I was a bookseller, standing in the middle of the Waldenbooks at the Tanforan Mall in San Bruno, California, when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit.
After the floor stopped undulating, and the books stopped falling down from the overstock shelves along either side of the store, I told all the customers to get out of the mall. They took my advice, which was good, because I wasn't about to wait around for them to leave.
But there was a bookseller working in the back room processing received books, and I went back there quickly.
I didn't realize until I opened the door to the back room and saw nothing but darkness that the power had gone out. It was a sunny afternoon and there had been plenty of sunlight coming into the main part of the store from the mall skylight just outside.
I yelled, asking if she was okay. (I can't remember her name now, any more than I can remember most of the hundreds of booksellers I've worked with over the years.) There were lots of stored books and equipment on high shelves back there, and filing cabinets against the walls, but except for some loose books nothing had fallen down and she wasn't hurt.
I told her to come slowly to the door where I was, and I took her hand and we got out of the store.
In the parking lot we met up with the bookstore manager, who'd been on a break - - who said smoking could be hazardous to your health?
You could see a good distance along the freeway and nearby streets, and it was clear that this was a big one. No lights, all the traffic stopped.
I told the manager I wanted to go home to make sure Helen was okay in our apartment in Daly City, just south of San Francisco. I gave him my store key and went to my car.
I turned on the news on the radio. The opening game of the World Series (San Francisco Giants vs. Oakland A's) had been just about to start when the quake struck and baseball players abandoned their teams for their families.
Nobody really knew how bad the damage was yet, but people were afraid it might be on the scale of the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires. Fortunately, it wasn't.
Since all the traffic lights were out, it took me a couple of hours to drive a few miles home.
I parked on the street, not under the apartments in covered parking. I ran upstairs to our apartment, and Helen was okay.
I was in our apartment, ready to watch the World Series on TV. I'd grown up in San Jose and experienced my share of earthquakes. This one just kept shaking and if it didn't stop this second, I didn't think the building would hold up. The bookcase lurched and the books made a huge pile in the middle of the room.
Then it stopped. The TV was quiet. Everything was quiet. The power was out. I looked at the sofa where Bailey, our cat, had been napping next to me a minute ago. Gone. “Bailey?” Then I looked at the pile of heavy books on the floor. Oh no.
I jumped up and started flinging books aside. I heard a tentative meow. I found Bailey behind the sofa, safe, scared. I picked him up and tried the phone. Dead. I poked my head outside the apartment, but no one was around. It was spooky. I felt like the last person on Earth.
I found our transistor radio, but the batteries were dead and we were out of spares. I walked to the Radio Shack twenty minutes away. The store was open but the employees looked dazed. No one seemed to know anything.
I bought batteries and popped them in the radio. KCBS was saying there were reports that the Golden Gate Bridge had collapsed. My God. I hurried back home to see if the phone was working yet. Steve was at work at the mall. How could I find out if he was okay?
I got back to the apartment and the phone was working but there was no answer at the bookstore. As soon as I hung up, the phone rang. It was my dad calling from Detroit. He'd been watching the World Series and had been trying to reach us as soon as they'd realized we'd had an earthquake. I assured him I was fine but I didn't know about Steve.
Then Steve walked in the door and I told Dad he was fine and I had to go now.