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It happened on the way home
It happened on the way home
It Happened On The Way Home
I was rushing to leave our Grant Ave. office as I didn’t
want to miss much of the game. Mr. Moody had made me stay until the last
possible minute doing this and that, but at 4:55 p.m. I was packed up and
as I walked past his office to the door, waved goodbye to him talking on the
phone. I mouthed a silent “Go A’s!” and he gave me a thumbs-up and returned
to his call, distractedly fingering the phone’s long cord as he leaned back
and looked out the window skyward.
Hustling out to the hallway, into the elevator going down, I
ran out the front door when it reached bottom, down Grant to Post. I
crossed Kearny, zig-zagging on the sidewalk between shuffling pedestrians
and zooming messengers, darting out and jaywalking across when it was clear.
I made it across Market, then down to Mission and the East Bay Terminal. I
ran up the ramp inside to my waiting 5 o’clock N Bus with only a minute to
The usual array of ancient Chinese women, each clutching several plastic
shopping bags from the markets on Stockton in Chinatown, sat up in the front
half of the bus near the driver. I made my way to the half-empty back
portion, then littered with a few other office clones and cube rats like me.
I clumped down on one of the opposing green Naugahyde bench seats between
two chrome round metal poles that rise floor to ceiling like dividers on a
I barely noticed the other folks around me as I put my bag down between my
feet, took off my jacket, folding it on my lap and loosened my tie. I rolled
up my sleeves to the elbow, as it was unseasonably warm and the bus was
stuffy. I quickly opened the bus window behind me for the ride home. With
great urgency I fished out my Sony Walkman, put the earphones on and tuned
into the game. They were still introducing the players and the national
anthem was still a few minutes away. Hopefully I wouldn’t miss much of the
game. The idling bus shuddered as the front door closed and it hissed when
the driver put it in gear and headed down the ramps and out of the terminal
and toward the Bay Bridge.
We made our way up to the lower deck and the sun was strobing through the
bridge’s support struts, putting the faces of those sitting across from me
in a constant flick, flick, light/dark, light/dark rhythmic effect. The bus
bumped a bit as we chugged eastward toward the Yerba Buena Tunnel. Then I
noticed the woman across from me was becoming wide-eyed as she covered her
mouth in horror and pointed out past me.
Muffled by my Walkman phones, I looked at her and said “Don’t worry, the
bridge always moves with something, the wind, a heavy truck above, it’s
My radio was filling with static and I was trying to tune in better
reception when our bus went through the tunnel. It was a smooth dark ride in
there, but the woman across from me was commiserating with the person next
to her and they were both looking frantically out the windows of the bus as
we emerged from the tunnel and onto the cantilever section of the bridge.
Suddenly the bus was heaving as was the entire bridge, loud metallic banging
filled the air. I looked out the window behind that woman across from me and
the huge 2-inch steel cables that held the top span to the bottom were
clanging freely back and forth as if harp strings. I grabbed the pole and
held on for dear life. The bus was rocking this way and that, turning right
in that final approach to the east bay. Dust was thick in the air everywhere
and the golden sunlit lower half of the bridge was suddenly a panic scene.
The bus stopped abruptly as all the traffic in all the lanes in front of us
had stopped, a sea of tail lights blazing red. We were rocking and rollin’.
People were running past us from their abandoned cars in front of us,
screaming things like “The bridge is falling…..Get off the bridge, it’s
It was exactly like a scene from a 1950s horror film with a crowd trying to
outrun the Blob down Main St. Many of those cars sat with open doors, some
with engines even still running and personal items left inside, as their
owners frantically fled the bridge. The bus driver had opened the front door
and even the Chinese elders were fast evacuating to join the minions running
off the bridge down to Treasure Island below. A few others and myself went
up to the front to hear the radio transmissions from AC Transit dispatch and
to begin assessing the situation.
Tentatively, I stepped off the bus and the bridge was still swaying and
occasionally shuddering from the jolt, dust only now settling. We could see
the smoke coming up from somewhere in Berkeley and slowly saw and heard on
the radio and understood what had happened as well to the Cypress Freeway as
the facts poured in. Behind us into SF it looked as though the Marina had
been bombed. It, like the place in Berkeley, was all ablaze.
Seemingly out of nowhere but actually from its base on Yerba Buena under the
bridge, a large Coast Guard helicopter hovered up and adjacent to where a
group from our bus was next to the railing, leaning and looking toward where
the people running had said the bridge was falling. The chopper slowly moved
eastward, parallel with the bridge. The AC Transit dispatcher was updating
constantly with information from all the police and government agencies.
We could see from our vantage the concrete had failed on the top span and
had fallen down to our level, but could not see the damage to the lower
section. We could not help but think of when another shake would happen and
what that might mean. We were spectators at a massive disaster with ringside
seats. No one knew what to do next or where to go, aside from going straight
home as fast as possible, if we could even get there.
A mini-pickup with 3 half-tanked construction workers in hard hats had been
stopped in the lane next to our bus and in the back they had a half-barrel
of beer wrapped in a large padded moving blanket. They had been on their way
to party and watch the World Series game when the quake had hit. They
thought it was all great fun and when they saw I still had the Walkman
clipped to my belt, they asked what I heard from the game? I put the phones
back over my ears and tried the dial all the way up and down, with no luck
on any station, and raised my arms, shrugging. They shook their heads,
looking south toward Candlestick and wondering what devastation had been
visited on that crowd. I walked back to the front bus door and asked the
driver what happened at Candlestick?
She answered, “They’re saying it was miraculously spared major carnage. The
stadium structure functioned like a champ, no one got hurt out there….ooh,
boy, that was lucky. I’ll let you know of any more good news.”
It was now almost an hour later and we kept hearing little snippets of what
had happened. We had lots of questions. Did BART cave in the tunnel below
the bay? What had happened up ahead at the bridge break? Did radios or
We knew precious little, stuck up there, in the now descending twilight as
the aftershocks occasionally still rocked the span. The US Navy were
bringing huge tow trucks with giant winches up on the bridge to move the
abandoned vehicles out of the way from everyone that had to turn around and
go back to SF. Our bus driver said we were going back to SF after we stopped
and picked people up at T.I. We were soon able to turn the bus around and
drive down off the structure and filled up with those same people that had
run off the bridge.
A very packed N bus made its way back into SF. Nothing was allowed inside
the terminal, so we were all left off on the street. My radio had started to
get signals again and I heard the ferries from all over the bay were coming
to the Plaza Building to take people across to the East Bay.
It was an almost festive atmosphere, the gathering darkness was punctuated
at busy street corners by citizen volunteers, out in the middle of it,
directing traffic as well as they could. The smell of natural gas was in the
air. Many water mains had burst and water was ponding in gutters.
Restaurants and hotels without electricity were emptying refrigerated items
and some were continuing to serve customers at sidewalk tables with
Everyone was quizzing everyone else to learn where they had been and what
news they had heard. I walked the few blocks to the Ferry Plaza, only to be
greeted by about 10,000 people in line ahead of me, waiting for the next
ferry. Everyone was trying to get home. I reached my apartment to find a
sleeping dog at 12:30 a.m.
LDEnthusiast, broiles, Downwinder like this
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