In 1989, I was working in the Visual Display department at Macy’s in downtown SF. We had a shop on the roof but we often worked outside on nice days.
We were getting ready for the Christmas season, which started in September, and I was painting the faces of some mannequins when they began to shake, almost falling off of the table that they were sitting on. I don’t even recall running to a doorway but just standing still in shock. The few of us on the roof just stood there hanging on to whatever we could and rode it out. I remember thinking, “Is it over yet? It’s got to be over soon.” It just felt like a long time.
When it stopped, I distinctly remember two things. My friends/colleagues immediately lighting up cigarettes to calm their nerves, and the naked couple standing in the window of a hotel nearby wondering who was rocking who.
The electricity never went back on in the Macy’s building after the quake and the generator didn’t work. So we all walked down the 9 or more flights of stairs in the dark and made our way out to Geary Street.
I was living in Oakland at that time and there was obviously no way that I was getting back home on Bart. I decided to walk to my brother’s house so started walking down 6th Street towards Harriet Street. There was a rupture of concrete zig-zagging down the middle of it- like the earth had ruptured and separated, which I suppose it did. That evening, we ended up at the Hotel Utah, the only drinking establishment open. Because there was no refrigeration, they had to get rid of their beer, and they had plenty of willing participants.
October 18th was my birthday. I spent the day riding my bike around the city with my then-boyfriend/now-husband. Glass windows blown out of the I-Magnin’s building and shattered all over the street, a strange sense of calm and quiet, giant cracks on concrete streets, so few cars and so many closed stores and shops were some of the memories that stand out to me. It was warm and eerie and the city was shut down in a way that I have never seen before to this day.
For many months following that quake, I had nightmares, waking up in the middle of the night thinking I had felt another.