My family has deep Bay Area roots – three of my four grandparents were Bay Area natives, and I’ve never lived away for more than a year since moving here when I was 12. I spent my teenhood wishing I lived in SF or Berkeley, instead of in the suburban east bay (and I remember being in my backyard, watching my fat sleeping cat suddenly go from supine to bolt upright, freeze for a second and tear ass under the house moments before the Morgan Hill quake hit in 1984).
But when Loma Prieta happened, I was 18, a freshman in college in upstate New York, and I was in Manhattan visiting my Aunt Priscilla for the weekend. After a dinner out, we were on our way back to her place and stopped into a little Irish Pub in her neighborhood. The place was empty but for the bartender, slowly wiping down the dark mahogany bar with a white towel. He was tall but hunched over, silver-haired with heavy silver brows, and when he spoke I saw that he had a few missing teeth. In an Irish accent, he mumbled “No game tonight. Big earthquake.” He jerked his head towards the TV hanging behind him, and continued his thorough wipe down of the bar. I looked up at the TV and there was the Bay Bridge with a hole in it. I remember a slow motion feeling, and the weird contrast of the sleepy mundane bar scene with the bright, violent images on the TV – it felt like a David Lynch scene. We watched for a few minutes, long enough to see all the worst damage the media was looping through: the bridge, the Marina fires, the Cypress structure – a few times over, then made our way back to Priscilla’s.
My brother Mike was living in SF. He managed to call my mom before all the phone lines were completely flooded and shut down, so we knew that he was ok. It was so disorienting to feel that it was this massive emergency but that there was nothing to do but watch and wait, and eventually, just go to sleep as if it was any other night.
I remember waking up the next morning, convinced I had dreamed the whole horrible thing.