Imagine yourself coming home from a good day's work (or schooling). You're getting ready for dinner (an early one about 5pm). Food is cooking on the stove and in the oven, the air is very still both inside and outside when you go to feed your pups. Nothing SEEMS out of the ordinary, until you begin to notice that outside no birds are chattering, no wind is blowing, everything, including the balmy air itself, seems to be listening...waiting...watching.
The animals don't seem very hungry (when most of the time, they're jumping all over the place at the prospect of food); in fact, one of your dogs doesn't really want to come out of his sleeping box in the garage. You coax him out, however, and he appreciates his meal, but hurries back to his box and the other one follows. Now, you're getting the idea there's something amiss, though you still aren't quite sure what it is.
Back inside, everything seems normal enough. You set the table, the family sits down for a meal when... "Look at that!" you say, while pointing to the hanging lamp that begins to sway, ever so slightly, above the table. The light flickers a little and Dad tells you start eating; it's only a little power surge. Stubbornly, you continue to eye the lamp. "Look!" you say again. "I think it's an earthquake." No response. "No, REALLY, I think its an..."
Suddenly Dad and Mom both look up and see that the lamp is now swinging, rather fiercely.
A few choice words from Dad and he's telling everyone to head for the doorways (which are the strongest places in the house). By this time, the nick-nacs on the shelves are furiously rattling, the floor feels like a huge serpent has decided his back is hurting him and he needs to adjust himself, the electricity goes out, you thank God you've turned the stove and oven off, pictures begin to fall (you hear the first few in the back rooms), windows are rattling, the cat races under the couch, the dogs are whining, and the wooden structure about you gives off these horrible creaking-crackles (and you suddenly realize how easily a house can collapse).
What you see, for at least a few seconds, outdoors is a bizarre swaying of everything--trees, telephone poles, lightpoles, other houses---that makes you think your vision has gone askew (similar to a television screen that has not yet fixed its reception. Almost as quick as it began, it stops!
Then, slowly, the air begins to move, your family members begin talking, and you find yourself moving from room to room, assessing the damage.
It doesn't really hit you that you've been in a quake, until, after wandering through the house seeing what has happened, you realize you have no electricity. Strangely enough, I was not frightened during the quake; in fact, I thought it was AMAZING! What truly unnerved me was when my Dad turned on our battery-operated radio and we discovered that every station, except one, was dead, and the one station that was still alive, gave just static. It's at that moment, you feel very alone and separated from the world (even though we have neighbors all around). On top of that, the phone lines went dead. It reminded me of some of those old Science Fiction movie thrillers where aliens come to take over the planet and the people in the movie seem so isolated.
In the days that followed, after I learned of the tragic collapse of the Cyprus freeway ramp (I had a student who was in my English Comp. class who wrote for the school newspaper tell me all the gory details, as he had seen them) and the destruction in the SF Marina district and the mess down south of us in Los Gatos and other areas, I felt very lucky to have been at home where I did not have to worry about my family---I knew they were safe. All of my brothers and my sister live at least 90 miles away---it was THEY who were worried about us when they couldn't get through on the phone.
At Ohlone College, many of my students had their stories to tell, like one man who was working on the 14th floor of one of the businesses in SF. He had just called his wife and was talking to her when the quake began---he had to tell her he was moving under his desk, right when they were cut off! Of course, she was frantic until he made it safely home.
And then there was my friend Edward who was driving home across the Dumbarton Bridge (one of the many bridges we have that spans the Bay). He said people were pulling over to the sides of the bridge highway because they all thought they had flat tires! And what a traffic jam ensued! It took him 3 and a half hours to go 10 miles home!
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