Monday, October 17, 2005


October 17, 1989 dawned as one of those clear-sky, lazy autumn days. So beautiful it begged to be filled with hiking, playing, and exploring. I was working as a teaching assistant for Anthro 1 Physical Anthropology at UC Santa Cruz, a course being taught by Adrienne Zihlman. Luckily, the lectures were MWF, and the labs I taught were on Thursdays, so I had this stunning Tuesday to share with Roger.

We started the day by heading to a restaurant out on Highway 9 in Ben Lomond or Felton. It was reputed to make great, hearty breakfasts, and we went to eat something rich and filling. The plan was to leave there, drive up Zayante Road beyond Lompico (way out in the boonies, for those not familiar with the Santa Cruz mountains), and explore the Loch Lomond Reservoir.

All was going well until we reached the gate to the reservoir. Big chains and locks. Big sign saying it was closed due to the drought. We hadn't known, and here we were all ready for a good hike. So, rather than be deterred by gates and signs, we parked the car, next to the NO PARKING sign, climbed over the chain, and walked down to the reservoir.

Oh it was a perfect day-- trees, bugs, birds, and water. Although I can hardly remember a single detail of the things we saw, I do remember that Roger and I looked a lot at each other. We had only been together ten months, living together, and still getting to know each other. That was part of the beauty of the day.

We hiked for hours and hours. Stopped and listened. Held hands. What fun until we heard thrashing and heavy footsteps coming right for us. Sure enough, the park ranger had found us and busted us for being in the closed park, and for parking the car where it expressly said not to. The ranger asked, "Is that your car at the gate, the one with the other parking ticket on the front dash?" Oops. Yes. That was my car with the ticket I had gotten about a week before. I must have seemed like such a little outlaw to him. But lucky for us, he was absolutely cool. He told us he wasn't going to give us a ticket, since I already had one (isn't that amazing?). He hardly ever had people to talk to anymore with the park closed to visitors; so, he offered us a ride back up the hill, about a mile, to our car. We talked on the bumpy ride back. He was quite a pleasant guy. We thanked him, bid him farewell, jumped into our car and headed home.

It took us about a half hour to reach the family beach house in Capitola. It was a bit after 5:00 when we stepped inside and walked upstairs to our little two room garret. Roger turned on the World Series, and I sat down to think about dinner.

Seismogram showing the main shock of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

That's when the house started to shake. SHAKE. One of the biggest earthquakes to hit California in years was rocking that house for all it was worth. Oh My God, that house shook. Things started to fall, I crawled across the floor to be next to Roger. He was holding back the TV and the vcr from falling to the floor. The 5 gallon Sparklett's water bottle tipped over. Water was spilling everywhere. Our bookcase slid sideways. I could hear things falling and crashing in different parts of the house. I thought I heard the toilet flush by itself. There was an ongoing roar coming from everywhere the earth shook. I looked out the window to see what the birds were doing on the beach below. The gulls were circling, circling. Dust was rising from the sand where bits of cliff had already fallen. Fifteen seconds. That was all. Fifteen seconds, and the shaking stopped.
Earthquake damaged homes in San Francisco.
We looked at each other and confirmed that we were both alright. We checked for damage around the house. A couple of small broken teacups. A few new cracks in the stone fireplace downstairs. The brick chimney that vented the water heater had fallen into pieces, bounced off the street and up onto my new car. Minor damage all. That was not true for the rest of Santa Cruz or our neighbors. Fallen fireplace chimneys were everywhere. Glass from broken windows littered the streets. We turned off the gas at the main shut-off valve outside, and went to sit in the car to listen to radio reports of the damage. Learned that the epicenter of the quake was located 70 miles south of San Francisco. That's exactly where we were. They announced the bay bridge had collapsed. Other roadways had crashed onto lower roads. People were crushed and trapped in their cars. Buildings were on fire in San Francisco. Much later we learned that the damage in downtown Santa Cruz was extensive. Some of our favorite places-- the bookstore, the bagelry--simply ceased to exist.
Downtown Santa Cruz earthquake damage.
We spent that night at our friends' house. Fifteen of us slept together on the living room floor. There were significant aftershocks all night. We held tight. The earth continued to shake sporadically for days. Slowly we emerged from the shock. Electricity was restored. Streets were swept clean. For months we could bike ride on roadways that had become impassable for cars. Life resumed, and yet it was changed forever.

Roger's family beach house backyard.
Three years later, on October 17, 1992, Roger and I commemorated the quake anniversary in our own way. We had been talking about getting married and had even gone ahead and gotten blood tests. We woke on that Saturday morning, and said, "Hey, let's get married today." We called a justice of the peace who said he was available at 10:00 that morning. We called my twin brother and sister-in-law to ask if they would be our witnesses. In a matter of about two hours the wedding was planned and executed. We stood barefoot in the yard above Monterey Bay, where the gulls circled and called. It was as simple a ceremony as you can imagine. We confirmed and committed to each other what we knew was already in our hearts. Afterwards, we celebrated by going to our favorite restaurant for breakfast. Later we walked into town and told the local video store guy that we had just gotten married. He gave us a free video rental for a wedding present. And it's been a charmed life ever since!
Actual wedding day photo of the barefoot bride and groom!
Tonight we will raise our wine glasses at 5:04 and drink to the memory of day that began beautifully, but ended in sorrow; and then to a day that began simply with a marriage that's led us here.

A gallery of Loma Prieta earthquake photos can be found here.

Postscript: We never had a chance to thank that park ranger. Had he not driven us to our car we would have been in the Santa Cruz mountains when the quake struck. No telling when we would have made it out of the hills that day.


  1. Happy Anniversary!! Great story. ❤️❤️��

  2. What an amazing story. I'll bet that little house shook -- while Roger was holding back the tv and vcr, Kevin was grabbing baby Laurel out of the flight path of our own tv and vcr. It is hard to believe that 25 years have passed. Lordy. Beautifully written, this story. Thanks.

    And hey, Happy Anniversary you crazy kids!

  3. Thank you for sharing this. Awesomeness simply told.

  4. Happy Anniversary!! and I am so glad that the park ranger was nice and gave you a ride. What an interesting life you've led.

  5. Congratulations on the anniversary. The quake was also memorable to me. We were supposed to be in Palo Alto the week after it. That was a business trip and it got changed. We went down about a month later and seeing the damage was just amazing. It took years before all the buildings at Stanford were open again as some had to be retrofitted and some had been damaged. It makes you really think when you realize how the earth can do that and how little control we really have.

  6. What a spectacular story! I love it.

  7. So what a way to remember and to celebrate - Hope the earth will always continue to move as you celebrate :)

  8. Happy Anniversary a few hours late! It is always fascinating to see how one small action can change the chain of events in huge ways. I am glad the ranger found you when he did. I remember that day so well. I was watching the game at Candlestick on TV and talking on the phone with a friend who was also watching. We sat there stunned and then terrified for everyone in the area. Hope you lovebirds have a fun weekend celebrating the many seasons you have shared!

  9. I loved this story the first time you posted it and now I love it even more. Happy Anniversary! And isn't it wonderful how, even as we get along in years, the earth still moves in new and different ways?

  10. What a swell read! You sure do tell a story well. I love hearing it. I remember that quake. I had left the west coast for the Minnesota chapter of my life with Jeff just 2 months before it hit. I felt like I had dodged a bullet. That was the same time Paul Wellstone started running for senator. I recall feeling like perhaps it was a good move for me. I always like hearing your love story and I celebrate your 25 years together with a little dance in my heart.

  11. That story doesn't get old. Happy Anniversary

  12. Just read your beautiful story, I am moved.

  13. The part about the quake was thoroughly frightening and I remember the news coverage. Devastating. So happy the park ranger was there for you. Some things are meant to be, just like you and Roger. Happy Anniversary to one of the coolest couples around.