The Day the Earth Stood Still (finally)


A big scare in the Bay Area the other day. Just a few days after the 20th anniversary of the terrible Loma Prieta quake that was the biggest since 1906, there were a series of jigglers, the largest a 4.0. (we are so used to quakes that we throw away ones that size)

But it did upset a lot of people. I didn’t feel it at all (nor the aftershocks). I was in Sonoma and then in Palo Alto and it was centered southeast of Berkeley.

Image by Sigurd Decroos from stock.xchng.com.

But it did take me back to those terrible days 23 years ago. I was mainly in Los Angeles at that time working at Ticketmaster but had come back up to the Bay Area to visit Judi and for the World Series between the A’s and the Giants. Although we had suites at both the Giants and A’s ballparks, I wasn’t going to the first game. At 5 o’clock I was standing by my office talking and getting ready to leave when the Bermuda building suddenly starting lurching back and forth. BASS Tickets Headquarters were on the 9th (top) floor. I was almost knocked to the ground, and held onto to the doorway. Everything was crashing around me and our people were screaming.

I immediately yelled “Everyone out of here now!” and we all headed to the stairway in a very orderly fashion and hurdled down the 9 floors.

Most left their purses, belongings, etc. and we stood in the middle of Franklin street to get out of the way of falling bricks and debris. We knew it was bad; we had no idea how bad and that we would never get back in the building again.

Ironically, our computers kept running, churning out the ticket transactions. Inland areas such as Sacramento and Stockton were not affected and the outlets continued selling tickets. We gathered in the delicatessen across the street, which would become our unofficial home for the next several months.

Our GM had rushed to the subway (BART) station to get to his family, but soon came back as obviously it was not running. BART shut down until all the tracks could be surveyed to determine the damage. The freeway several blocks away had crumbled in places; the Bay Bridge had one portion of the upper deck fall on the lower.

I was staying in Sausalito, but the authorities had closed all the bridges across the Bay and I remember driving completely around it (check out a map) and somehow ended up there.

It was a really traumatic time for all of us, and that is a subject for another post. Our friends at Ticketmaster in Los Angeles responded immediately, working on diverting the phone lines from our offices to theirs. We put about a dozen of our best phone operators on a plane to Los Angeles where there was a special setup in the TM phone room for them.

Our computers kept functioning (miraculously) in spite of no operators or updates or maintenance. Finally Denise, our operations manager, was able to remotely shut it down (not that easy 20 years ago) and Ticketmaster had transferred the data to one of their computers. Luckily, every night we had saved a data “tape” of all transactions and our GM had taken it out as he did, and we sent that to LA. The fire department permitted two of our people to go into the building for 1 hour a week or so later to grab what was necessary, and that was it. The building was condemned; Ironically, the new owner had purchased it just weeks before and did not have adequate insurance yet.

Eventually we opened new offices in Concord several months later. We kept whomever we could on limited pay (Hal Silen and I always prided ourselves on how we regarded our employees, at least 4 of whom were carryovers from our Roller Derby days.)

Although we were virtually out of money, we continued. We actually gave $10,000 to the Great American Music Hall, one of our first clients, in order for them to stay in business. We never asked for repayment.

And we later that year booked a weekend for all of our employees who had been with us that day at a resort in Napa County and brought in a psychologist so everyone could work it out the best that they could.

So those Mayan calender watchers who keeps predicting the end of the world this December don’t bother me. I have been there.

7 comments on “The Day the Earth Stood Still (finally)

  1. I was living in Morgan Hill then, not far from the epicenter, and I will never forget that day! There were so many roads blocked off, building debris and accidents around our town and the bay area as a whole, so much damage. Our phones were knocked out and I couldn’t reach Mom & Denise, Maggie or Wayne and because I was at work in a locked psych hospital I wasn’t able to leave (due to client unrest) for several hours until relief staff could finally make it in. TV kept showing pictures of a very collapsed hwy 80 (along with the bay bridge, the marina, santa cruz to name a few) on the news and since it happened just after 5pm I was terrified that they (and other of our friends & family) had been on the way home when it fell. I hope I never have to feel that kind of prolonged panic ever again, especially in a situation that required me to be calm and reassuring for others when I was so frightened. I suspect you were having similar thoughts and feelings. It was not the best day to be the person in charge was it?

  2. Nice to read your story, even though I had heard it before …. From you and the others at BASS. What a terrible time – The people at BASS always impressed me, but this story was most impressive.
    Hope all is well. We get to the Bay Area nearly every week… Have an office in Menlo Park – will have to look you up one of these days to see you.
    God Bless – Cindy (Klein) McMackin

  3. Whoa. I couldn’t help but giggle about the computers still running (they don’t make ’em like they used to!) but as for the rest: that sounds completely terrifying. We’re starting to get quakes here now, but I haven’t ever noticed one personally, so I can NOT imagine what it would have been like for you guys. Awesome to see how everyone worked together and was looking after one another, too.

  4. Dude, I swear if you ripped your shirt open we’d see another underneath; blue with a big red “S” on it. What haven’t you been through? You’ve had such an amazing life of experiences. The ones you share are always fascinating. I’m sure there are readers who were too young to remember the quake of ’89. The Bay area in ’89 remains one of the most vivid memories I have. Certainly, the most vivid of my generation prior to 9/11. Yet another example of a community pulling together and putting everything aside to help the whole, instead of the individual. It’s just too bad there’s not more of that sense of community on a daily basis.

  5. Pingback: The Day the Earth Stood Still (finally) | RollerDerbyJesus.com

  6. I remember that day so well. And I remember what happened to you and your company and how well you got through it eventually.

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