17 October 2010

October 17th

I think about Loma Prieta every year. I didn't need last year's 20th anniversary hulabaloo to remind me of that night. See, I'm one of the 65,000 or so who can legitimately claim to have had a ticket for Game 3 of the '89 World Series at the 'Stick. I'd have to dig around in a shoebox somewhere to produce the stub, but I was there. Dad and I were perched in the second to last row of the upper deck. If you've ever been to Candlestick and sat in the nosebleeds, you know what I mean when I say it's a steep-ass look down.

When the shaking started, the pregame festivities had barely gotten underway. It felt for one brief moment as though the tens of thousands already in their seats half an hour before game time had begun to stomp their feet in anticipation. A lot of people must've thought the same. Some started cheering along with the early rumbling drone of the earth. Then the shaking started in earnest. And everyone got real quiet real quick. I'd been in many quakes, and I've felt a hundred since, but none of them compare to the prolonged, queasy, rolling sensation of that temblor. When it finally subsided, the emergency lights were on, the scoreboard was out, and the players had stormed the field with their loved ones, leaving us plebians in the stands to fend for ourselves...

I remember watching our VHS tape of the "game" when we finally returned home. The feed cuts out in the middle of highlights from Games 1 & 2 — which, for Giants fans, was not all that unfortunate an occurrence. I can hear Al Michaels forgetting for one moment the geography and geology of North America and blurting out: "I don't know about you, but we're havin' an earthquake..."

It took the powers that were a while to figure out what to do. Suits were scrambling all over the field, but up in the "cheap" seats, we didn't think it was that big of a deal. The quake had appeared mild, apart from the length, and I chalked up most of the rolling to being on the second deck. So we stayed put, fully expecting the game to be played once they calmed everyone's apprehensions. A few moments later, the guy behind us shouted out, "Holy s***!" We turned around as he held up his portable TV — a black-and-white with a 2-inch screen that was the heighth of mobile tech at the time — and saw for the first time the damage Loma Prieta had wrought... A section of the Bay Bridge had given way... The Marina had sunk into itself... The double decks of the Nimitz Freeway had collapsed like gargantuan concrete pancakes, cars and their occupants crushed between.

My heart sank. I was only 11, but I knew death, and suddenly, that night began to smell like death. Shortly after my heart was broken by the indefinite postponement of the game, we sauntered out in orderly fashion — I don't remember a single case of pushing or shoving beyond the norm for a sold-out sporting event. Dad wove us out of the dirt lot across the street from the main lot, up to Third Street, and onto 101 southbound. We hopped over to 280 via 380 and listened to the radio news all the way down the peninsula, as the full scope of the quake was coming into focus. Just before Magdalena, emergency signs told us the road was out ahead. This is where Dad impressed his young son more than he ever had before... He got us home to the Dub-G on surface roads, and we didn't get lost once, nor did he consult a map. Remember, this was before GPS, Google, and smart phones. Total baller, right?

In my later years, driving alone on my way back from games, I've pulled the same moves a few times just for s***'s and giggles. I feel like that night was when I discovered my love for driving. It led me to take a job with a campus taxi service at USC, to become a car messenger while living in Redondo Beach, to prefer to drive to games rather than do what my heart tells me is the right thing by riding CalTrain or BART. So, Dad, rest easy. The apple truly doesn't fall far from the tree...


> When they finally did play Game 3, yours truly was there. Not that the result would've been different, but I often wonder how that Series would've played out had Loma Prieta never happened.

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