5:04 PM, October 17, 1989 – 23 years later

image courtesy of Wikipedia

23 years ago, I had tickets to Game 3 of the World Series. It was the San Francisco Giants vs. The Oakland A’s. There are a few things in life that you’ll never forget, and going to a World Series game is probably one of them. Yet, that is not what I remember the date for, it was 23 years ago today that I was in a major earthquake.

I moved to the Bay Area in 1987 and B moved out there a couple of years later in ’89. She worked for Macy’s in the electronics buying office for the west coast. I loved baseball and I enjoyed watching games on TV. It was BK, before kids, heck, it was before married and we had a lot more time to watch baseball games and go to the ballpark. We had been to several games that season – we had seen the A’s play at home and the Giants, too. One of her vendors, I believe Sony, had given her tickets to the League Championship series and we’d watched the Giants beat the Cubs in Candlestick Park. We were both excited when she got tickets to Game 3 of the World Series and we made plans to meet in the city before the game.

B worked in downtown San Francisco and I worked in the East Bay in Pleasanton. This was a ‘million years’ before I decided to become a teacher and I managed a restaurant. I remember it was a beautiful sunny day in northern California and I was late getting out of work, I was always late, and I still am. I had packed a couple of to go boxes for the two of us to eat before the game. I was in a hurry to make it to the BART station in San Leandro to catch the train and make the game on time. Normally, I would have driven but we decided that because it would be rush hour traffic; and since she was already downtown with her car, it would be much easier for me to take the train and to meet. Our plan was for her to meet me in Daly City, the last stop on the line. I was late and missed the train, fortunately another train came half hour alter and I was able to catch it. I read the paper and caught up on the World Series hoopla while the train took me under San Francisco Bay bringing me closer to my first World Series. I was late and I didn’t have a cell phone nor did she; neither of us had a way to get a hold of each other, we just knew we would meet at the station and then ride to Candlestick.

When the train reached Daly City, I grabbed my bags and my food and walked down the platform to the exit. Sure enough, she was there to meet me. I got an earful, I was late, and we would probably miss the first pitch. It was close to five and missing the train had cost us the chance to see the first pitch. It was going to be close if we were to make it to the game on time.

I had brought a change of clothes and we were getting ready to get in the car, when the Earth moved, violently. It seemed like it moved forever, in slow motion. I can close my eyes and see a traffic signal whipping wildly about and hearing a high-pitched grinding sound. We were both startled and scared. We knew we had just been in an earthquake, but we had no idea how bad it really was.

We hopped in the car and tuned in to KCBS –  740 AM to get the news. It was sketchy at first; the news was it had been a strong earthquake, but no magnitude or damage reports. It was only a couple of miles to the park, but the electricity was out and all the traffic lights were out. Traffic crawled and folks were out on the street hollering about the damage, one guy shouted that his china cabinet had fallen in his apartment. We got good news that the game had been delayed and we kept driving. Then we saw the blimp, which had been hovering over Candlestick, begin to fly away. That was when we knew, it was bad. Then there were reports of damage and fires in the Marina District in San Francisco. Then, the Bay Bridge, and something called the Cypress Structure had collapsed. By the time we reached the ballpark, people were streaming out and into the parking lot and we learned the game was postponed. We changed course and headed home, or tried to; electricity was out across the region – no traffic lights, no lights in houses, and no way to pump gas.

Slowly we made our way to the highway. Hundreds of other people had the same idea, the roads were clogged and all of the bridges were closed. The Bay Bridge had been damaged, and it would remain closed for a month, there was only one way off the peninsula and back to the East Bay where we lived. We pulled over at gas station that had power gassed up and tried to make a phone call from a pay phone. I got in one booth and she got in the other – we both called home. Our parents knew we were going to the game – I called Houston and she called Ohio, the goal was to reach some one and then have them call the other’s family. Miraculously, we both got through. Her parents, solid Midwesterners -where the ground is as solid as their values, had been watching and were worried sick. It calmed us both to know that our families knew we were safe.

At that point, our day changed and we changed the life of a complete stranger, forever. Coming out of the phone booth, a man approached us and he explained he was out of gas and he and his daughter needed to get back to the East Bay, could we help? The two had been riding and he had their saddle and a tack bag. We loaded their stuff in the car, climbed in, and drove south. This is where my memory gets fuzzy and the details are lost, but it was a long drive. Normally, it would have taken an hour, maybe ninety minutes, tops. However, that drive took us five hours. We had to detour off a highway because the pavement had buckled. The further we got away the city, the faster the traffic went. Eventually, we got home. Along the way, we had stopped and been able to find gas; our riders had made a call and set up a pick up point. I don’t remember his name, or his daughter’s, just that he was nice, his daughter was quiet, and it was calming to share our ride. He offered us gas money and we declined, it was the right thing to do. We dropped them off and drove home.

B’s apartment had no damage, save for a small water leak. I called my restaurant and heard we had no damage, either. We had just lost power and closed early. It was mess and I’d deal with it the morning.

I sat down and watched the news, flipping between local and CNN. What I had heard on the radio became clear, as I watched the news reports and horrible images of the stricken city. I sat and stared in disbelief. It was bad, but it could have been much worse. If I had driven, I would have taken the highway that collapsed, or been on the Bay Bridge when the quake struck, or many other possibilities. The quake was magnitude 7.1, almost the same strength as the one that decimated Haiti in January 2010.

That was twenty-three years ago tonight. It seems like just the other day. Within a year, B and I would move to Texas, and then in another, we would move home to the Midwest and get married. It’s where we now live. I still have a few friends from that time, but mainly just memories. We did make it to the game, ten days later. The A’s stomped the Giants on a cold October night and took Game 4 the next night sweeping the Giants. I have seen a World Series, but that’s not what I remember. Making the days Count, one memory at a time.

What is a sporting event that you remember and not for the sport?

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4 thoughts on “5:04 PM, October 17, 1989 – 23 years later

  1. Can you imagine, Clayton…had you not changed the schedule at work…I would have been on the Bay Bridge coming home. Instead, I was already at home and able to know that my family were all safe. God is good : )

    1. Many things fell into place that terrible afternoon. I’ve thought about it for years, it still amazes me that loss of life was relatively low. However, to the families who lost a loved one it was too high. God was certainly evident that day.

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