Street Safe

Jeff and I took the information Kaiser Permanente – the original Health Maintenance Organization – had given us for their upcoming Earthquake preparedness proceeding and deftly created story. The Golden Gate, Bay, and Richmond-San Rafael – Bridges had all come down after a 7.0 earthquake hit the Bay Area. Hospitals were out of commission. Electricity was out. Water would be nonpotable after a few hours. The world as the Bay Area knew it had come to a halt.

We delivered the first draft on Monday to the Gatekeeper, the assistant to the engineer in charge of the proceedings.

He leafed through it.

“It’s not meaty enough,” he said. “He’s an engineer. He won’t like this.”

Last words you want to hear from a client.

“I can stall him for twenty-four hours.”

Jeff and I, both freelance technical writers, had been thrown together by the firm that contracted with Kaiser for the project – my first assignment since extricating myself from a very brief, and very ill conceived, marriage. Jeff had recently come out of a relationship and in his words, wasn’t yet “street safe.”

So there we were, two wounded survivors, hungry for connection, who would now have to spend the next eighteen hours, deep into the night, in the office next to my bedroom in Mill Valley, trying to identify meat.

Jeff was funny. And, funny is as much of an aphrodisiac to me as brainpower and nice eyes. He was also smart and had nice eyes. But neither of us was street safe. We spent the night sublimating our hunger by laughing about fictional Penny in Pinole waiting to hear from her husband in San Francisco, and interpreting engineeringese into scenarios the rest of us could understand.

We finished at 10:00 in the morning.

Jeff crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to his apartment in San Francisco to shower and shave. We met again at Kaiser headquarters in Oakland. He’d driven across the Bay Bridge; I crossed the Richmond-San Rafael.

Gatekeeper liked the changes.

Jeff headed back to the City. I had planned to go to a meeting with anti-nuke activists on the other side of Oakland off the Cyprus Freeway.

My brain was still awake enough to consider what it would be like hanging out for two and a half hours to sit through a one-hour meeting. So instead of finding a place to hang out in Oakland, at 2:30 in the afternoon on October 17, 1989, I headed back to Mill Valley.

I arrived about 3:30, took my dog for a short walk, then lay down on the couch.

My first thought was no this can’t be an earthquake, then grabbed my dog and stood in a doorway until the trembling stopped. I turned on my battery-operated radio.

A section of the Bay Bridge had come down. The Cyprus freeway had pancaked. The San Francisco Marina was ablaze. A building façade had collapsed South of Market.

Sixty-three people were killed by the Loma Prieta Earthquake. Most fatalities were caused by the pancaking of the Cyprus Freeway, where I could have been had the Gatekeeper liked our first draft.

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