CNN’s special, San Francisco Shaken, is on. Reminds me… I had just moved to the San Francisco a couple of weeks earlier. Working at New Performance Gallery for Margy Jenkins and Brenda Way. A new apartment in the heart of the Mission. Life was exciting. A challenge. Every morning I woke up knowing I wasn’t in Kansas Anymore. Especially after the big one hit. Later I wrote a story.
The OLD New Performance Gallery on Shotwell in the Mission.
I can’t remember the exact time the fairly big one hit, but it was sometime mid-afternoon. One of those hot October days, summer finally reaching San Francisco months after the rest of the country. The third game of the World Series was about to begin so the Stadium was packed, the Oakland A’s versus the San Francisco Giants; the rest of the City was meeting, telephoning, typing, dealing, sipping, napping, practicing, walking—until it started shaking. That shudder, and the quivers and shivers of the next hours, produced a memory for inhabitants all right, a memory of that pretty peninsula that retains the clarity and immediacy of ‘When Kennedy was shot I was….’
On that October 17th, I was in a dance studio that rippled but held up on a street that cracked down the middle but stayed drivable.
The first shock over, we huddled in the heat, commiserating as we passed around someone’s bottle of Christmas Scotch, unopened until this worthy event. We tried to call families on dead phone lines, marveled at our very cracked street and put on our sunglasses to dim the sparkle of broken glass decorating our Mission grime.
Earthquake evening, we all return home through the unusually hot, shell-shocked streets to timidly peer into the minor damage of our own apartments. Then we gather at Annie’s to listen to the batteried radio and burn the odd bits of candle, to watch the glowing Goodyear blimp hover over the dark city and to imagine the tongues of red and rolls of smoke pushing the fog away from the tip of our precarious peninsula. We’re made more jittery by the bloody-egg-yolk moon just above where the lights of the Bay Bridge should be.
Annie, the building manager, is a huge good-hearted woman, descendant of old Irish San Francisco when it was all rough and ready dock workers and gold miners in from the hills and whores and other lively and interesting folk. All of the building occupants gather in her apartment. We share our cigarettes, maybe some beer, trying to get news.
Eventually Annie and I go out to cruise the dark streets for an open store. The radio has announced no one is to drive but we tell ourselves the building’s baby must have milk. Really everyone needs a junk food fix, and we want to see what it’s like out there. No civilizing stop or street lights tonight, only the flickers and blinks of cigarette tips, match flares, and flashlights, like lost lightning bugs in the broken city. It’s just too other-worldly to make ordinary with car lights so, like the few other cars on the street, we’ve turned them off to creep forward in the mysterious moonlight, watching knots of people on the street break up, reform—the ebb and flow of corner shadows. The dark bulk of Annie behind the wheel seems the embodiment of this town that shakily enfolds the oddest assortment of humans into a warm, taken-advantage-of bosom of acceptance. Fig Newton’s, Doritos, milk, soft drinks, they’re out of candles, back to the apartment.
San Francisco and Leaving my Heart to be continued.