When the Hayward fault acted up recently, I remembered my experience of the Loma Prieta quake in 1989.
Two days after I had moved to California and a half-hour after I’d left the Chevron gas station in the Marina District, I walked into my new apartment in Sausalito and came face to face with my first earthquake.
My new home started to shake as I stepped over the threshold. Technically, it was more of a roll. There arose such a clatter, I ran outside to see what was the matter. I remember thinking, Omigod! I’m in a Christmas book. Seriously, I learned later that earthquakes have different signatures. Loma Prieta was a “roller.”
As an earthquake newbie, I didn’t know I was supposed to hide under the heavy dining room table, which hadn’t arrived yet. Solid ground, even if less than solid at that moment, seemed my best bet. I stood outside my house and looked into the sky for some solace.
Then I met Candida. Tall, blond Candida and her short, brunette boyfriend, David, lived in the look-alike house next door. They, too, were standing outside and confirmed we’d just had an earthquake. After introductions, we all retreated into our kitchens, grabbed cold beers, and returned outside for a porch-to-porch conversation.
Moments later, I saw my beer glass shaking on the porch railing, but I didn’t feel anything. That was how I learned about quake thresholds, the level of intensity when you notice something’s not right. My threshold is in the 6.0 range.
The Loma Prieta quake measured 6.9 on the Richter scale. I don’t know why journalists always mention this. It’s not like there’s also an H.R. Pufnstuf
scale and readers get confused. But as it’s a very journalistic thing to do, that’s what I’ll do.
The earthquake wasn’t too scary. I mean I didn’t throw up or anything as I was 65 miles away from the epicenter and cushioned by the tons of bedrock my new hometown perched on.
After the quake rolled away, I called my mother in New York, which turned out to be a good idea. She was in a state of panic from the TV coverage shown in the East. With limited footage available, CNN put the collapse of the Bay Bridge on a continuous loop. After 10 minutes, East Coast observers assumed the entire city had crumbled.
I got through to my mother immediately. It was people calling in to California to check on loved ones who got jammed up in the Ma Bell queue. There were a lot more folks calling in than calling out. Apparently everybody here, except me, had more important things to do than chat.
Now my mother calls once a month, what I call the aftershock. The conversation is always the same.
“How are you?”
“I wondered if you had any damage from the earthquake.”
“It was on CNN. Earthquake in California.” Then I’d remember.
“Mother, that was a 3.5 quake and it was in San Diego, which is 500 hundred miles away.“
I’ve explained to my mother that we have dozens of small earthquakes daily in California, but after 22 years, that information still hasn’t reached whatever brain lobe is responsible for comprehension. Fortunately, mother doesn’t subscribe to the San Francisco Chronicle, which lists every earthquake in the Bay Area.
After I calmed my mother, I returned to the porch. David was yelling. “Candida, put some clothes on!” He was yelling because the vacuum was making too much noise. Expecting the Really Big One might come any minute, Candida had taken a shower — “while the plumbing still worked” — and wanted her house to look clean. I classified her need as a corollary to the always-wear-clean-underwear injunction drilled into young girls in case they are ever in an accident.
For some unknown reason, I seem to have better recall of the Candida incident than the earthquake itself though I do remember standing on my survivor porch at the end of the evening and thinking “I’m living in California now and she certainly has gotten my full attention.”
This Week’s Ponder: Is it true that everyone has a photographic memory, but some just don’t have film?