I was on the 54-Felton during the 1989 earthquake

jenifer wofford muni illustration
Illustration by Jenifer Wofford

Do you remember where you were when the big one hit in 1989? Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, and Jenifer Wofford
of Earthquake Weather has been gathering stories about the quake. Stories on her site are accompanied by her wonderful illustrations such as the one above. San Franciscan Gabe Wachob happened to be riding the 54-Felton that fateful evening. Here’s his story.

On the evening of Oct 17, 1989, I was a 16 year old senior at Lick-Wilmerding High School. When the earthquake hit, I was on the 54 Felton on my way home after a late day at school (why I was going home at 5, I don’t remember). It was a normal day, except abnormally hot as we all know, except about 2 minutes after we crossed Mission (on Persia), while at a stop, someone started trying to tip the old bus over. Or so we thought. It was a strange experience – those old diesel buses were not exactly lightweight… When I looked up (during the shaking) I saw “standing waves” in the electricity lines above. I knew it was an earthquake.

The bus continued on the route – I don’t think we knew the magnitude of what had happened. It was clear, as we continued on, that it was a serious event, however. Driving through a part of town with 2 story stucco-d houses with garages on the first floor, we could see big cracks in the stucco around almost every garage.

It was *really* hot when I got home, and my parents and my grandfather (visiting from Bakersfield) were at Candlestick for game one of the World Series – it was a strange day, earthquake or not.

No major damage (though I distinctly remember a shelf speaker had fallen neatly in a garbage can – of all the random memories I have). So here I was, an only child, experiencing the earthquake (and more importantly, the big aftershocks by myself) while my family was stuck at Candlestick. This was before cell phones – so I had no idea what was going on. You couldn’t even make an outbound call without waiting 30 seconds for a dial-tone. The power was out, people came out on the street (which, for my neighborhood, was extremely rare). But strangely I wasn’t scared. I was in a six-hour adrenaline rush that night.

We were lucky – by the next morning, the power was on, no interruption in water or gas service, etc. I spent the next couple of days hanging out with friends surveying the damage (school had been cancelled for a few days). I remember going to the Marina and trying to get on the national news reports by walking back and forth behind the live reporters, because thats what teenagers would do, of course.

Everything was exciting – it was probably a great time in my life to experience this – as a teenager, with relatively few concerns, but old enough to realize the magnitude of what happened, and the appreciate that I had lived through something historic, and survived. To this day, I still feel an adrenaline rush every time a truck rolls by and shakes the street… and yet I still slack on the earthquake prep kit. DOH!

Postscript: As a side note, at the time of the quake, I was just getting my driver’s license, and had not gotten a chance to drive across the Bay Bridge. When the bay bridge was repaired and re-opened about a month after the quake, I ended up driving across the Bay Bridge for my very first time about 20 minutes after re-opening. I now always feel a special connection with that bridge…but I’m glad they finally replaced it.

You can tell Jenifer your own earthquake story by submitting it on 1989Quake.com. We’ll bring you another amazing Muni earthquake story tomorrow.

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