Like walking on a terrible Tilt-a-Whirl: Loma Prieta at age 8

A friend, then a KCBS Radio reporter, recently shared how “life in the Bay Area stood still for days” in the aftermath of the Loma Prieta earthquake, which shook Northern California 28 years ago today.

On Oct. 17, 2017, fires ravage our northern neighbors and ash dusts our windowsills and sneaks into our lungs. Thousands are impacted by the literal loss of life and property as a sense of loss and anxiety hovers over the region—just as it did nearly three decades ago. But as one disaster seems to follow another in 2017, I’m thinking today of our ability to come together when shit gets really, really bad.

I turned eight two days before Oct. 17, 1989, in time for my first and, so far, only experience in a massive quake. At 5:04 p.m., I was sitting on my couch in South San Francisco, flipping between reruns of Silver Spoons and the Giants-A’s World Series pregame. Everyone at my elementary school wanted the Giants to win, so, of course, I did, too.

My dad had just come home from work and the little girl my mom babysat was eating a snack. The metal windows in our ’70s condo started rattling slightly, and the sounds of vibrating porcelain knick knacks quickly followed suit.

Instead of a shudder that rippled through the house and then stopped, the rattling sounds combined audibly and sickeningly with a rumble I imagined was like thunder—I hadn’t really experienced that, either.

It was like walking on a terrible Tilt-a-Whirl, being unable to get myself in a straight line from the couch to where my dad was losing balance in a doorway.

After everything stopped moving, we spilled into my street in the Westborough neighborhood of town, along with all of our neighbors. Every single person backed into the middle of the street, facing our houses, expecting them to fall down right in front of us.

I was terrified to cross the eastbound span of the Bay Bridge for months, which we did pretty regularly—kid logic concluded that being on the upper deck meant we had a greater chance of living if we fell into the lower one vs. into the Bay. Oddly enough, I was driving on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge during the next-largest earthquake to hit the Bay Area nearly two decades later.

I and many others I knew were lucky. As Diana’s story reminded me, 42 people lost their lives in the Cypress Structure alone. Had I been a digital-era adult when this happened, I wonder if I’d have had a heightened capacity to understand and collectively grieve those losses, while also feeling the impact of communities coming together in the time of need. My world was much smaller then; I think it was smaller for all of us, whether we were one or 100 in 1989. As I scroll through my news sources and friend feeds on the tiny computer in my pocket, I am glad to see plenty of evidence that the Bay Area is still in it together.

Pic by sanbeiji on Flickr.

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