Remembrance, 1989: Thankful Thursday

I have been thinking a lot about the state of the world we are living in, and the things we experience collectively as a species on this earth. There are times that our experiences wrap us together in a family like no other, such as honor being bestowed upon our city, activism/protesting, and catastrophic terror attacks or natural emergencies.

I have been thinking about the Loma Prieta earthquake, 30 years ago today, and what it felt like to experience it.

The terror I still feel thinking about it hasn’t gone away, so I apologize from the bottom of my heart if these images and memories erupt painful memories for you as they do for me. I offer this as remembrance, to acknowledge what it felt like to be a member of the community of the Bay Area during that time, watching the fear, confusion and pain of our neighbors as we literally dug ourselves out of a hole, as well as the collective good in humanity that we got to experience afterward.

I had no idea how painful this is to me still until I was teaching 6th graders about geology 7 years ago, 23 years after this experience. I was showing them source documents and first-person accounts I’d collected online of the earthquake, and in the middle of my lesson I started to sweat, tingle and feel nauseated and dizzy. I quite certainly was going to faint if I didn’t stop associating with the details so closely. Luckily, the children had music class right after. When they returned I explained that I had just had an emotional event, and could not talk specifics about Loma Prieta any longer. I would be happy to answer general questions and we would continue to study the geology and seismology of this type of event. But I could not spend any more time reminiscing about it. They looked confused, but honored my request.

The night of this event, we were all set to watch the World Series on a tiny TV Will had set up on the cutting table at La Val’s. I had just clocked in and been assigned to take orders, and had just shut the drawer and the till started to shake. I thought I had pushed it too hard. Will was standing right behind me, making pizzas. Mashal was working on ovens. Julie was at the bar serving beer, and had just closed the case to the walk in when everything started to shake. She thought she’d hefted the door too hard. Big Al, just about to leave after working the day/prep shift said “EARTHQUAKE!” a fraction of a second before the entire world started twisting into fractals. The huge Hobart dough hooks above his head on the rack clanged and clanged. We had no where we could go, so we all just held on to the cutting table and prayed.

In comedic retellings of “where we were,” Will does a great bit about what the people on the patio looked like. He does the hand movements and everything. He noticed the people. I noticed Euclid Avenue, which was undulating like it was suddenly frosting, and God was painting it on in broad strokes. It was no longer solid, but like a wave. It was never funny to any of us, but sometimes terror makes us laugh, because the pain is, well, too much.

We closed the restaurant about 30 minutes later, because none of us could handle it, and no customers was there any more, anyway. We sat glued to the TV for news of anything, and the most we got was from Candlestick and the aftermath of the foiled World Series game 3. After 12 hours of TV and radio and trying to make sense of it all, we all went our ways and went to our apartments, upstairs from La Val’s.

My grateful is that I got to experience the coming together of our communities after this devastating, devastating earthquake. Oakland, in particular, was the site of so much carnage and death, yet people started smiling at each other more, and loving on each other just passing by in the supermarket. My grateful is that I know that in times like this, such as NYC after 9/11, or NOLA after Katrina, we always rise. Every time, we rise and dust off, and blot our tears and our blood, and we show up for ourselves, and for our loved ones.

About 6 months later, the city of Oakland had a “thankful” assembly of people in Oakland. My Uncle Cliff and Aunt Mary had me watch my then baby cousin Mary backstage while they performed for the event. Danny Glover eloquently spoke. Kitka, the incredible women’s acapella group from Oakland, performed. A month later, Will and I had our first date in SF, listening to Kitka. Many beautiful things happened after this horrific experience, and as we all know, life is a mix tape of beauty and pain.

I know there is so much in the news about how the “Bay Area is due for another BIG ONE.” But we are so much more prepared now than we were in 1989. The Bay Bridge is a whole new thing, secure and safer. Beloveds, please make sure you have some basic needs like water and first aid and some emergency food supplies. But please don’t spend your precious time here on earth focusing so hard on the possible emergency that you forget that you’re here, on this planet that is “hurling itself through space on its axis” (-Jen Sincero), and that YOU were chosen to be alive in this time, which is in of itself life’s hugest miracle.

Say a blessing. Light a candle. Give and receive grace. Never forget, yet never stop filling the world with your love.

Cypress Highway in Oakland, during the aftermath.

The Marina District in San Francisco

Emergency response to the collapsed section of the Bay Bridge
Response of the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s during the 1989 World Series

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