My editor at the Martinez News Gazette, Bob Osmond, was a huge baseball fan, and I don't know that I had ever seen him quite so happy as that day, October 17, 1989, when he left the office for once right before 5 p.m. to go home and watch the first game of the Bay Bridge World Series. The Oakand A's playing the San Francisco Giants for the title of World Champions. It was historic, to say the least.
I walked him to the corner of Main Street and Estudillo Street, chatting about the stories for tomorrow's paper and assuring him that I would take care of putting the paper to bed.
As we were chatting, I noticed the glass storefronts across the street were waving, as though they were suddenly made of jello.
"That's strange," I thought to myself. I was about to say something about that to Bob, when the reason for it became all too obvious: both of us struggled to stay on our feet as the ground shook suddenly and violently. After a few seconds, it was over.
We looked at each other, and said nothing. It was obvious, being in the news business, what we were going to be doing over the next few days. We both headed home to make sure our families were safe, then back to the office, where we pretty much lived for the next week or so.
Those first hours were strange. Power went out, and there were no cell phones. The land lines were jammed, and when power finally came back on, the only news we could find was on radio and TV -- the Internet as we know it now didn't exist yet. But the initial reports were spotty and terrifying; the Golden Gate Bridge was down, the Bay Bridge was down. San Francisco was on fire. Thousands were killed beneath a collapsed freeway. Most of these first stories turned out to be wrong, thank goodness, but it took a while to sort out fact from fiction.
I wandered around Martinez, noting that brick facades had fallen off some of the buildings, but for the most part, things seemed ok. I don't recall any major damage to Martinez, except for the pier, which collapsed. People were scared, or amused, but there was no obvious panic in the streets.
But here's what I do remember: as a reporter, I kept my cool and tried to find all the facts I could, so I could report this major historical event in a way that would be the most useful to people. I remember thinking to myself how strange it was that I was so seemingly unaffected by an event that had everyone around me pretty shook up.
A couple of weeks later, when the event was over and most everyone else was starting to move on, I had a total freak out. I stayed home from work and shivered for a couple of hours, tears streaming down my face. All I could see was the wreckage of the Marina district, and the collapsed freeway, and the fear on all those faces the first few days. I wonder if other reporters have the same delayed reaction to significant events they cover.
So that's my story about October 17, 1989.
What's yours? Share it with us today.