My Letter from 1989 about the Earthquake World Series
by Ken Arneson
2013-10-25 12:04

Grantland posted an oral history of the 1989 World Series and earthquake the other day. That prompted me to dig up an old letter I sent to my friends and family outside the Bay Area, mostly in Sweden, about my experiences during that time.

A bit of background: in October of 1989, I had just returned from a year living in Sweden with my girlfriend (now wife) Pam. Pam was staying at her parents’ house and I was staying with her brother, until we could find jobs and afford to get our own place.

In hindsight, this letter is quite long, full of unnecessary details and subplots, not unlike a Victorian novel. It also lacks a good plot, because, well, no buildings fell down around me or anything. Nobody in the story was hurt, nobody was rescued. But in my defense, this was back in the days when you couldn’t just send an email or post something on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram and have everyone you know around the world instantly know what’s going on in your life. My Swedish friends probably got some horrific pictures on TV of collapsed buildings and fires and thought San Francisco had fallen into the sea. We weren’t so overwhelmed with data that a lack of filtering was a problem. TL;DR was not a thing back then.

So, here it is, what I wrote back in 1989:

We baseball fans felt all along that this was going to be one of the most memorable weeks in Bay Area history. We were right.

We were so excited here in the Bay Area. Both our teams, the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants had made it to the finals, the World Series. It was all anyone could talk about. Half to three-quarters of all the local newscasts were devoted to talking about it. (For those Swedes in the audience, imagine the excitement in Stockholm if AIK and Djurgården were playing for the UEFA cup championship or something.)

Many people had a tough time choosing whom to root for. Most people root for both teams. We’ve never had to choose between the teams before, because the teams play in different leagues, and could only meet in the championship. They never play against each other, except in practice games which don’t matter. So we’ve always rooted for both teams, unlike many areas where there are two teams and you like one and hate the other.

So now we had what we wanted, and it was time to choose sides. A lot of people refused to pick sides and were chastized for being wishy-washy. It was time to show your true loyalty. Living in Alameda, an island in the bay between San Francisco and Oakland, made the choice particularly tough. From certain places in Alameda, you can see both the Oakland Coliseum and Candlestick Park. Oakland is closer (you can’t get out of Alameda, except by boat or plane, without going through Oakland), but one of the Giants, Chris Speier, is from Alameda.

Interestingly, age seemed to the deciding factor around Pam’s house. The Giants moved to San Francisco in 1957, and were the Bay Area’s only team until 1968, when the A’s came to Oakland from Kansas City. Those who can remember the Giants being the only team are rooting for the Giants. Pam’s dad, and sisters Audrey and Amy are rooting for the Giants. Pam’s sister Deanna, age 31, is right on the border and can’t decide. Those of us younger than her, Pam’s 14-year-old niece Stacy, sister Cathy, Pam and I are loyal to our East Bay upbringing and are rooting for the A’s. (Pam, now 23, is the youngest of nine.) Pam’s mom is also rooting for the A’s, seeming to be the only exception to this pattern, until it was pointed out that everyone always says her age is 21. So the pattern held.

There was a lot of teasing and arguing about the World Series going on in the Huie household . The household was divided, as were thousands of otherwise happy families. The same could be said, I suppose, about the Bay Area as a whole. Normally, the Bay Area thinks of itself as an entity. Now it was divided, east versus west, the glamorous San Francisco versus the hard-working, blue-collar Oakland. Newspapers ran debate articles where one writer would say that one city was better, and deserved to win, and the other would disagree.

Even the mayors got into the act. It is somewhat of a tradition that the mayors of the two cities involved in such championships make a bet, where the mayor of the city with the winning team would receive something which the losing city is famous for. Well, when this was brought up, San Francisco mayor Art Agnos joked that “there is nothing in Oakland that I would want,” Oakland is sensitive to such jabs; San Francisco receives all the glory in the area while Oakland is treated as just a place to put 330,000 people can’t fit into The City, as San Francisco is called here. So it was no surprise that Oakland mayor Lionel Wilson was so upset that , at first , he refused to return Mayor Agnos’ calls to offer an apology. Finally, however, they literally kissed and made up. As a token of accepting the apology, Mayor Wilson presented Mayor Agnos with a basket of goods containing such things as Ghirardelli, the famous “San Francisco chocolate” and Rice-a-Roni, known as “the San Francisco Treat”, both of which, of course, are made in Oakland.

There was so much talk about the World Series in the newspapers, on TV and on radio, that I actually was getting sick of it, which is odd, considering what a big sports fan I am. The problem was, I think, that there was almost a week between when the “Bay Bridge World Series” was set and when game one of the best of seven series was scheduled. Baseball is game which is played nearly every day, about six times a week, A five-day wait such as this one from Monday, October 9 to Saturday the l4th, in baseball is unusually long. On Wednesday, I tried to alleviate my World Series Hype Burnout by resolving to not watch any more shows on TV or listen to or read anything.that had to do with the World Series until the game actually had started. But of course, my interest was too great for such discipline, and by Thursday, I was watching and reacting just as much as ever.

On Friday, Pam, Deanna, Cathy and I headed out to the Oakland Coliseum, where an A’s rally was being held, About a thousand people showed up to show their support for the A’s, A’s players Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley and the manager, Tony LaRussa, gave speeches and promised a championship for Oakland. The rally was disappointingly short, as the A’s were about to head into the stadium to practice. The Giants had just finished a workout there. We saw several players in the parking lot, such as Rickey Henderson of the A’s, and Brett Butler of the Giants, As we arrived at the car to leave, I noticed Atlee Hammaker and Scott Garrelts, both Giants pitchers, driving by in a fancy white Mercedes. We waved at them, and they smiled and waved back. Pam said she felt funny waving at them wearing an A’s hat and shirt.

Finally, Saturday arrived, Deanna had managed to purchase a
set of two tickets to each of the four scheduled games at the
Oakland Coliseum through the A’s Booster Club, which she had
joined earlier in the year. The tickets cost fifty dollars each, but anybody knows if you have a chance to get World Series tickets, you should, because it is always a good investment. But for this once-in-a-lifetime Bay Area World Series, the tickets were gold. The fifty dollar seats couId be sold for over 300 dollars, if we wanted to. But this was the kind of event that you would want to go to yourself, so you could say fifty years later, when people are still talking about this World Series around here, “I was there,” The odds (without considering the strengths of the teams) of these two teams meeting in the World Series are one in 168.

We had tickets to games 1, 2, 6, & 7. Stacy and Cathy claimed game 2, and Pam said she wanted to go to game 1. Deanna was having a tough time deciding whether to go to game 1 or 6. The risk with choosing game six is that if one team wins four games before that, there will be no game 6. But game six is always an exciting game, because either one team will win the championship, or it will set up a final deciding game. Game sixes are historically more memorable than game ones. I told Deanna I would go to the one that she didn’t go to. Finally, Deanna decided she would take game six, so Pam and I went to game one.

Pam and I left for the game a little after 3pm. Pam’s dad gave us a ride to the Coliseum BART (subway) station, from which we walked over to the stadium. From the walkway between BART and and the stadium, we looked down into the players’ parking lot, where we saw Dave Stewart, the starting pitcher for the A’s that evening, arriving for the game. A fan in front of us yelled at Stewart and asked him if he was going to beat the Giants that evening. Stewart looked up at us and said that he would.

We bought a program and entered the stadium. Our seats were
in the second deck (of three) down the left-field line in fair
territory. The Giants were taking batting Lee when we
arrived. I’d say that the stands were filled with about 65% A’s fans, 25% Giants fans, and 10% undecided.

To me, the two hours we had to wait for the game to start seemed as long as the five days we had been waiting before. Pam occupied herself by looking at the players warming up through her binoculars, and was fine. But I was so anxious for the game to start that I didn’t know what to do with myself. I watched the players, I read the program, I went to the bathroom, and I walked around the stadium and took some pictures to remember the day by. But even after all that, it still seemed as though there were days until the game would start.

Finally, the players were introduced and the game got underway. My anxiousness for the game to start lingered several innings into the game. Finally, after celebrating home runs by Dave Parker and Walt Weiss which gave the A’S a 5-0 lead, the game seemed like a real baseball game.

Dave Stewart lived up to his promise to us before the game. He was magnificent. He pitched the whole game, and didn’t allow the Giants a run. He sent us A’s fans home happy with a one-game lead in the series.

Pam and I spent the next day over at Audrey’s house, watching the house while Audrey and her husband Jim went to Iowa for Jim’s parents’ anniversary. We watched the San Francisco 49ers football game in the morning, (they beat Dallas 31-14), and then we watched the TV coverage of the game we went to the night before on video tape.

Then we watched game two, which was similar to game one. The A’s won again, 5-1. Audrey and Jim were returning Monday evening, so we spent Monday doing dishes, making the bed, and cleaning up Audrey’s house. Monday night brought more good news for Bay Area sports fans, when the Los Angeles Rams lost to the Buffalo Bills, which meant that the 49ers were tied for first place again. It was an exciting time to be a sports fan in the Bay Area. Bay Area sports fans had never been and couldn’t possibly ever be in a better position than they were when they woke up on the morning of Tuesday, October 17, 1989.

I spent most of Tuesday trying to write letters for job applications. Although sports was exciting, there was still work to be done. I must admit, though, as game time grew nearer and nearer , it became increasingly more difficult to concentrate on the letter writing.

At about 4:55 pm, I left Sam’s apartment, where I am staying now until I find a job, for Pam’s house. Sam (Pam’s brother) had given me a video tape so I could have the game taped for him. The reception at Pam’s house is better than at Sam’s apartment, for some reason. He also gave me a tub of licorice to take over to his parent’s house. It was a nice, warm day, about 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit), and it only took me about three minutes to walk over there.

I entered the house, hung up my jacket, said hi and put the licorice on the table. Pam’s parents and Deanna were there in the main part of the house, which is located upstairs. The house is an old Victorian style house. Pam and Cathy were downstairs, which is actually a separate apartment, which you have to go outside to get to from upstairs. Pam and Amy sleep downstairs. I went downstairs to say hi and to find out if I should put Sam’s tape in the VCR upstairs or downstairs. Cathy said they were taping it themselves downstairs, so I should use the VCR upstairs. I said OK and went back upstairs.

Deanna was lying on the sofa, not feeling very well. She some sort of stomach flu. She got up to make a phone call to people at the swim center where she works and said that yes, she actually was sick and wasn’t skipping work because she wanted to watch the World Series. After her phone call, she announced that she was going back to bed for awhile.

I put Sam’s tape in the VCR and set it for Channel 7, which was televising the game. I grabbed the VCR remote control from atop the TV, and sat down in a folding chair. Pam’s dad was sitting in his usual chair at the dining table, and Pam’s mom was in the kitchen. The game was scheduled to start at 5:35, but the pre-game coverage began at 5:00. I decided to tape the pre-game stuff, too, so when the game coverage came on at 5:00, I pressed the record button, and let the tape roll. The announcers started out showing highlights and talking about some of the key plays in games one and two, in order to set the stage for the third game, which was to be the first World Series game played at Candlestick Park in twenty-seven years.

Make that twenty-seven years and a week. Candlestick Park would have to wait.

When you spend most of your life in California, you become trained. There are two sounds that accompany an earthquake, and if you hear both, you prepare yourself to move, automatically, like hitting the brakes on your car if something suddenly jumps in your way. Whenever you hear one of the sounds, you listen, somewhat subconsciously, for the other. Usually it is something else. It took me several months while I was in Sweden this past year to untrain myself and not think about listening for the other sound.

It took me about a tenth of a second to retrain myself.

First, I heard the rumble. The rumble usually sounds like a 
truck passing by or a jet airplane going overhead. Since jet
airplanes and trucks often do go by, the rumble alone never is a
cause for alarm. The rumble was accompanied almost instantaneously by the other sound, the sound of the creaking of the house as it loses its inertia. Again, most houses creak to some degree, so the sound alone doesn’t cause anyone to jump.

The two sounds came almost at once. Having heard both sounds, I was pretty sure what was going on. I said, “Uh-oh.” Then the house began to shake.

The shaking came in three waves. The first lasted about three seconds, and wasn’t very intense. I stayed in my seat, and the thought crossed my mind that this was a funny time to have an earthquake. The shaking started to die down in the 2nd second, so I thought it would stop, and be just a small little quake.

But then it started shaking harder again, and I. realized I was wrong. The next thing I knew, I was standing in the doorway between the entry hall and the main room of the house. I have been so well trained, it was like an instinctual action to get there. This second wave of shaking was probably the most intense, and lasted about seven seconds. The house was shaking pretty hard, but nothing was falling or anything, so it still didn’t seem that bad. Again, as this wave of shaking died down, I thought it would stop. Again, I was wrong.

The third and final wave was not as strong as the second wave, but it was stronger than the first. As this final wave began, I heard Pam’s dad exclaim, “Wow!” I jumped over from the doorway I was standing under to the front doorway. (The front door was open to get a breeze because it was warm inside.) I figured it would be easier to get out of the house from that doorway, should that prove necessary. Also, I was curious what the shaking looked like outside. (It was disappointing, just a few telephone wires jumping around.)

Suddenly, it was over. Later, we learned it lasted 15 seconds. I wouId have guessed about 25, but 15 probably right.

I went back inside. Nothing looked different, that I could tell, except that the TV and VCR were off. Obviously, the electricity was out. Someone checked the phone, and that was out as well. I tried to turn off the TV and the VCR, but it seems they turn themselves off when the power goes out.

I had always imagined myself being in a building that is falling to pieces when a big earthquake hit. So when I didn’t see any damage, I assumed that it wasn’t too bad. I knew that it was probably the most shaking I had ever felt, but it just didn’t register in my mind that it was that much more than anything I had ever felt before. 15 seconds isn’t that long.

My immediate concern after turning off the electrical appliances was the World Series. I thought, “I hope they get the electricity back on soon, so I don’t miss any of the game.” Cathy and Pam came upstairs, and Cathy got a transistor radio so we could listen to the game and the news until the power came back. The problem was that we couldn’t find any stations on the air. After about a minute, though, we found one. I think it was KCBS, the all news radio station. They didn’t seem to know any more than we did at the time, though.

Then the phone rang. It was Pam’s oldest sister, Susan, who lives in Fremont, She was OK. Cathy told her to tape the game for us because we had lost our electricity. The phone rang again. It was Judy, Stacy’s mom. She said that Stacy was at home alone and was scared. Pam and Cathy volunteered to go over there and keep her company. They tried to call over to Stacy to let her know they were coming, but they couldn’t get a dial tone. Apparently, phone calls could come in, but they couldn’t dial out. Pam and Cathy left.

Meanwhile, Pam’s mom was in the kitchen picking some things up which had fallen over during the quake. Deanna had jumped out of bed when the quake hit. She said that the earthquake had somehow made her stomach feel better. The improvement only lasted about half an hour, however, so I can’t say that an earthquake is a good cure for the stomach flu. Pam’s dad went out to check if there was any damage, or if any gas lines had broken.

Pam’s dad came back and said there was a fire in Oakland. I went out to look. Sure enough, from the sidewalk, you could see a big puff of smoke rising from somewhere in Oakland. I showed it to Deanna and went back inside.

Cathy returned to say that over at Stacy’s house a few blocks away, they had electricity. Sam then came by and said that everything at the apartment was fine. He wanted to check on things here. I decided to go over to Stacy’s to watch TV, in case the World Series happened to start up. I had heard on the radio that they were delaying the start of the game.

I put on my jacket, and started walking. Nothing appeared to be damaged. People were all out on the street talking about the earthquake. One street I was walking down was a block where people had just gotten to know each other better three days earlier. The people who live on this block had paid the police a fee to close off the street so they could have a World Series block party for Game One. They got together, ate food, watched the World Series, and got to know each other a little better. Now, they were busy discussing the earthquake. There were groups of adults huddled together, and a group of about 10 little kids, most of whom on bicycles, saying “Did you feel it?” I then heard a woman say that the Bay Bridge had collapsed. I found this hard to believe, especially since all of these old houses were still standing. I figured it would be natural for rumors to start circulating after such a shaker.

But when I got over to Stacy’s, I found out the rumor was true, at least to some degree. There it was, on TV, a section of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge had collapsed onto the lower deck. It was kind of hard to believe, I guess, for everyone in the Bay Area. If anything would hold up in an earthquake, we had all thought, it would be the Bay Bridge. The Bay Bridge was the one structure in the Bay Area which held the Bay Area together. It connected East and West. It was a symbol of our unity. The Golden Gate Bridge always recieved all the glory, but it was the Bay Bridge which did the most work. The division between East and West that was previously only a game was now a reality. The last time I really felt shocked at something like this was when the space shuttle blew up.

The pictures started to come in via the television: the fire in the Marina District of San Francisco, the freeway collapse in Oakland. Was this really the same earthquake I had felt? That freeway could only be about 2-3 miles (4-5 km) away from here at the most. The Bay Bridge isn’t much farther away, either. It was amazing to see so much damage so close, while nothing had happened here.

I felt strange, as if I should be doing something besides just watching TV. They announced that the game had been cancelled„ I got up and walked outside and sat on the porch steps of Stacy’s house. Then I went back in and watched some more. Sheri, Stacy’s sister, came home. She had been out playing tennis for her high school team. I went back to the porch. A man walked by. I said something intentionally ironic, like “Lovely day, isn’t it?” He said it was, returning the irony.

Then my friend Mikkos, who is in the navy and stationed at the Alameda Naval Air Station, drove up. He had a friend with him in his car. Mikkos introduced us to Tom. They had been by Pam’s house hoping to use their phone, but of course were not able to. He was disappointed to learn that the phone did not work here, either.

Mikkos was worried about his family, who live in San Jose. They live much closer to the epicenter of the earthquake, which we learned from TV was in the Santa Cruz Mountains between San Jose and Santa Cruz, in an old house. Mikkos is usually one to appreciate the kind of black humor that arises from such disasters, but it was obvious that he wasn’t going to regain his sense of humor until he knew his family was safe. The rest of us, who knew already that our families were safe, tried to cope with the situation, and ease the tension, with some humor.

I can’t remember exactly what we joked about, but most of the humor was of the what-if-somebody-was-doing-something-or-other-when-the-earthquake-hit variety. Mikkos and Tom were beside the naval base swimming pool when the quake hit. They said that there were at least 4-foot (1.2m) waves in the pool. I’m sure we joked about the possibilities of that. And I’m sure that Mikkos didn’t laugh.

Eventually, Sheri offered to go with Mikkos to her mom’s work. The fax phone at her office was working. We didn’t see Mikkos or Tom again that evening, but we learned that everything OK at Mikkos’s place in San Jose.

After about another hour, Pam’s sister Audrey, who lives in Alameda, dropped in and said her house was OK. Pam’s sister Amy came by and told us that the electricity had returned at their house, and that Pam’s mom had made some dinner. Amy was in a high-rise building at the California State University in Hayward, which is south of Alameda, but north of San Jose. Amy was the “disaster monitor” on the floor of the building she works on, and was responsible for evacuating her floor, and making sure everything on her floor was OK. She did so, and then returned home to Alameda. Amy later learned via the TV that her school would be closed the next day, so she would not have to go to work the day after the earthquake.

After eating dinner (Pam’s mom made lasagna), we all sat and watched TV. Only about 5 or 6 stations were on the air. All but one, Channel 36 in San Jose, were doing non-stop, commercial-free news. Channel 36 kept right on with its regular programming, showing old re-runs of Hawaii Five-O, etc. Channel 7 seemed to have the best coverage, probably because they had a lot of cameras and such out at various places in the Bay Area because they were the station which was broadcasting the World Series. Channel 5 was also pretty good, but Channel 4 looked like they were broadcasting by candlelight.

We watched and watched. Eventually, it got to the point where we would see the same things over and over before we got to see anything new, I went home at about 10 pm, and took a tape of some old TV shows I had missed while in Sweden, because I was getting so tired of watching the news. I watched these shows on tape, but I kept turning back to the news. I was up until 3 am watching the news. There was a pretty big aftershock about 2 am, which shook my bed for about a half a second, so I stayed up to find out how big it was. It was about 4.5.

The next day was like the evening before. The daylight brought more news as to how much damage there was. I was getting really sick and tired of watching this stuff, but I couldn’t stop watching, I gave a name to my affliction: Post Earthquake News Burnout Syndrome, PENBOS for short. PENBOS is a really-irritating illness, slightly more irritating during times like these than not knowing whether that motion you just felt was another aftershock, or the person next to you on the sofa moving.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Well, in time, we all recovered from our PENBOS, from our movingsofaphobia, and from the earthquake itself. Except for the people directly affected, and for those who want to go to San Francisco from the East Bay, life is pretty much back to normal. The World Series was finished, following a ten-day delay. (The Oakland A’s won, 4 games to none). For the first time since the Bay Bridge was built, there is regular ferry service from various places in the East Bay to San Francisco. BART is taking record numbers of passengers under the bay. People compensate. I think from what went out into the national and international news, people thought we were in ruins here in the Bay Area. Considering that this was a 7.1 earthquake, during rush hour, we should be proud of the way we build things here and were prepared. This quake was stronger than the one in Armenia, where 25,000 people died. Only 64 people died here. There are over 6 million people here. 64 people die here every day, and we don’t notice. There was damage to a lot of buildings and structuress the Bay Bridge, the 880 freeway in Oakland, the houses in San Francisco, the shopping mall in Santa Cruz. Places I’ve been to often, which are a part of the reason I love living in this area. I’ve seen the Capwells store in Oakland, where windows were shattered and some of the wall crumbled off, exposing the brick interior of the wall. And even Pam s house was affected: its chimney is badly twisted. But those are just buildings. We can rebuild those things.

When it comes right down to it, we’re OK.

A postscript: The earthquake kind of slowed down the job hunting for awhile. But in December, we both found jobs and we got an apartment. Pam and I married in 1991.

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