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Twenty years ago today, the earth shook violently in San Francisco. The death toll was 62, 3757 people were injured and property damage exceeded eight billion dollars.

I lived in Sacramento at the time but just happened to be in San Francisco that day! Here is my journal entry written several days later:

Friday, October 20, 1989

We were in San Francisco on the fateful earthquake day of October 17th, 1989. We were in the City for appointments with a nutritionist that a friend had recommended.

We were done by 4 P.M., and decided to have an early dinner at the nearby Middle Eastern restaurant “La Mediterranee” on Noe St. before heading back to Sacramento.

Carl [a previous partner] & I were the only customers eating at that “in-between” hour, and had nearly finished the delicious meal when the earthquake struck! Our table started to shake vigorously which made it difficult to dip the “baba ganoush” into my mouth. The glasses behind the bar rattled and the floor swayed and buckled as the earth made curious roaring, rumbling sounds. The first shock was immediately followed by a heavier second one, whereupon Carl leaped from his chair, grabbed my knapsack and scurried to the front door. He tripped over himself in panic and knocked into a table on his way out, which crashed to the floor with a shower of glass.

I was surprisingly calm and walked out of the place as the earth continued to shake. Carl went into the street but ran back to grab my arm as I emerged, cautioning me about the possibility of flying glass from the front window. Carl was extremely upset and I wasn’t at all, for some reason. Mother Nature was doing her number and I couldn’t do anything about it – if I was supposed to die, well, then it was time to go…..I found myself fascinated by the whole thing.

Later, however, the gravity of the disaster sank in, and I apologized to Carl for criticizing his strong reactions to the quake.

We stood in front of the restaurant as the shaking stopped, and the entire city was shocked into silence for a moment. Then it erupted into screams and sirens and general pandemonium, which continued into the night.

Carl wanted to leave without paying for our dinner, which surprised me; he’s usually so honest. I still had another appetizer and half a beer to finish, so I went back into the restaurant to eat and pay the bill. The waitresses and cooks also went back inside, where they commented how this was the strongest quake they had ever experienced in the City. Carl, meanwhile, thought I was completely crazy to go back into the building, and paced nervously up and down the sidewalk. The restaurant didn’t suffer any damage that I could see; our food was still on the table and all pictures and ornaments were still on the walls. The only broken items were from Carl’s encounter with the front table; I thought it wryly amusing that he caused more damage to the restaurant than the quake had.

Of course, the power was off and the waitress couldn’t use the cash register, but the bill came to exactly $20 and she threw in the beer for free. I handed her the money and wished her luck. She laughed and replied, “I bet you didn’t think this visit would be so….eventful, huh?” I agreed with her.

I went outside and found Carl, and we decided to walk the three blocks up Noe St. to his parked car, sit inside and listen to the radio. We felt several strong aftershocks as the various reports of damage throughout the Bay Area trickled in. We watched people walking across the nearby intersection holding radios to their ears and open bottles of beer to their mouths, eyes glazed in shock from those fifteen seconds of Nature shaking her booty. I found it difficult to conceive of the quake’s powerful effect. How could something which lasted only a few seconds wreak such havoc?

The radio soon reported the horrible collapse of the Bay Bridge section and mile of Nimitz Freeway, along with the fires springing up in the Marina area. 60,000 baseball fans waited in Candlestick Park for the third game of the World Series to begin. Carl laughed, remarking how ludicrous it was for people to think about baseball at a time like this.

We sat in the car for over an hour listening to the news, then saw the nutritionist Irene passing by (since her apartment was down the block). Carl flagged her down to ask if we could hang out at her apartment while deciding what to do next, and Irene said, “Sure, join the crowd.”  She had been with two women clients when the quake hit, and I quipped, “They really got an earth-shaking nutritional reading today, didn’t they?”

Carl had no intention of trying to get back to Sacramento that night, so I suggested phoning my friend Paul to see if we could stay at his place. Luckily, the quake hadn’t seriously damaged the City’s phone system, so we were able to get through to Paul after waiting 20 seconds for a dial-tone. I told him that Carl & I would drive there after the heavy traffic had abated somewhat.

Irene’s upstairs apartment hadn’t suffered damage except for an overturned bookshelf. She left to check on some neighbors, so the two women clients sat with Carl & me on the front steps. That particular neighborhood of Noe St. just north of Market seemed fine, although the power was off. We watched the news on Irene’s next-door neighbor’s battery-operated TV, grimacing in horror as we saw the collapsed section of Oakland’s highway 880. Many folks congregated on the sidewalk in front of the neighbor’s tiny TV, many of them were in a mild form of shock. I realized that I must have been in a similar condition to have downplayed my reactions to the quake as I did when it was happening, for it was really quite a serious event. It hit me hard later.

It was soon dark —  very dark without electricity. We sat on the front steps and watched the groups of people walking by with flashlights and radios and candles.  Someone warned us that they had heard on TV that scientists were predicting a strong aftershock in about 45 minutes. One agreeable result of no electricity: the stars could be seen shining brightly in a clear sky. Luckily, temperatures were mild that night, after an unusually warm day.

Irene came back and went upstairs to her fridge, and brought down fruit popsicles for the gang. Carl & I thanked her for everything, then decided to drive to Paul’s. Carl allowed me to drive, and after looking carefully at a map determined the best way to go: south on Dolores, which turned into San Jose, on to Monterey and then to Paul’s on Staples. Traffic was light at 9 P.M. and we arrived safely. Amazingly, that part of the city had electricity; Paul & Liza said that the power had just come on five minutes before we got there.

Their house suffered no structural damage as far as they could tell — even their kitchen, an addition to the original house, was fine. Paul was in that room when the quake hit; only a few champagne and wine glasses crashed to the floor from a shelf.  He could hear things shattering in the livingroom, however, and discovered that Liza’s large grandfather clock had tumbled to the floor. Clay pots and knick-knacks on the mantel had fallen, but were cushioned by landing on the fireplace screen which had tipped over. A couple of pictures jumped off the walls, and that was the extent of the damage at Paul & Liza’s.

Liza, meanwhile, was on a MUNI train which had just arrived at the station where she usually gets off after work. No-one on the train actually felt the quake, and wondered why everything came to a grinding halt. Finally, an announcement was made about the quake; MUNI would follow “standard procedure” — sitting tight for the moment. The train hadn’t pulled into the station completely, so everyone evacuated from the front car. All sorts of wild thoughts went through Liza’s mind as she hurried home, and arrived to find that Paul had nearly finished cleaning up the mess. Relief!

By the time that Carl & I arrived, Liza had consumed a couple bottles of white wine and was feeling no pain. I decided to join her. It was wonderful to see Paul & Liza again, even under such bizarre circumstances, and we had much news to catch up on.

Liza reported that the San Francisco Opera House suffered extensive damage; the new additional building (behind the older, main section) had separated from it! So the current opera has been cancelled (and probably the rest of the season) as Management attempts to assess the damage. I asked what happens to the musicians, and Liza replied that everyone’s insured.

Everyone except me went to bed around midnight; I stayed up watching the news on TV, which was fascinating. As the hours went by, the quake information became more comprehensive. The news anchors did a wonderful job of on-the-spot reporting; they were very professional. Finally, at 3 A.M. I went to bed.

We slept late until 11. Paul had already returned from taking Liza to the airport, and he fixed us a delicious breakfast of pancakes and scrambled eggs.

Carl & I headed back to Sacramento at 1 o’clock. We had to figure out a good way to get to the Golden Gate Bridge; 19th Ave. was closed. We ended up driving along the ocean road, which eventually led us to the bridge. We breathed sighs of relief after successfully crossing the Golden Gate….then headed up Hwy. 101 to #37 to Vallejo and Hwy. 80. It was another unusually hot day, strange & oppressive.

We arrived in Sacramento at 3 P.M., two hours after leaving S.F. It was definitely a relief to be home, and we have spent many hours sleeping these past two days.

*     *     *     *     *

One of the things which strikes me the most, reading over this journal entry from twenty years ago, is that the earthquake itself lasted only the few seconds, but the aftermath lingered for much, much longer. For years — even to the present day.

Thanks, Catherine, for tagging me with this meme.


Four Jobs I have Had
Four Shows I have been to
Four Cars I have had
Four favorite Foods

It was fun to write about these things, which brought back lots of memories. I hope that it’s reasonably interesting to read.

Four Jobs I have Had

The first job I ever had was at the age of 13, delivering the Sacramento Bee. The year was 1967, and the monthly subscription had just risen from $2.25 to $2.50 when I started. I took a lot of heat from my subscribers, as though somehow *I* was responsible for the price-hike.

It was actually a great job. I delivered papers from my bike, and the route was in my own neighborhood. I got very good at throwing the papers exactly where the customers wanted them.

I did have various run-ins with dogs but nothing which sent me to the hospital.

The only downside of being a paperboy was having to collect. It was amazing what lengths the customers would go to, to avoid payment!

I had that job for just over a year, and then we moved across the country to Alexandria, VA.

(Three years later, I delivered the Washington Post in my own apartment complex where I used a shopping cart, but I won’t count that as one of the jobs here.)

Job #2: The Village Inn Pizza parlor in Alexandria, VA. I first took this job as a high school senior and then came back to work summers while in college.

I started as a dishwasher in the back kitchen but soon aspired to “move up” to the front kitchen to make pizzas, roll out dough and watch the ovens. Being a dishwasher had absolutely no prestige; I yearned for notoriety and accolades “up front” working with the elite employees. At least they thought they were cool, and I very much wanted to be a part of the In-Group.

Well, when I finally got there it wasn’t all that fun. Some of the co-workers turned out to be bastards, difficult to work with. The customers were often drunk and rude. The ovens were blazing hot; frequently my arms and hands got burned on the doors. I periodically got my long, thin, “artistic” fingers jammed in the dough roll-out machine.

I didn’t mind making pizzas so much; I became very adept at it. I also was famous for my sandwiches, which customers clamored for. I think it was the excessive mayo I slathered on (see favorite foods below).

I rather enjoyed working the front cash register, except for the high-maintenance customers. I liked checking out the men, especially the sailors in their tight whites. Ooops.

But if I had that job to do over again, I would have stayed a dishwasher. I didn’t have to deal with the public in the back kitchen; it was cooler, and I could listen to the radio. I had slow periods in which I could kick back, in-between “rushes”. I didn’t know how good I had it until I moved up to that hot, hectic front kitchen!

That was a valuable lesson.

Village Inn Pizza Parlor really merits a long post of its own. Perhaps someday. A lot of things happened over the course of my time there, from 1971 through 1976 when I finally graduated college. That job spanned my formative years, in fact.

(At the end of that Bicentennial summer, I won my first orchestral position with the Nashville Symphony, and moved to Tennessee.)

Job #3 was at Waxie-Maxie’s record store in Alexandria, VA from June through August of 1973, which was also the first summer I worked at the pizza parlor. I was 19 and had just completed my freshman year in college. The record store was right down the street from the pizza place, close to my parents’ apartment, so it was easy to do both jobs.

The record store was more part-time than the pizza parlor; I worked there from 10 to 3 and then walked over to Village Inn at 5. I often ended up working double-shifts and didn’t get home until 2 a.m.

My mother was a night-owl and was often awake when I opened the apartment door. “Mmmm, you smell like pizza!” she always said. On many occasions I’d bring the kitchen mistakes home; I’m surprised that we didn’t get as big as a house eating all those carbs in the middle of the night.

At the record store, I spent most of my time at the cash register. The top selling albums of the Summer of ’73 were Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions”, the Allman Brothers with the song “Jessica”, and the most popular of all was Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On”. We couldn’t stock the record bins fast enough.

As an employee, I took advantage of a sizeable record discount. I amassed a HUGE collection of 45s from the summer of ’73, which I finally put on cassettes in 1980.

In 1984 I got rid of the 45s and now wish I hadn’t. There’s just something about records which bring back memories in a way that digital doesn’t.

The fourth and last job I’ll relate is one of the symphony orchestras I played in, “La Orquesta Sinfónica del Estado de México”, based in the capital city of Toluca in the state of Mexico, which surrounds the Federal District of Mexico City.

To truly document this job would require many posts. It was quite an interesting experience to work in a foreign country for four years. I arrived in Mexico at age 24 and left when I was 28 (1979-82). The musicians of this orchestra hailed from all over the globe; there were very few Mexicans! Many of the musicians came from Central and South America, there was an exotic contingent from Russia and eastern Europe, several from the UK, France and Spain, and quite a few from the United States.

We toured the US several times (low-budget, many adventures), as well as in Mexico (even more outrageous adventures!), and we did a number of recordings. We played a lot of repertoire, and the orchestra was quite good. In fact, I still consider it to be the best orchestra I’ve played in over the course of my 32-year career.

Four Shows I have been to

1. Seals & Crofts in 1974, in the Fieldhouse at the University of Cincinnati while attending school there. Large glitter-balls hung from the ceiling, which sparkled with thousands of points of light as the band played “Diamond Girl”. I was amazed to see how many people smoked grass at the concert. I thought that was pretty brazen in a public place, with cops standing not too far away at the exits. But they casually turned the other cheek, and of course they didn’t inhale.

2. “Children of a lesser God” on Broadway on the night of December 8, 1980. It starred John Rubenstein and Phyllis Freilich, two excellent actors. After the show, my “date” and I took the subway back to his apartment on the Upper West Side. As soon as we arrived, we heard that John Lennon had just been shot! We traced the time of assault and determined that we had been on the subway passing by his neighborhood at the exact moment he was killed.

3. Genesis in 1983 at the Concord Pavilion in the SF Bay area. Of course Phil Collins stole the show; it was pretty much centered on him by then, anyway. My seat was so far from the stage, it might as well have been in another time-zone.

4. “Angels in America” in 1994, again on Broadway. I was on an East coast vacation from Sacramento with my partner at the time, Ken. We saw Part I on a matinee and then Part II in the evening. It was an extremely long, but moving production.

Four Cars I have had

My first car was a beige 1971 Volkswagen Super Beetle. It cost $1400 used in 1976; my dad paid for half as a college graduation present. It was my ONLY car for the next seventeen years! It carried me through my years in Nashville, Mexico and then Sacramento; numerous cross-country trips and some in Mexico. I finally sold it in 1993 when Ken sold me his spare vehicle, a Mazda pickup truck, which was…

…Car #2. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven driving the used 1989 Mazda truck (in that ubiquitous late-80s metallic sky blue hue). It was a lot smoother and quieter than my trusty old VW! I used it for my remaining years in Sacramento, then took it on the road with Phantom of the Opera in 1997. Just before I left, a friend built a platform in the truck bed with storage space underneath. I put a futon on top. Not only could I bring a lot of junk with me on tour, I slept at rest stops when I got tired driving from city to city.

Nine months into the tour, I met James. He joined me on the road and we traveled in this vehicle together until September 1998, at which point we bought Car #3 in St. Louis, a big honking brand-new white Chevy Suburban to tow our recently-acquired Airstream travel trailer.

This was my first new car! What a dream it was to drive and ride in, although such a tank! It did its work very well, towing the Airstream trailer all over the USA for seven eventful years.

Then on July 4, 2005 we had a serious accident with the Suburban and Airstream; rolled the entire rig one-and-a-half times on a dangerous stretch of I-10 in southeastern Arizona. Both car and trailer were totaled, but the trailer frame held together, so most of our possessions were intact. And the sturdy Suburban saved our lives; we emerged from the accident with only cuts and bruises and a bit of whiplash.

I really miss the Suburban, although it wouldn’t be practical to drive these days with the high gas prices, and besides, we’re off the road now.

Car #4 is our current one, a white Scion XB. We bought it right after the accident. It sort of looked like a miniature version of our Suburban, so a Phantom co-worker dubbed it the “Mini Me-Suburban” car. Luckily it wasn’t expensive. It’s the best car I’ve ever owned — roomy, comfortable and economical.

Four favorite Foods

1. Tuna sandwiches. I’ve made them since the age of 7 when Mom first taught me how to use a can-opener and chop onions and pickles. James generally doesn’t like fish (and is allergic to some shellfish) so now I eat tuna sandwiches sometimes when we go out. It’s a special occasion.

2. Mayonnaise. Is that a food? 😉 James and I share that in common. As a Southerner, he could have it at every meal, and I’m not too far from that. “Just spread it on my hips!” he often quips.

3. Collard greens, lightly steamed or sauteéd with garlic, onions and spices, over rice.

4. Barbecued chicken. We don’t eat meat at home but this is my favorite when we visit my Middle Bro’s house in Sacramento — he’s a master at the grill, and often makes the old family recipe.

Gosh, that last category has made me hungry — Bye!