Terror in the Tub

Courtney Warren

My arms and legs extended in total relaxation as I lay soaking up warmth and listening to the echo of the water. The oldest of four, I’d enjoyed the freedom of alone time in the bath for a few years by the time I was eight, and it wasn’t unusual that the rest of my family might be occupied in other parts of our house on Ames Avenue in Palo Alto. I was so absorbed in the experience, maybe because it began in such a small personal bubble, submerged and closed off from everything, that I don’t remember whether family members were even home during the event (later, I learned they were).

With no apparent transition, the water went from soothing to sloshing. I sat abruptly. Miniature tidal waves lapped at my chest while I froze in place, trying to process what was happening. “Earthquake” didn’t cross my mind. In school they taught us guidelines for how to respond, but what it would feel like to be in a big quake was beyond my comprehension. My heart thumped so hard that I was only aware of the water’s movement, and not the earth shaking it.

We weren’t especially religious, though my family occasionally went to church, and I’d attended a church-run preschool. Imagination filled in holes in my vague understanding of Heaven and Hell. I thought about religion often in relation to my grandpa, who’d died of cancer in my lifetime, my brother’s leukemia, and kids we met through Touchstone, a support group for families of children with life-threatening diseases. I was keenly aware that children aren’t immune to horrible things, and this dictated how I interpreted what happened. As the bath rocked me to and fro, it was a supernatural experience. I could’ve started believing in ghosts, or aliens, or become a religious fanatic. Without the experience to understand it, my mind leapt to the most logical conclusion it could piece together: God was angry, and the world was ending (years later, I learned that my mom screamed, “IT’S THE APOCALYPSE!” at my four-year-old sister).

The world is ending. I’m going to die. I have to get out of here. These thoughts were screaming in my mind as I scrambled out of the tub, dripping wet, and ran like hell out the bathroom door, around corners, and down the long, carpeted hallway toward the front door.

Blinding heat rushed to my head, my chest was pounding and I can’t remember now if the earth was still shaking then – adrenaline had kicked in and it didn’t matter. I still didn’t understand what was happening as I grabbed the knob, burst through the door and out into the street.

I stood, a fleshy white spot on the dark asphalt, taking in the unexpected calm. Here, it didn’t feel like the world was ending. Everything was still. Up and down the street, I could see others had come out, too. Most of their faces were far away and fuzzy, but, like me, they stood quietly, looking around.

The dense, eerie silence crept through my veins and slowed my racing heart. Neighbors milled about along the road – dazed, but unhurt. I looked down at my body, confirming my continued existence, and relief and clarity washed over me. I was naked in the street, with all the neighbors there to see it, but I was alive.

Dumbarton Bridge

Michael Tebow

I was young during the Loma Prieta Quake. Turned 7 that year. My family lived in Newark, in the East Bay towards the south end of the bay. There was 6 of us total, mom and dad, my older sister, older brother, me and then my younger sister. All us siblings were two years apart, so you can imagine the crap my mother had to deal with. My mother grew up in Palo Alto, so most of our time was spent there, including doctors and dentists appointments. That day was a Tuesday; we were all headed back to Newark from the dentist. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, so a day spent with all of us was very stressful.

We were on 101 almost to the exit to get into 84 and make our way across the Dumbarton Bridge and head back to Newark. My mom was upset about the noise we were making and then felt her car shake. She cursed and pulled over and at the same time noticing a motorcyclist and other motorists pulling over as well. I think she all at once realized what was happening. As a California/Bay Area native she had felt earthquakes before, and having seen no damage in our immediate area, she pulled back onto the freeway and we continued home.

Not long after we got over the bridge did my mother realize how large and potentially deadly this earthquake had been for her four children. The KGO transmission towers that were a symbol to us kids as “we’re almost home” had been heavily damaged. My mother’s first thought was that she just took her four young kids over a bridge that might had been damaged as well. She later realized that the bridge was closed to traffic soon after we made it across. Mostly because of the severe damage to the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge.

We made it home without a scratch and realized the full destructive power of the earthquake. Our house was fine except for some cracked sheetrock and a few pictures that had fallen. Watching the news, we knew that we were extremely lucky.

KGO towers 1989

Stanford Co-op Playground

Lindsey T

I was 3 years old, in preschool at a family co-op on the Stanford Campus. At the time of the earthquake I was on the rickety, wooden deathtrap of a play structure that sagged when too many kids were on it at once and in retrospect shouldn’t have been able to withstand a strong wind, much less a 5.9 earthquake. (Unsurprisingly, in the ’80s everyone was less concerned with safety.) Like so many play structures, it was built to resemble a castle, and the vertical poles that held it up were carved into gentle points at the top – all the better for defending against an imaginary siege, perhaps.

When the shaking started I was on the top level of the castle, getting ready to go down the slide. I don’t remember being afraid or having any awareness that something major was happening, but I do have the most vivid visual memory of my pudgy baby hands grasping the poles on either side of the slide, and watching them sway in front of me.

In my mom’s retelling, she was so worried about finding me bewildered and traumatized by the event. After all, at 3 years old it’s a lot to make sense of. But by the time she made it from her office across campus to the co-op to pick me up, I was back on the slide, shrieking with glee. All in a day’s adventure at the castle, I guess.

Acorn Signs

Nobe Hendricsen

The strongest earthquake in area since 1906 and here we were. What a scare! It was 5:00 pm but we were still working at Acorn Signs, my shop on San Antonio Road in Palo Alto.

My husband Howard had called to say he was getting a massage and would swing by my shop after his massage so we could go to dinner. During his massage, he thought a train was going by but once he realized what it was, it was every man for himself! He jumped up and rushed to the doorway blocking any escape for the poor masseuse!

In the meantime, all power was off at Acorn and I tried to get info on the car radio but couldn’t get any news. Son Bill in Phoenix called to see if we were OK  and relayed what he was watching on TV regarding the damage, including the collapse of the span on the top deck of the Bay Bridge.

We had minimal problems in our home. Strange that the shaking had knocked spice bottles to the counter, but had somehow opened the cupboards, dumped the bottles and then closed again. Friend Robin’s parents’ condo in Los Gatos was in shambles. Large pieces of furniture went flying. Her mother, who had taken the day off and was in bed due to illness, had the scare of her life when their large armoire came crashing down at the foot of her bed. The kitchen floor was covered with all the broken china and glassware that flew out of the cupboards.