Friday, October 17, 2014

My 25th Anniversary Earthquake Story

It has been 25 years since the Loma Prieta earthquake, and time for everyone to re-tell their stories. Here's mine.

My wife Heidi and I were living on Second Street in Monterey, in the Oak Grove neighborhood between Lake El Estero and the Navy school. Our dwelling was the second story of a free standing apartment building. Below us was a three car garage, two slots of which belonged to the tenants of the duplex at the rear of the property.

Heidi had just sat down
to watch the World Series. I was in the bathroom washing my hands when I felt a slight rattle. I didn't think anything of it because our apartment had been rattling intermittently for a few days. An old school building across the street had been recently demolished to make way for a new low-income senior housing complex. A parade of dump trucks and earth moving equipment had been working to level the ground for the new construction. We had gotten so used to the light shaking that we weren't too conscious of it anymore, and in effect I missed the first part of the earthquake.

But when I walked from the bathroom to the living room the house suddenly felt and sounded like it was being repeatedly hit by a truck. BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!..... I pointed across the street and asked Heidi "Is that them???" She jumped out of her chair and shouted "NO!" She knew what I did not yet, that the TV had gone dead and a large potted plant was dancing around behind me.

Now I realized this was an earthquake. My first thought was "Is this the BIG ONE?" That was immediately followed by the realization that the house wasn't shaking so badly that we couldn't get out, but we might not be able to if it got any worse. I reached for the front door, turned the knob, and the door was stuck, just for a second, then it opened. After that we did everything wrong. We ran down the exterior stairs under a large glass window, out to the sidewalk, and stood underneath power lines.

When we reached the sidewalk the shaking stopped. We saw our neighbor, Mark, who lived across the street next to the vacant lot, running out of his apartment with his hands partly raised and a puzzled look on his face. We exchanged a few words and he went back inside. Before that moment we didn't know Mark very well, but from then on we became good friends.

As we stood on the street we felt the ground rising and falling below our feet as we looked up and saw our living room window glass flexing. Mark came back out and said he had just called his mother in Auburn to tell her we'd just had a significant earthquake. As he spoke to her she felt the shaking reach her home.

A small group of neighbors gathered on the street, and a dump truck driver asked if he could use our phone to check on his wife. "She hates earthquakes" he said. We were happy to oblige. He said he didn't feel anything because he was in his truck. He learned about it from the other construction workers.

Back inside we had no power for the next 26 hours. We turned on a portable radio and it was awhile before we found a local station on the air. KOCN was the first, and they were reporting that they were broadcasting from their transmitter rather than their studio. It was our only source of local information. At one point they mentioned something about contaminated water supplies (not here I later figured out) so I filled a couple of containers with clean tap water just in case bad water came down the line.

We also listened to KGO to find out what was happening in the San Francisco Bay Area and it sounded pretty grim.

Before it got dark I took my bicycle out for a brief time to see if there was any damage around town. I rode down to Fisherman's Wharf and the north end of downtown. Everything looked OK, but in the twilight the only electrical lights I could see were in the north stairwell of what was then the Sheraton (now the Marriott) Hotel, probably powered by an emergency generator.

I went home and before long it was dark and the candles came out. There were no lights as far as we could see. It felt lonely. We spent the evening playing board games, listening to the radio, and riding the frequent aftershocks. Most of our candles were of the low profile variety, but on our coffee table we had two tall tapers to illuminate our playing surface. Afraid they might topple in an aftershock, we blew them out whenever the house shook, then re-lit them when it stopped.

After several attempts I was able to call my mother in Oregon. I told her we were OK, but that "we had a wild ride." She said she heard about a major earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area, then she grew more and more concerned about us when she learned the epicenter was much much farther south than she first believed. In t he course of our conversation she assumed we knew more than she did, but when I told her we had no power she realized we could not see the news footage of the damage in the bay area, so she described it to me. 

We resumed the games, and we sensed strange, vague vibrations. They were so faint we couldn't tell if we were hearing them or feeling them, or just imagining them. We ruled out the latter after a time because we both agreed on when they started and stopped.

Bedtime was especially eerie. WIth no light inside or out, our bedroom was too dark to feel safe sleeping. I don't think I slept much.

Morning felt better. We still didn't have power but there was light, and the milk was still cold enough to serve on cereal. A boy scout came to the door asking for donations of food to deliver to folks in Watsonville, which was hit much harder than we were. We provided a few cans and he thanked us.

That afternoon I chatted with one of our back-door neighbors and I asked him where he was during the quake. "I didn't feel it because I was driving." he said, then he had the best line of the day: "But I knew something was wrong because the radio went dead and a dumpster was walking across the street!"

As evening approached Heidi had a bit of a problem. She was to play the organ for a Wednesday evening church service. That would be difficult with no electricity. But she had a small battery powered keyboard, little more than a toy, really, but it would do in a pinch. It was for a small congregation, so it didn't need to be very loud. We packed it up and took it with us. We got it set up in the church and then the lights came on. Normal life was back.

When we returned home we turned on the TV and saw the news coverage from San Francisco. For the first time we saw the damage to the Bay Bridge, and the horrific scene in the east bay where crews were still rescuing people from the collapsed double-decker freeway. We saw the damaged church in Watsonville, and the broken buildings in downtown Santa Cruz. We got off easy.

Mild aftershocks continued for months. Heidi and I had very different reactions to them. Each one had her running to stand in the safety of a doorway. I had become so accustomed to them, and they were fairly weak in comparison to the main event, that they didn't bother me at all. I kind of enjoyed them. I think it took a year or more before they stopped completely.

A major event puts little ones into perspective. For a long time small earthquakes had me saying "so what?" Or as KGO talk show host Jim Eason put it "We don't even count anything smaller than a 4 anymore." But as time has passed, small earthquakes have had a tendency to get me nervous again. Because the Loma Prieta earthquake started out with mild rattling, every small shaker now makes me worry that it's going to get bigger. Funny how that works.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Night Arc Lights

In the 1960s, when I was a kid, we lived along Hatton Canyon behind Carmel High School. One night when I was about 7 I went to bed, and a few minutes later I saw a blue ball of light form on the curtains. It faded after a couple of seconds, then came back several seconds later. I thought my dad was playing with a flashlight from the hall, so I said "Daddy...." The next thing I knew the room was filled with a blinding flash of blue light that scared me out of my skin, and out of bed to my parents.

Meanwhile
my parents were in the family room. My dad was at his desk facing the window. My mom said she saw my dad's jaw drop and he began staring out the window in silence. When she got up to see what he was looking at she saw that same blinding flash that frightened me.

We learned the next day
that there was a PG&E substation in the canyon partially concealed from our view. Evidently some equipment failure caused massive arcing resulting in the flashes of blue light.

Now we live in Seaside. About 5:00 this morning I was getting back into bed. The curtains were closed, and my back was to the window. I saw a flash of blue light on the bed and over my shoulder. At first I thought it was light from a passing vehicle, but there was no sound. As I turned towards the window I saw another blue flash. Lightning perhaps? I parted the curtains and suddenly the entire southwestern sky lit up with a deep blue light that lasted two or three seconds. Its source was obviously below my field of view, as it was brightest behind nearby rooftops. Then it was over.

My first thought was an explosion,
but again there was almost no sound, just a faint weird humming. Then my mind flashed back to that night 47 years ago. Of course! There's a PG&E substation near the Del Rey Oaks Safeway in the exact same direction the light appeared to be coming from. I verified that on a map.

I turned on the police scanner and Monterey fire department was dispatched to the Casanova area to investigate a reported "transformer explosion" and power outage.

I still don't know exactly what happened,
but the Herald is reporting that a tree took down a power line. The similarity to the 1960s incident intrigues me. Evidently, when something fails spectacularly at a substation, it goes out in threes.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ralph Rubio's "momentum"

When I saw Ralph Rubio's campaign ad in Sunday's Herald I nearly choked on my Cheerios. Under his list of "accomplishments" it read "Keep the momentum going!"

Momentum? Inertia is more like it. Under Rubio's leadership, the city of Seaside has been one of the most stagnant cities on the Monterey Peninsula.

Rubio was first elected as mayor in 2004. In 2010 he was replaced by my good friend Felix Bachofner by a mere 21 votes. Rubio took back the mayor's chair in 2012, winning by a little over 100 votes.

In Sunday's ad Rubio listed several "accomplishments" the first of which was a claim that he balanced twelve budgets. Unfortunately, he did it by digging into the city's cash reserves, which were nearly depleted by the time Bachofner took office in 2010. Felix actually did balance the budget without needing to dip into the reserves. In fact, under Bachofner's leadership, the city actually started replenishing its financial cushion. Unfortunately, Felix's hard work was undone when Rubio retook the seat in 2012.

Felix not only left office with a balanced budget, he left the city with enough money to hire more police officers. What happened? Rubio's administration spent the surplus on raises for existing employees, leaving Seaside's police department with the fewest number of officers in recent memory.

This is particularly galling because in 2008 Rubio successfully asked Seaside voters to approve a one-cent increase in the city sales tax. That tax was supposed to provide for greater public safety, including a beefed-up police department which never materialized. Instead the money poofed into thin air when the economy crashed later that year. We're now paying more and getting less. That's not the sort of momentum I want to keep going.

Other "accomplishments" Rubio listed in his ad were:
  • "Six project areas in exclusive negotiation agreements."
  • "Seaside Resort development disposition agreement approved by State Department of Finance."
  • "Main Gate regional mall ready for request for proposals."
He's boasting about baby steps. Steps get you started, but they are not in and of themselves accomplishments. The Seaside Resort and Main Gate developments, both on former Fort Ord property, have been in the pipeline for over a decade, yet they've barely budged towards construction in that time. Rubio's time. In that same time period neighboring Marina has successfully redeveloped a significant portion of Fort Ord, leaving Seaside in the dust.

Curiously, Rubio omits any reference to Seaside's development plans for Lower Broadway and a new library, both of which the city has been talking about for a good twenty years. That's because during Rubio's time in office no significant progress has been made. Worse, a major source of funding for the library, originally allocated way back in 1997, was withdrawn last January because of the city's failure to use it. Only slugs, snails, and tortoises would call that momentum.

Even more curiously, Ralph Rubio is often thought of as pro-development, due to his membership in the Carpenter's Union. But the reality is that during his years as mayor of Seaside bordering cities, even the tiny slivers of Del Rey Oaks and Sand City, have seen more economic development than we have. That's just one of several reasons why I'm voting for Felix Bachofner for mayor of Seaside.


Herald Boo-Boo Watch part 26

The Herald's "Sounding off" feature seems more prone to careless errors than any other part of the newspaper. On Saturday October 11 they once again left off the names of the people who wrote the comments, printing nothing more than single quotation marks in their place. Honestly, is anybody proofreading anymore?

 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Herald Boo-Boo Watch parts 23-25

Three days, three boo-boos.

Wednesday October 1st a Herald editorial meant to endorse Dave Jones for Insurance Commissioner ended by recommending a vote for his opponent Ted Gaines. In a rare move, the Herald acknowledged this boo-boo and reprinted the endorsement the following day with the correct final sentence.


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Thursday October 2nd had an article on the front page with a mid-sentence font change.


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Friday October 3rd an ad on page A9 announcing a joint Herald/Google advertising program employed atrocious grammar. I'm thinking it was written by one of those employees in India, where the Herald has outsourced its advertising work (yes, really).


Addendum 10/12/14: This ad actually ran for five or six consecutive days and never was corrected.

As I noted in previous Mental Notes, careless errors such as these have been appearing with alarming regularity since Digital First Media moved Herald production work to Chico last March. A few initial bugs were expected, but this sort of sloppy workmanship has been going on for half a year now. You'd think they would have worked out the kinks by now!


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Herald Boo-Boo Watch parts 20-22

Part 20 of the Herald Boo-Boo Watch occurred last weekend. They say history repeats itself and in the Herald three historical events repeated themselves the following day!


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Part 21 from the September 27th issue indicates an over reliance on spell check and not enough checking by the human eye, adding to my suspicions that the production staff is spread way too thin. I'm pretty sure the title of this letter should say "pursue" and not "purse."


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And part 22 is another in the continuing series of improperly formatting the "Sounding Off" feature. Looks like they left off a word at the end. This one was from today's paper of September 28th.



Friday, September 26, 2014

An Hour With Angelo

Angelo DiGirolamo passed away last weekend, one month shy of 93. Angelo was the proprietor of Monterey's Bruce Ariss Wharf Theater on Fisherman's Wharf. But that doesn't begin to describe the sweetest man ever to inhabit our little corner of the world. Angelo was pure light and joy. The beacon of Fisherman's Wharf for much of his long life.

I don't know a lot
about his history, only that he owned a restaurant on the wharf called Angelo's for several decades before he opened the Wharf Theater in the 1970s. I had the privilege to know him only because my wife Heidi was the musical director at the theater from 1991 to 2002.

I remember when I met Angelo, the first time I attended one of Heidi's shows. I approached the box office and introduced myself to him as "Mr. Heidi Toy" and I can hear his resulting giggle in my head to this day. He provided me with the first of many complimentary tickets and I made my way inside. After the show he took great delight in telling Heidi that I introduced myself as "Mr. Heidi Toy" and we laughed about it all over again.

Over the years we'd wrap up many, many more shows chatting with Angelo in the little art gallery he operated off of the theater lobby. It was always a fun way to conclude the evening.

Sometime around 2002 or 2003, when I was working as an audio/visual technician, I had a job to provide a sound system for a dinner speaker at Fresh Cream restaurant in Heritage Harbor next to the wharf. I set up the equipment before the restaurant opened then had about 90 minutes or so before the group arrived. I  took a walk out on the wharf and while I was there I thought I'd pop in the theater and say hi to Angelo.

We ended up shooting the breeze for the better part of an hour. The subject of computers came up. He said he wasn't interested in learning how to use them. "I'm too old." he said. "If I was younger I'd learn about them, but at my age I don't really have any use for them." Those probably weren't his exact words, but that was the essence.

While I had him to myself I wanted to pick his brain about his involvement with the 1952 movie Clash By Night, which was filmed in Monterey. It included a couple of scenes at Angelo's restaurant. There was a character in the restaurant who looked a little like Angelo, and I wondered if he was in the movie, but he said he wasn't.

But it turned out that he was an extra in two other locally filmed movies. In the 1943 WWII drama Edge of Darkness, where Fisherman's Wharf portrayed a Norwegian fishing village, Angelo played a German soldier. And in another WWII flick from 1949, Sword in the Desert, Angelo portrayed a Jewish soldier on the beach of Palestine, which was actually Monterey's Del Monte Beach.

Angelo also told me
he served the Sword director, George Sherman, and several of the film's stars at his restaurant. Sherman discussed his plans for the beach landing scene with Angelo, saying he wanted to film it somewhere east of the Navy School. Angelo told him the surf at that time of year could be quite hazardous there, and he advised Sherman to do it closer to the wharves.

Sherman took Angelo's advice. As it was, one boat overturned during filming and the director thanked Angelo for his advice. Had he filmed the landings farther east, the director told him later, it would have been a disaster and ruined his reputation.

Angelo was full of stories like that. We didn't just lose a sweet man last Sunday, we also lost a fountain of local historical knowledge. I'm glad I was able to capture one little slice of his experience to relate here and incorporate it into my research on locally filmed movies.

And speaking of stories, here's a short video from the Monterey County Weekly with Angelo telling a bit about his life on Fisherman's Wharf.