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.