Friday, October 17, 2014

The 'Pretty Big' One

Does it seem strange to be writing about the anniversary of perhaps the most notorious earthquake to strike the North American continent in the last 50 years — on a sports blog?

Well, I guess it is — but that is how I remember that event.

It was a Tuesday night, just after 7 p.m. in north Texas. I was enrolled in graduate school, and those classes almost always met at night, but I didn't have a class that night. My brother was at my apartment, and we were settling in to watch Game 3 of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A's.

Because the teams were in twin cities — separated only by the bay and linked by the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge — it was dubbed a "subway series." To accommodate viewers in the large Eastern media markets, the World Series games were scheduled to start around 5:30 p.m. California time; apparently, in the Bay Area, many people either left work early (to attend the games or attend watch parties) or stayed late for office watch parties. Consequently, the result was that the typical rush hour was not nearly as heavy as it would have under typical circumstances.

That meant that fewer people were on the bridge when the earthquake struck at 5:04 local time. If it had been a normal day, we were told later, the casualties would have been virtually incomprehensible.

What could be seen on the TV screen was bad enough.

And I became very concerned about the safety of my friends, Mike and Jane, who had been living there for about a year or so. I tried to call them whenever I could, but I kept getting the same recorded message that my call could not be completed.

Finally, three days later, I got a call from Jane. It was the first opportunity she had had to contact friends and family to let them know she and Mike were all right.

She told me that she typically commuted across that bridge — and, on an ordinary day, she would have been right in the middle of the bridge when the earthquake struck. Because of the World Series, though, she told me she had already been off the bridge for five or 10 minutes when the earthquake happened.

I was really glad I didn't know her usual routine at the time of the earthquake. I would have been worried sick.

Mike, as it turned out, was home when the earthquake hit. They were living in a solid house — it survived the infamous 1906 earthquake with its 7.9 magnitude so the 7.1–magnitude "Lomo Prieta earthquake" (so named for the location of its epicenter) was no match for it. Mike said all that really happened was a few pictures were shaken from the wall.

Initially, there were reports that casualties numbered in the hundreds — but it turned out that only 63 people died. That is still 63 too many, but it was better than originally feared.

Action in the World Series was suspended for 10 days while the Bay Area cleaned up and started trying to return to normal. I was two time zones away, but I followed developments via TV. It was inspiring to see so many members of both baseball teams helping out in any way they could, shoulder to shoulder with many of their fans.

Of course, there are always those who look for ways to make money off other people's misfortune, and Mike and Jane told me that some enterprising folks printed up T–shirts that read, "I Survived the Pretty Big One."

I wouldn't have wanted to buy one of them and contribute to the guy who printed them — but I would have liked to have seen one. I've searched the internet, too, by the way, but I haven't found a photo of one yet.

Maybe it wasn't as much of a thriving cottage industry as Mike and Jane thought it was. Maybe their impression was fueled by seeing those shirts from time to time — and mistaking that for all the time. I don't know.

I just know I was glad to know my friends hadn't been hurt.

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