Babysitting for KPIX

Patricia Wakida

Its 1989 and I’ve landed a job with an Asian American newscaster, Wendy Tokuda, and a Jewish American television producer, Richard Hall, who is Wendy’s husband. As their babysitter. They have two splendid hapa daughters— Maggie, a gleeful five year old, and Mikka, an eight year old bookworm who splits her after-school extracurricular time between piano lessons and Hebrew school, and tonight she is dedicated to her studies of the Aleph-Bet. It is also a night that has been dubbed the “Battle of the Bay,” an epic World Series showdown between the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants, and reports off the streets of the obscene levels of public swaggering and chest puffing in anticipation of Game 3 are off the charts.

I arrive at the family’s home in the late afternoon to take Mikka to Hebrew school and then begin preparing dinner with Maggie within my sights, at the kitchen table. I have been warned that their Mom won’t be home until late tonight due to the game since, yes readers, she’s one of the live reporters broadcasting from Candlestick, and boy it’s gonna be a doozy.

Despite the fact that both parents work in television, the two girls are curiously uninterested in TV, so it’s a rare night that I switch on the portable kitchen set that night, its tiny screen no larger than a slice of bread, and tune into KPIX to catch glimpses of the game. There she is, wearing giant earphones over her coiffed hairdo, clutching a microphone and greeting audiences when…

All of a sudden, the kitchen begins to sway ominously. On screen, Wendy’s entire body language turns to steel and with a grimace, she says what we are all thinking… “That was an earthquake.

I turn to look at Maggie, who is seated at the kitchen table clutching a crayon. She cocks her head sideways as if she is listening to the sounds of the earth grinding, then turns and looks askance at me. The brass chandelier above the table rocks from side to side as I sweep her into my arms and carry her into the doorway, mindfully turning off the gas burners as I pass. Its just my luck that there is another adult was in the house— the girls’ dad is just downstairs in his home office, and now he is bounding up the stairway to assure his bewildered kid and I that we were all ok. I am grateful that he volunteers to venture out onto the streets to pick up his daughter Mikka, who assured us later that aside from suffering the effects of a room full of frightened children, she was perfectly fine. Even from across the room, I can register Wendy’s terror on the TV screen in the last seconds before Candlestick lost power and the station went black—a terror that was almost audible in my mind, so clearly did it cry out: “Where are my children?

I don’t know why exactly but later that night, I decide that I must spend the night in my dorm room at Mills College, roughly nine miles away. After calling my mom minutes after the quake struck (and am lucky to get through since ten minutes later all lines are completely jammed with panicked calls), I borrow a car from the family and drive towards school. The streets are both eerily quiet and electric with danger. I turn off Grand Avenue onto the 580 freeway, climbing nervously up the onramp towards a stream of cars that in my imagination are fleeing the ruins of the city. In slow increments, rolling up above the dashboard is the fullest October moon I had ever seen, rising into the darkness, pale as ice, ruling the night.

For more 1989 tv amazement, check this out!

Swaying Signal

Lee Wofford

I was traveling back from Napa and stopped at a hanging traffic signal.  I watched the signal swaying and then my car just jumped sideways to the median island.  I turned the radio on– the announcer was saying, “We are experiencing an earthquake”.  I managed to get the car back in the lane and headed home.  When I got there, Al and Camille were outside in the front yard.

Power Lines

Al Wofford

I had just arrived home in Walnut Creek from work in Martinez: my younger daughter was already there.  We were in the family room talking about nothing I can remember, when suddenly it was Show Time.  Mantel decorations in the living room rattled a little, then it got worse and they began to fall, so I said to Camille, “Let’s go outside for this one”.

We were standing on the front lawn and as the shaking got worse the power lines nearby began swinging back and forth enough to occasionally touch, with an interesting light show.  (At one point, Camille stretched out on the lawn, clutching the ground for stability.) I made sure we were clear of places where the lines could land if they burned through and then it got much better: throughout the neighborhood the lines were touching, and the short circuits started blowing the high voltage fuses.  It sounded much like very large shotguns or maybe small mortar blasts, and then the lights started going out.

This being the Dark Ages (and not just because the power was out) before cell phones, we could only wonder what had happened to my wife, whose job required lots of driving around our county.  She showed up in a few more minutes with her own stories…

Camille and Goli, her friend from next door, refused to come in the house that night; they just walked the street and stayed out on the porch.



Barbara Golden

I was playing at a dance class for kids at a rec center in East Oakland. It was somewhere on Avenue A near a bakery. Suddenly, it sounded like rocks on the roof: the piano slid away. The kids started running out the door. Seven-point-something earthquake.


piano earthquake 1989

Driving home to Berkeley on the 880, the radio saying “Cypress Freeway is down, get off the freeway, the Bay Bridge is down.”  Around High Street, I go to drink with my mechanic Marvin, a tumblerful of Bushmills straight. My house, on Walnut Street in North Berkeley, is unscathed. From my roof I see San Francisco burning. Write music now, ’cause you’re gonna die! Before the quake I swam a mile, I kept singing M’s song, “Young Man Transmogrified.” It is gypsyish, romantic. I always think: “Would W. like it?”

“Outward over matter, he moves guileless, like a deer.”

Did not sleep at home. Too afraid. Went to Toyoji’s in Oakland– on his street, in the headlights, I saw a huge rat. All T’s bookshelves were down and there was glass everywhere. We had a lot of red wine and slept with our toes touching.

Cypress Structure

Miguel Farias

I was a courier, driving the bay area, for the Fuji lab in Anaheim. My route started at SFO and ended at OAK.

On that afternoon, I was driving home after delivering the processing orders at the airport. I took the normal route back up 880 through the maze to reconnect with 80. I was on the Cypress Street overpass, on the bottom level. I didn’t have a clock built in to the car so I carried around a travel clock. As i was sitting there, not moving in bumper to bumper traffic, I looked at the clock, it said 4:45. It took like 15 minutes to complete the drive through the maze and I as I approached the Richmond San Rafael bridge, the earthquake struck. It felt like I had a flat tire. cars were pulling over, all around me, but i kept driving.

cypress structure 1989

When I got home, my mom and my sister informed me that there had been a big earthquake. I turned on the TV and the first images I saw were the Cypress Structure flattened and the newscaster was guessing 40-60 cars had been crushed under the fallen overpass. My knees buckled and I felt faint. I fell back on the couch and almost threw up. I couldn’t believe what i was seeing. It was so heavy.

St. Mary’s College

Rita Nazareno

I was a freshman at St. Mary’s in Moraga. I just had finished with classes that afternoon, excited for the World Series. My friend Chinggay and I got to my house to start preparing for our neighbors and friends who were to come over. I just had turned the TV on when the rumble started. Chinggay and I ran to each other and ducked under the kitchen counter. I clearly remember Chinggay holding my hands, her eyes closed, blurting ‘Hail Mary full of grace…’ as the house rocked, the television buzzing, transmitting static.

Geodesic Dome

Nicolas Gold

I was trying to take a nap upstairs in my parents’ house. It was a geodesic dome, and my twin bed was tucked into a corner where an internal wall met the downward arc of the roof. Just as I was drifting off, the bed began to rock and then shake. My first thought was that a mild earthquake was a nice way to be rocked to sleep. But the shaking continued to intensify. I quickly got up and went out onto the landing.

I walked downstairs as my parents appeared at opposite ends of the living room that spanned the dome. Hundreds of antiques shook and swayed. Outside, my mother’s car pitched up and down as waves rippled through the ground beneath it. The two young redwood trees behind the car shook violently. Of course it seemed to take several minutes before it had passed.

When it subsided and was gone, I assumed that it was no worse anywhere else and was prepared to go on with my day. My parents insisted that it must have made the news and turned on the radio. Sure enough, we soon heard that the Bay Bridge had collapsed (leading everyone to picture the complete destruction of the suspension bridge) and damage was widespread. Television news quickly showed the fallen deck on the cantilever section of the bridge, and for years people would wonder at the driver who headed toward the enormous gap at full tilt. The next drama was the damage and fire in the Marina district. The longest-running drama was the collapse of the Nimitz structure and the work to rescue those that were trapped, some for days.

The morning after the collapse, I remember having breakfast at Cafe Barbara in Lafayette and listening to someone at the next table describe having his flight diverted to Las Vegas and driving a rental car through the night to get back to the Bay Area. His daughter as working in San Francisco and was essentially trapped there overnight. That’s all I really recall. It must have been my first semester at Diablo Valley College, so I was probably too preoccupied with my Art History class with Ann Piper to pay much attention to anything else.