6 Shaky Tales in Honor of the SF Earthquake’s 110th Birthday
There are quintessential first-time experiences one never forgets. First kiss. First job. First earthquake. Though your first earthquake is not nearly as pleasant as the former two (I mean, I would hope so), the visceral experience alters your perception of the planet and its capabilities. Once you witness the primal trembles of mighty Earth, you understand the nature of our surroundings: evanescent, at best.
Today, April 18, marks the 100th anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The quake shook our stellar city at an estimated magnitude of 7.8 (some sources suggest it may have been as high as 8.3). Supposedly, it was felt from Los Angeles to southern Oregon. Fires broke out, and wreaked havoc. Approximately 3,000 people died, and 200,000 were rendered homeless from the destruction.
We won’t sugar coat it: The 1906 San Francisco earthquake was devastating. Quakes in general are awful. Worse yet, California is allegedly due (whatever that means) for another big one.
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As long as the unpredictable looms above us, we might as well relish in the strangeness that is part and parcel to the San Francisco quake experience. Laughing at terrifying experiences is healthy, right? In order to bask in this magnificence, I reached out to a bevy of San Francisco dwellers to share their tales. It turns out, there’s much to enjoy. Such as …
The glorious naivety
“I experienced the ’89 earthquake while in Potrero Hill when I was two years old — my story is based on my parents’ retelling, but I think I remember it! I thought my dad was shaking the house for fun, and I was giggling the whole time (as my parents were freaking out in our three-story Victorian on Rhode Island Ave.) amidst the rockin’ and rollin’. I screamed ‘Do it again, Daddy! Do it again!’ when it was over. I believed it was the most fun day of my life up to that point.”
“During the ’89 earthquake, I was a wee preschooler, decked out in a pink tutu (obv). We were all playing in the playground as preschoolers do, when the teachers began looking frantic and tried to get us all under the monkey bars. I had ZERO interest in the monkey bars, however, because I was too busy frolicking and watching the trees seemingly move on their own. I paused to take this in a moment too long, because the next thing I knew I was being swooped up and relocated to the ‘safety’ of the monkey bars. As a five-year-old, I didn’t know what earthquakes were, so I also didn’t know to be afraid of them. Thus, my memory of the ’89 earthquake is a bit skewed, since I largely thought it was awesome. Fear had been discovered in time for the aftershocks, though.”
The apathy of cats
“My roommates were away for break. I woke up in the middle of the night and, about 30 seconds later, the house started swaying. My room was on the 2nd story, so I could really feel the motion. My cat also woke up; she just looked at me, blinking sleepily. We both watched the corner of the room until the swaying stopped. Instead of having a typical cat reaction by freaking out, she was thoroughly unimpressed — like, ‘meh, I’ve had better.'”
The bravery evoked
“1989 I was two, and my mom was six months pregnant with my brother. When the earthquake began, my mom threw me under a short coffee table and instinctively laid on top of me. I was completely squashed by my little brother in her belly. When my dad got home from work he told her that he was on the bay bridge and only narrowly missed the section that collapsed.”
“My mom was in the 1989 earthquake and was in Candlestick Park. It took her five hours to get out of the stadium and to her house in the Outer Sunset. It was chaos. Someone tried to get in her car by slamming the window with a broken bottle. At the same time, her best friend and mom were at her house. The friend was tripping on drugs and was convinced she would drive to the stadium to rescue my mom. My grandma distracted her by pretending to be really upset at the spilled dirt from a plant that fell over, and got her to focus on sweeping it up for the five hours until my mom got home.”
And, finally, the one time we were happy it was an earthquake
“My friends (who are a couple) were visiting from LA and sleeping on an air mattress on my living room floor. My apartment is small, so it was akin to a slumber party. The earth started shaking and I thought they were having sex and shaking my house somehow. They weren’t. It was just an earthquake.”
Ultimately, we have zero control over events. All we can do is choose how to react. Today we can reflect on the brute force of earthquakes, but also remember the fabulous facets that reveal themselves in the wake of the shaking.