I wasn’t even in town when it happened, ironically enough. Perhaps that’s why I’m so interested in others’ stories.
I had been down in San Luis Obispo for a couple of days, visiting James, Dave and Eric at Cal Poly, and had left there to return north around 4 pm, driving solo–one of my favorite things to do. I remember the road feeling a little strange for a few seconds (tremors were in fact felt pretty far south), but 101’s got plenty of hills and curves, so I didn’t even think anything of it. It had been a weird, emotional stay in SLO, and I spent the drive alone trying to figure some things out: getting a little teary here and there in that adolescent-girl way before triumphantly deciding that everything was going to be OK, and that life was just amazing.
As I approached San Jose around 7 pm, I was surprised at how badly snarled traffic was at that hour. It was pretty dark at that point: I remember puzzling over the endless strings of red tail lights in haphazard patterns. I never listened to the radio in my ’85 VW Golf, so I didn’t even think to turn it on for news or traffic updates: I had way too many awesome cassette mix-tapes to listen to, after all.
As soon as I walked in the front door of my parents’ house in Walnut Creek, I was confronted with the enormity of what I’d just missed. My parents had been panicked since they had no idea where I was when the quake hit, and were relieved to find out that I was fine. I just remember feeling an intense sort of cognitive dissonance, realizing that my self-absorbed teenage crises, musings and revelations on the drive up had absolutely zero connection to the actual disaster that had transpired at the same exact time.