We are Wondrous Made
Photo By: Zoltan Tasi
1989: Loma Prieta Earthquake
San Francisco Bay Bridge: Treasure Island
I was on the Bay Bridge driving home to Oakland after visiting my friend Ellie in Menlo Park. It was a beautiful sunny late afternoon and I was so appreciative of the lack of traffic – the World Series was still going on at Candlestick Park. And then gradually all the traffic on the bridge slowed to a stop. Two motorcyclists were driving back through traffic between the stopped cars … what idiots!, I thought. And then I saw people abandoning their cars and heard the screams of fear as they bewilderingly ran back towards the city of San Francisco, stopping on Treasure Island, stable ground. I stepped out of my car in confusion and was immediately immersed in the atmosphere of panic. “The bridge has collapsed!!” hailed from fellow travelers …
I do remember that it took a long while before we felt safe enough to return to our cars. Eventually – one by one or in small groups we braved the way back onto the bridge.
Once in the cars, people waited while each car turned around to make room for everyone to eventually get off the bridge. It took hours. All was going smoothly until one car without a driver just sat there, blocking the exit of a bus no less. At this point a guy in a red and black checked woodsman jacket started directing the exit process. Who knows who he was – everyone just deferred to him. To deal with the abandoned car that was blocking the safe turn-around of the bus, he seemed to signal effortlessly and 7 or 8 guys showed up out of nowhere. As if they had been choreographed, the men surrounded the car, bent down, lifted the car, moved it to the side of the bridge and directed the bus driver to make his turn.
My car was among the ones closest to the break in the bridge. So the closer I came to it, there were more people driving back in their cars and fewer people walking. It was dark by then with just the lights of the bridge illuminating the bay and the blacked-out city of San Francisco. That’s when I noticed an old Asian man in a khaki raincoat. He was by himself and walking slowly, bent forward with a couple of pieces of clothing on hangers from the cleaners over his back. I was a little concerned about him. We were both alone.
I came up alongside him and kept my gaze on him as I passed. He looked up at me slowly from under the brim of his hat. He smiled with this impish twinkle in his eye and then shrugged. I got the message – some days are better than others. I knew he was OK. He went on his way, casually happy in the midst of trauma.