby (Berkeley). My job was upstairs, skeining yarn for wholesale. I rode the 72 bus to work, where the bus stop was right in front of the store. Just after 5pm that day, I glanced at the clock & thought, “I’ll finish up and catch the 5:08 bus home.”
Suddenly I heard a loud series of thumps across the ceiling. Why was someone running on the roof? Then it seemed an elephant ran across—my first inkling that it might be an earthquake. I looked out the window to see if anything was moving, and then all hell broke loose. I dove under the worktable, where a huge heavy carton of yarn was stored; normally I had to struggle with my whole body to budge it, but now I shoved it right out of my way with one hand.
Having grown up in the Bay Area, I had “the position” drilled into my head, but like everyone else I knew, I had always been too cool to use it. Terrified, I crouched into a ball, tucked my head down, and folded my arms around my head. I listened to everything falling around me and prayed, “Please stop, please just make it stop”.
Eventually the world stilled into quiet. One coworker let out a “Whooooooo!” and someone else called, “Everyone alright?” We all crept out of our hiding places. The yarn skeining machine had fallen over onto my worktable. A window pane had shattered. The tall warehouse shelves had gone parallelogram, squeezing soft bags of yarn with them. Elsewhere, hundreds of cones of yarn had fallen into heaps on the floor. I was glad I worked in a place with mostly soft, light things. Seeing that everyone was okay, I booked it on out of there and caught my bus, which was miraculously still on time.
Two guys in the back were talking mortality: “Yeah, you never know when your time is gonna come…” “Anything can happen….” As we traveled south on San Pablo, a plume of black smoke billowed up from downtown Berkeley.
Back home, my downstairs neighbor ran up to me: “I think your water heater is leaking into my apartment!” I went up, shut off the water heater, put down some rags, and looked around for other damage. My vintage glass bottles had tumbled safely from a windowsill onto my bed below; they never went back up there after that. A jar of red lentils was broken on the pantry floor. Phones & electricity were out. Everything else seemed alright.
My other downstairs neighbors invited me to join them for dinner in the backyard; they were preserving calm and routine for their toddler. I was sitting with them, still too freaked out to eat, when the guy from next door, a constant jokester, came over and said, “The Bay Bridge fell down.” He had to repeat himself 4 or 5 times before we believed him.
I spent the rest of the evening trying to call family and friends. I didn’t know where my housemate was. Every time I managed to calm down, another aftershock would make me leap out of my skin all over again. Then I remembered my scary avalanche dream from the night before, which freaked me out even more. I’ve never been the same about earthquakes since.