Holding Hands in Downtown Oakland

Ann E.

In 1989, I was living near Solano Ave in Berkeley and working at a corporate job on the 7th floor of an Oakland high rise, across from Lake Merritt. I typically drove to work and parked in a small lot on 19th near Harrison.

Earlier that day I’d had lunch with a sales rep and we joked about the “earthquake weather” we were having and the fact we hadn’t felt a quake in quite a while. Little did we know how prophetic that conversation would be.

I left work promptly at 5 and as I was heading to my car, I was admiring a very stylishly dressed woman who was walking a few paces ahead of me. Suddenly she staggered and grabbed onto a parking meter. How strange, I thought… and then a split second later the shock wave hit me too. Next I noticed the huge ground floor windows of the building next to me were crazily bowing in and out, in and out. The next thing I knew, I found myself in a group of about 10 total strangers huddled in the middle of the busy street holding hands. Apparently we had all instinctively decided that running into moving traffic was the safer option compared to exploding plate glass.

Once the ground movement subsided, our little group realized with embarrassment that we were IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET HOLDING HANDS WITH TOTAL STRANGERS!! It was like none of us were aware of how we got there.

In a shaky adrenalin daze I made it to my car. The arm at the parking lot exit was stuck and the car in front of me decided to dramatically break right through it. On the way home I took surface streets rather than my usual route on the freeway. Along San Pablo Ave, entire brick facades of buildings were littering the street and good Samaritans were directing traffic in all the intersections.

I later realized, had I left work 5 minutes earlier, I likely would have been pancaked on the lower deck of the freeway collapse.

As it turned out, the only “damage” I found when I got home was a couple of shampoo bottles had fallen into the bathtub.

Still to this day, I have a mini panic attack if I have to be stopped in traffic under an overpass.