When the quake hit, I was studying in the library at SFSU. I felt the first slight shaking, and wondered if it was an earthquake, but as it got stronger, I knew that it was. The lesson of many years of California elementary school earthquake drills kicked in, and I dove under the heavy library table. Seconds later, shelves were jumping up and down and books were falling down all around me. I was horrified as the thought came to mind—“I’m in the old part of the library!” Fortunately, the structure held, and when the shaking stopped, I looked out from under the table. The piles of fallen books had released decades of accumulated dust, and a cloud was slowly rising to the ceiling. I’d never realized that old books were so grimy.
Afterwards, I had to make my way back home to the Mission. Because of the power outages, all electrified transportation was out of service—no Muni, no trolleys. So I started walking home. By the time I made it to the Inner Sunset, it was getting dark, and the bars were starting to fill up. I peeked through the window of the Little Shamrock on Lincoln & 9th, and saw brief images of the fire in the Marina and the collapsed deck of the Bay Bridge. Then the power went out, and I kept walking.
By the time I made it to the Castro, it was dark and the bars were packed. Everyone knew it was a huge event, and the folks of the Castro are never ones to pass up an opportunity to throw a party. There was a sense of both revelry and generosity–the Walgreens had closed, but the manager and employees were standing in front of the store, handing out free batteries and flashlights to whoever wanted them. It was festive and joyous. The rest of my walk was quiet and uneventful. When I got back to my apartment on Oakwood Street, it was dark—the power was still out, but was restored within an hour.
At Galería de la Raza at 24th Street and Bryant, I don’t remember the sound but clearly remember the floor of Studio 24 rolling like waves at the beach under my feet. The shelves that ran half the length of the store loaded with Mexican glassware and ceramics lifted and dipped with each wave. The drinking glasses, pitchers, candlestick holders, figurines, dishes, and cups, levitated and gently fell back on their respective shelves shifting slightly as they landed. Very little broke, because the earthquake seemingly rolled down Bryant Street. Had it arrived perpendicularly down 24th Street, I‘m sure the shelves would have tipped over and everything would have spilled creating a carpet of sharp glass and clay shards at our feet. I stood hanging on to one of the pillars, Umberto at another. In my nervousness I just babbled calmly about mundane things unrelated to the violent shaking.
When it stopped I called my parents in Chicago from the payphone on the corner to tell them I was okay and asked them to tell Susie I was safe when she called since I called first. This out-of-state call-in procedure was one of the few disaster preparations we had arranged. My mom told me the Bay Bridge was broken. Realizing I wasn’t going to make it home to Berkeley until the next day, I walked the four blocks to Ray’s house in Balmy Alley. Frank and Nora arrived seeking refuge too. I took a romantic photo of them in Ray’s doorway illuminated by car headlights as night arrived early in the Mission; the streetlights and houselights dark without electricity. The car radio told us the Cypress freeway collapsed in Oakland. We opened bottles of Gundlach-Bunschu wine from Sonoma, toasting our good fortune. We made a plan to wake up early if the power was restored to get to the ATM machine before the money ran out. I fell asleep on Ray’s couch.
I was working a temp job on the 12th floor of a downtown office on Spear Street, and had just gotten off work. I caught the 14 Mission bus to go to the café on Valencia Street where my sister worked, but accidentally boarded the express one, which was headed towards Daly City. I couldn’t get off before the freeway so I was standing in the crowded bus, holding the rail over my head, looking out the window and lamenting how much longer it was going to take me to get home.
We were stopped, waiting for a light, and then the bus kind of rolled and it sounded like metal on metal, I figured we were having an accident on the side I couldn’t see. It seemed like a car was scraping against the bus. But then I could also see a guy who had been asleep in his car– he woke up and was all startled. I was wondering about the connection because his car wasn’t touching the bus, then people started saying “Earthquake”, “That was an earthquake!”
We sat there for a few minutes, then got on the freeway anyway, business as usual. I got off as soon as I could, in the way outer Mission. Around then, all the buses stopped running, so there was no way to get back. This was before cell phones, so I started walking to the Mission. As it happened, this guy I know, Dave Cohen, happened to be driving by and gave me a ride home. That was pretty lucky! That’s when I started to hear about how much damage there was.