Nevius: 'Woooooooooo!': Quake memories from Candlestick's upper deck still strong
Not to brag, but when the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake struck, I was the voice of reason.
A group of us media types were in the overflow, outdoor press box at Candlestick Park. We were in the upper deck, behind home plate, waiting for the start of Game 3 of the World Series. When the rumbling began, I offered some reassurance to the out-of-town reporter sitting next to me.
“That’s just the jets from the flyover,” I told him confidently.
I assume he’ll never believe anything I say for the rest of my life. The tipoff was that it didn’t stop. We talk about “shaking” in an earthquake, but this was more like a shuddering. And it went on and on. The quake only lasted 17 seconds, but that’s a long time when you are wondering if your world is going to collapse.
I distinctly remember thinking, “That’s enough!” I have no idea to whom I was directing that thought.
What people forget is that when the rattling ended there was a big whoop. “Woooooooooo!” It was like, “Welcome to San Francisco.”
A colleague of mine grinned and said, “Well that was something.”
But I’d already seen the images on press box TVs.
“The Bay Bridge is down,” I said.
Until then I’d never really understood what it meant to say someone’s face “fell.” Like everyone else, we were suddenly recalibrating everything we were about to do in the next few minutes, hours and days.
The weird part was that the crowd wouldn’t leave. The power for the sound system was out. There weren’t smartphones and most weren’t carrying transistor radios. So they sat, waiting for the game.
Somebody even held up a sign that said, “That was nothing. Wait ’til the Giants bat.” (True story. I’ve seen the photo.)
Former Giants marketing chief Pat Gallagher told me they finally sent someone out to pull up the bases. That, and seeing the players walking across the field to the exit, convinced people there wouldn’t be a game.
What we didn’t know was the craziness and tragedy unfolding all around us. Like the fires in the Marina. Or the unbelievable footage of a car speeding the wrong way across the empty Bay Bridge, reaching the downed section, flying out into space and crashing, killing the driver.
Years later, I had an idea for a book on the quake and its effect on San Francisco. I located and interviewed a lot of the key players, none of whom would ever forget Loma Prieta.
My favorite has always been Benji Young, a steeplejack who was employed by the Giants to help with the long streamers that flew from the tall stadium light standards. One of them had gotten tangled in the lights and Young climbed up and out on the catwalk to fix it. He was just stretching out his hand, reaching for the fabric, when it hit.
He describes how the light standard swung back and forth. Into the ballpark and then back out to the parking lots. Which would be better? To land in the seats or the concrete?
It held. As the swaying was dying down, Young had a logical reaction.