No Touch Car Wash

Fred Schein

Late that afternoon, I set out for SFO to meet some friends arriving from New York. I decided my car needed to be washed so it looked good for them.

I stopped at the No Touch car wash at Divisadero and Oak Streets. My car was soon moving through the “wash tunnel”. At this place, you could go inside and watch your car through a glass window, which I did. Two SF policemen were standing next to me. Apparently, at that time, the SFPD had a contract to get cars washed there. Suddenly, one of the policemen swayed into me and I was momentarily offended. Then I realized we were in an earthquake.

A lot of car stuff fell off the shelves and the manager said to go outside. The power was off and my car was inside, covered with soap. The manager told the staff to drive the cars out and the cashier to refund everyone. He then told the staff to take a hose and rinse off the soap. The staff was so nervous that they weren’t hitting my car with the hose water. I took the hose and completed the rinse.

Not knowing what to do, I decided to go to SFO. I got into the pickup/drop off “horseshoe” road and the traffic all but stopped. It took me about 35 minutes to work my way around and get back out to the freeway. No cell phones then. I had no choice, but to try to return to my home in Mill Valley.

I got onto 19th Ave where the traffic was bumper-to-bumper and the stoplights not working. Students from SFSU attempted to direct traffic, which only made matters worse. My car was standard shift. It took me about an hour and a half to get back to Marin by which time my leg ached from endless clutching. That was the worst traffic jam I have ever been in. One lane of Park Presidio, just before the MacArthur tunnel had sunk and it was reduced to one lane. I remember seeing AC Transit buses, which seemed so odd to me. Of course, they couldn’t use the Bay Bridge and were heading north to try to get across the Richmond Bridge

There were many small collisions on 19th Ave and Park Presidio. I recall seeing and hearing unbelievable courtesy. As these tiny accidents happened, drivers would get out to look for possible damage and every one of them seemed ready to take responsibility – “I’m sorry, it was my fault”, “No, it was my fault”, “No it was mine.” It was almost surreal.

When I finally got across the Bridge, I pulled into the vista point to look back at the City which was completely dark except for two things – the fires in the Marina which were my first real recognition of how serious this was and little islands of light here and there. It took me a while to realize that they were the hospitals that had emergency power.

My friends called me the next morning and it turned out that they had come within a few hundred feet at SFO. Their flight landed almost at the moment of the earthquake and they were told to move through the terminal and outside as it was thought there was a danger of the terminal collapsing. Without their luggage, they made their way to a rental car area and somehow got a car. Thinking it would be dangerous to try to go to the City, they drove south on 101. They began stopping at the big hotels and couldn’t find a room. They finally got to the San Carlos Howard Johnson. They asked the desk clerk if there was a room and were told, “I only have one left”. My friends said, “We’ll take it.” The clerk, still nervous about all that had happened, automatically said, “Smoking or non-smoking?” My friends stared at each other.

I drove down to meet them. They returned their car and picked up their luggage.

I so wish I had had a camera that night. Today, I would take dozens of pictures with my phone.

The Cosby Show

Jasmine R

I was sitting in my living room in Millbrae, watching the Cosby Show with my sister. The shaking began and like a movie, we looked at each other and shouted ‘Earthquake!!’ I ran to the doorway and screamed into the garage. My sister ran all over the house.

There wasn’t much damage to our home but we saw our swimming pool making huge waves. Later our parents took us to get pizza in San Bruno and in the parking lot I saw an unused Engelbert Humperdinck concert ticket for that night.

The next day at school a friend said she had been on the toilet during the quake, and I was very grateful that I had not been!

Menlo Park Safeway

Caitlin Crisan (Davis)

Walking through the aisles of Safeway as a hungry, slightly overweight 5 year old can be exciting, intimidating and overwhelming in any circumstance. My mother, begrudgingly dragging me along on her weekly grocery trip was shopping with a mission – keep squeeze-its and fruit-by-the-foot away from daughter’s mouth, get in and out as quickly as possible. Finally reaching the front of the seemingly never ending checkout line, the building began to rumble. A store filled with tall shelves of jars, boxes, cans and fruit is not an ideal place to be when the big one hits. Items fell in heaps around shoppers while carts rolled on their own through frozen food sections and into the deli counter. I, of course, immediately looked to the candy displays tempting me as bars fell to the floor. Surely no one would notice a missing pack of Big League Chew or a Caramello bar amid this chaos.

As the power shut off and the checkout computers died, shoppers abandoned their carts and ran outside to the open parking lot to safety. However, my mother, always the rational, time-manager, could not fathom leaving behind all the hard work she had done. Finally, she successfully made it through the grocery store with her chunky toddler and now she has to leave a full basket behind? The thought of going through this grocery charade again made her head spin. She wagered with the checker – can I pay in cash? How about Traveler’s Check? TWA Credit Card? Diner’s Club?

The true challenge came after being ushered out of the store. Her chic 1987 Mazda 626 with red cloth interior was in the now-unlit basement parking garage. With a slow-moving daughter in tow and the shopping bags she managed to talk her way into taking with her, navigating the garage was a seemingly impossible proposition. Before the true Silicon Valley boom, Menlo Park was a charming white-picket-fence neighborhood of warm, successful middle class families driving Volvo station wagons with kids facing the car behind them in what was always referred to as “the way, way back”. There were no tech bros busy checking Tinder or executives flying down El Camino in their Teslas. An equally frantic mother of two found herself in the same pickle as my mother and they concocted a plan to free their autos. I was placated for the moment with a push pop, while my mother’s new friend watched over the children and my mom rescued the cars from below with the help of a keychain flashlight.

Years later, my mother still bumps into her at that very same Safeway, now renovated with an organic nut bar and olive cart, and plenty of Teslas in the parking lot and tech bros on Tinder.

Holly Avenue

Jennifer Romo

In 1989 I was not quite 12, and attending Parkside Junior High in San Bruno. On this particular day, my dad had picked me up after school and we were at my grandmother’s house on Holly Avenue, at the top of what felt like a big hill – especially when you were on your bike at the bottom.

When the earthquake hit, I was sitting on the couch watching TV. My dad was on the phone with my mom, and my grandmother and great grandmother were both in the house. Being a well-seasoned earthquake veteran, I was prepared to ride it out. My dad was shouting for me to get outside, and I almost certainly said “Take a chill pill, Dad – it’s just an earthquake.”

I sauntered out while he collected grandmothers, and I could not believe my eyes. My grandmother’s concrete patio was rolling like a wave – I had no idea concrete could move that way without cracking. That is easily the part that stands out to me the most – as it was the moment I realized this wasn’t like other quakes I had been through.

The phone lines had gone down, so my mom was freaking out that she couldn’t get a hold of us, while we watched the impact unfold on the news. I couldn’t believe that something I thought was “just another little earthquake” had caused so much death and destruction.

I still try to remember what the city looked like back when the Embarcadero was covered by an overpass, and super seedy at street level, and I just can’t quite do it.

Jam Aisle

Ann Marie Lawson

That day was really warm, still. The light was the perfect golden haze that happens in SF in fall. I lived in Oakland and worked in SF but I had that day off. I had driven into the city to buy myself a birthday present, a pair of cowboy boots from this place over on Valencia. After I went out to the Sunset to meet a friend who lived out there. We walked out to Ocean Beach to lay in the sun and read books.

I had a big debate with myself on whether to stay in the city and enjoy the weather or head back to the east bay and beat the traffic from the ballgame. I decided to be sensible and headed home. I lived about 5 minutes off of the Bay Bridge in Oakland and I got home at 4:50 PM.

I had had just enough time to get in the door and turn on MTV when the quake hit. I got in a door way and watched the room sway. I keep saying “That’s enough, that’s enough.” It kept going. The electricity went out and a few things fell over, but not much because of the cheap paint that the shelves were painted with acted like museum wax.

When it was over I panicked: got a battery operated radio, turned it on and stepped outside. I thought there would be people running round, panicked and freaking out, but nothing. everything looked normal. I thought I was have some sort of freak out, that I had imagined the quake.

There was nothing on the radio for several minutes. I tried the phone. No dial tone. It was an old rotary phone and I pushed the “hang up” button until I got a dial tone. I called my family on the peninsula. Everyone was shaken but ok. I worked the phone again and got my brother at his auto repair . Thank God none of the cars came off the lifts. I worked the phone again and got my other brother who basically lived at the epicenter all OK. That made me feel a bit better.

Finally the reports started to come in. About the bridge, the fires, the freeway collapse. I walked over to the grocery store where my boyfriend worked and it finally looked like something had happened. All the merchandise was on the ground. I helped them clean up the jam aisle which was a sticky mess.

Mirror in the Bathroom

Christine Wong Yap

It was a beautiful, sunny day—the kind that usually gets fogged out in Daly City. I had gotten home from middle school and to kill time before dinner, I went to my older sister’s room. She was sitting on her bed reading a book or magazine. Just as I hit the power button on our Commodore Amiga PC, rumbling started, so for a half a second, my mind raced for a connection, as if I caused it. My second thought was that Dad was jumping on the roof—he was both a handyman and a prankster. But the shaking got violent and I think I looked at my sister, and we both said, “Earthquake!?” as we dived under the desks.

Growing up in California, we practiced earthquake drills in school. Mom didn’t have this benefit, so she panicked and yelled at us to go downstairs into the garage, as if to bunker down. I remember being on all fours under the desk, helplessly looking at my Mom standing in the hallway, unable to explain why we weren’t following her.

Afterwards, in our know-it-all, child-of-immigrants ways, we showed her how to brace in a doorway. We understood that’s what grown-ups were supposed to do. But this advice wasn’t actually all that great, and has since fallen out of usage.

When we assessed the aftermath, we found that a magnifying mirror fell from the bathroom windowsill and broke. Our relief that there wasn’t worse damage was tainted by superstitious beliefs—the broken mirror as an omen of bad luck.

daly city mirror 1989

Luckily, Dad was only a few blocks away when the quake struck, on his way home from the auto shop. His calm demeanor contrasted Mom’s nervous nature. Their marriage was like an arms race of world outlooks, one given towards fear, the other, obstinately insisting on relaxation. I was very curious to have Dad explain what it was like to experience an earthquake in a car, and consequently burnished a vision of him placidly steering his light blue 1980 Ford Fairmont as it wobbled across the asphalt into the late afternoon sunlight.