Earthquake/Nearly True Tales from San Francisco
It’s not so big, I said, and yet we screamed when the room shook, a carnival-ride fun house, time dancing slow motion across the crest of room-waves.
Wow! and Oh my god! Shit! Bent knees like shock absorbers, the floor a surf board. My electric fry pan skaddadled across the floor and the row of books scattered and slid and then, the shaking eased and wave-lapping onto beach we landed, stood, laughed nervously.
Earthquake! Kate said and we laughed louder.
Damn! There was no end to expletives. But then I assured them again, it’s nothing. These happen all the time in San Francisco.
Really? Kate asked. It seemed kind of big.
No. I shook my head. Not too big….
Eva talked slowly, each word a flavor to identify, savor. I’ve never been in an earthquake, she said. Her words were a confetti cake and we laughed.
Neither have I, Kate added.
All the time, I assured.
Soon then, I was nervous, checking my watch. I have to get to work, I said.
Maybe you don’t have to work? Something subtle, chicory maybe, sprinkled in the question. Eva pulled on her long hair, then slid a band from her wrist and wrapped her hair in a pony tail.
I considered, but no. I shook my head.
I passed my key to Kate. I’ll meet you guys back here after.
Outside, chunks of stone on the sidewalk and a long thin wound on the corner of the building. People spilled onto the street and greeted each other like friends, these my neighbors I’d never seen. There were backslaps and handshakes and worried inquiries. Strangers mingled, some cracked open beer, and two boom-boxes competed at ever increasing volumes. Feels like Carnival, I thought, though I’d never been, and I swallowed the bitter taste of resentment towards work, I had to go.
Hey, a stranger waved. You OK? The sun radiated veils of light, this scene a painting, the opening of heaven. But I hurried to my car. I’d found a dream parking spot on the street and pulled out reluctantly, knowing it was lost.
I had traded the waitressing gig for a shop at Fisherman’s Wharf. The restaurant hours had been excruciating–this new job at the toy store meant I was home by midnight and more rested for the magazine.
Of course, working on the Wharf meant I had to un-park my car and fight traffic. And on this day, the drive was abnormally slow. I watched the dashboard clock and began to panic. I’ll be late, I thought, though an earthquake is a good excuse. Maybe the store would close, the electricity would be out. The traffic signals weren’t working, and the traffic crept towards me, an army of mutant insects from a 1960’s B movie, shining, metallic, ascending. People gathered on sidewalks and waved as I passed I was in a parade passing the parade the only one going opposite. And by me went a yellow bug car, a red Festiva, white and black and faded green sedans, vans and lumbering delivery trucks halting for breath, the burden of their trailers like heavy as with the snail and his shell–and who can bear the weight of the their home on their back? And I detoured and backtracked and wove my way downward toward water, cars honking people waving and now truly late, I turned on the radio for music and maybe some news on earthquakes…fire in the Marina District sections of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge collapsed Embarcadero crumbling don’t leave where you’re at the World Series cancelled and all power out! Shit! Damn! I swore, one ways and where to turn! But finally I turned, and joined the exodus, the creeping animal of cars and on the radio, the numbers, 6.8, 6.9, 7.2, 6 dead, 15 fires, 7.1, 18 dead, 17 fires, Interstate 280, 6th and Bluxome, 3rd game, 5:04, 6.7, 1906, 10/17.
It took me a good hour to get back the short distance I had traveled, and still, the party on the steps, but a different color, the light was relief, the earthquake had cracked open the day, stripping, unpeeling, plucking, and what remained beneath the layers of obligations, clocks and routine was naked and vibrant, and everyone was the same in their survival. And in the laughing, hysteria.
I buzzed my apartment and Kate buzzed me inside. The sun had arced past my window and what came through was gray, the color of the blanket descending upon the powerless city. Kate and Eva sat on pillows in the center of the room around a camping lantern. Three or four flashlights where placed upright in front of them and they were drinking wine from camping mugs. Eva poured me wine and motioned for me to sit.
You didn’t have to work? Kate asked.
It’s all so fucking surreal. We walked downtown. People were looting, Eva said. And outside the hotels, champagne! She laughed. I think she was drunk.
It was a big earthquake, I said. Kate lit the lantern and we watched our shadows flicker on the walls.