On October 17, 1989, dinner was Progresso Split Pea Soup with Saltines and a glass of milk. My grandmother always made dinner early. When most people wouldn’t get around to it until 6 or 7pm,  my grandmother sat me down at the table at 5pm everyday. This day was no different. I had about two spoonfuls of soup in me when I noticed my milk glass. The milk was sloshing, ever so slightly. Moments later, everything was moving.

My grandmother grabbed me out of my chair and pulled me to a doorway in her apartment, she ran to secure something in the living room. I thought she said something about the TV in her bedroom so I started to run to the other room. Apparently in the disruption I had misunderstood, as when I left the doorway she screamed at me to get back.

The Loma Prieta earthquake lasted about 15 seconds. It felt like an eternity. I was 7 years old, and 21..going on 22 years later, I still remember that night like it was yesterday.

Electricity was cut immediately. We used what daylight we had left coming through the windows to check for damage to the apartment and look for a radio. The apartment seemed to be fine…the only thing that broke was the picture frame holding my most recent school picture. The radio front, however, was grim. There wasn’t one that was battery-powered. I thought I knew where one was, however. My grandmother and I went up to my mom’s apartment (in the same building) to see if we could find my Fisher-Price radio…I assured my grandmother that it ran on batteries.


With microphone for sing along fun.

Unfortunately there was no sing along fun that night.

The two of us sat at the kitchen table, pea soup forgotten, glued to the radio. The earthquake had been a 7.1. The Marina was on fire. The Bay Bridge had collapsed (only a section collapsed, but the early reporting said it was all gone). Freeways had collapsed. It was bad out there. We started to get worried as time passed. It was 1989…there were no cell phones, no internet…no twitter. We had no idea where our family was. My mom was supposed to home by then, but she hadn’t shown up. My sister was 19 and didn’t live with us, so we had no idea where she would be. All we could do, was wait.

And the more we heard about the state of the Bay Area, the harder the wait became.

(Source for all 3)

Maybe 30 minutes later, someone was at our door…my sister! She had just gotten home from work when the earthquake hit. As soon as the shaking stopped, she threw her clothes back on and got to our apartment as soon as she could, to make sure we were okay. Shortly thereafter, my mom came through the door. She was rattled. She worked down on Folsom Street at the time and had been in her office building when the quake struck. She had just left her desk to use the restroom before the commute home and so she was in a stall when the earthquake hit. Lucky too, as when she got back to her desk, a tall cabinet that was  probably 6 or 7 feet tall had fallen onto her desk; had she been sitting in her chair, she would’ve been crushed to death. Her office building was later condemned.

The four of us sat around at the kitchen table, my grandmother’s oil lamps providing the only light. We talked about where we were right when it hit. We ate bar after bar of Worlds Finest Chocolate, as I had just had a candy sale at school and we had a zillion of them. Probably around 7 or 8, my father showed up. He was a surprise, as my parents are divorced. As it turned out, he and my grandfather had been in the parking lot of Candlestick Park when the earthquake hit…they had World Series tickets. He just wanted to come by to make sure we were okay.

We were all glad he did. With him checking in, we now knew that our entire family was safe. Our home was still standing. We had eight tons of chocolate bars. Everything was going to be okay.


I have lucked out once again, as everyone whom I know in Japan is safe and accounted for.

Others are not as lucky.

There are thousands of people right now who have no idea where their loved ones are, whether their homes are still standing or even where their next meal is going to come from. The devastation that is being aired on television is so unbelievable, it could almost be mistaken for a movie.

But this is real life.

I know times are tough, but if you can spare it, consider donating to the relief effort. Even a small amount can make a difference. If you can afford a trip to Starbucks, you can afford to help those in need.

Most of us have so much to be thankful for.

Click here to Donate to the Red Cross at their website.

or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation….or you can donate through iTunes….or you can buy a Lady Gaga Japan Earthquake Relief wristband…heck, you can even grow daikon in Farmville or buy Kobe cows in Frontierville.

Whatever floats your boat. Just help.

3 thoughts on “1989

  1. Great re-telling of your experience, a sobering reminder of what could happen, and a great call to action to help others who have been unfortunate. Thank you for sharing.

    1. We in the US sometimes have a tendency to avert our gaze from disasters that don’t affect us directly. I think it is important to remember that it could happen here…it could happen to me, you or any of us. And we would want those who were capable of it, to help.

  2. reading this was so compelling. though i wasn’t living in the bay area at the time, i had family that did and remember all these events very clearly.

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