Shakin' & Bakin': The 'Quake Of '89

I had just moved to California six weeks before. Across country for my birthday. I sold my car to my grandparents. I was sharing a house with two friends in Capitola, an eight minute walk from the beach, another two more minutes to the Santa Cruz city line.

I did the head hunter thing and found a receptionist position over the hill in San Jose. The hill being either Route 17 or old Route 9. I can not remember the name of the mountain between the coast and the San Jose and San Francisco area.

My friend Jennifer picked me up in the business district of San Jose at a little bit past five pm, as usual, on October 17, 1989. We wove through the buildings and traffic on our way to her car when the earth began to pull and push us and there was a sound like a hungry giant’s stomach rumbling.

I thought "What kind of an idiot builds an underground subway on a fault line?" Jennifer later told me she thought she was fainting.

What I said was, "Are we having an earthquake?"

Jennifer screamed, "Yes! Run!"

I asked, "Where? You do not out run an earthquake!"

I grasped the chain link fence nearby for support. Jennifer stood frozen in the "I am going to bolt!" position (I later discovered that I was the only person she has stayed with during an earthquake).

A woman pulled up near us and asked, "Are we having an earthquake?" "I do believe so." "Oh, I thought I had a flat," and then she drove off. She must have been a native Californian.

The building directly across the street from us was doing a steel hula, its vertical blinds waving with each rock and roll of the ground (I found out later that the newer buildings were built on a roller system to help withstand earthquakes). I remember thinking that if those windows exploded Jennifer and I would be impaled by thousands of glass shards. I hoped that if that happened I would die quickly.

"Does it always last this long?" I asked Jennifer (as this was my first earthquake I had nothing to compare it to). "No! This is bad, really, really bad!" Jennifer looked absolutely terrified. I do not remember being afraid. Worried, yes, but it was out of my control, the earthquake, the possibility of death by glass rain or being eaten by the hungry giant known as Earth. I could only ride it out, in this case, both literally and figuratively.

What ever song the earth was dancing to finally ended. Fifteen seconds. Fifteen seconds? Really? Only fifteen seconds?

Jennifer and I made it to her car. We had not gone far when we saw a convenience store that appeared to be open. The lone worker was selling what she could the old fashioned way: paper, pen and calculator (her cash register drawer had been open when the earthquake had begun and knocked out the power).

We shared the "happy to be alive" laughs and arm hugs that strangers do when they come through a shock together. Her battery powered radio then informed us that we were not through it yet: a top section of the Bay State Bridge had collapsed, part of the mountain between us and home had slid onto Route 17 closing it down.

Jennifer and I headed to Route 9, the old route over the mountain. We were not the only ones of course.

As we got closer the police single filed the cars and just behind us closed the road. What were we driving into?

By now it was dark and we knew this usually one hour drive was going to take a while. If a damaged tree fell and blocked the road we would have trouble trying to turn around.

I can not remember exactly how long it took us. Four hours maybe? We passed the time trying to read the bumper sticker on the car in front of us. Not as easy as it sounds as it was now dark and we were watching out for downed branches. The bumper sticker said, "I may grow old but I will never grow up." We were disappointed. All that work for that?

Jennifer and I discussed creating a story about some kind of ancient society guarding demons kept in an underground prison. There would be sections of this society in the US and Japan as the tectonic plates were shared by both countries. The earthquake would have released all or some of these demons and the two sections of the society meant to guard them would have to join forces to recapture and reimprison them.

We finally made it home. I remember being shocked that we did not lose our television or stereo. A neighbor came by to make sure our heat, electric, etc was all turned off so when we did get power back there was no risk of explosion. People were taking turns playing their car radios so we had information coming in.

Jennifer’s boyfriend Mark, who worked in Santa Cruz, made it home. He told us that the Pacific Garden Mall area in Santa Cruz was gone and that there was digging going on at a Coffee House as it was believed there was a girl trapped in there (we later found out she had been killed during the earthquake).

Mark and a few of the neighbors settled in under a tree in our small front yard and did some cocaine. I do not do drugs but if I did cocaine would so not be my drug of choice after an earthquake. A ‘lude maybe, or Valium.

One neighbor’s pet parrot had escaped and he was searching the area calling for him, "Pickles! Pickles!" He set the bird’s cage on his roof with the door open in case Pickles came back. It made for an interesting silhouette in the moon light. I can not remember if Pickles ever came back.

I took a run through the what was called the Capitola Village to check on some people I knew. This area was right along the beach, very touristy, small quint shops and a tea house called Mr. Toots and a bar called Margaritaville (not part of the Jimmy Buffet chain).

It was dark. There were no lights except the emergency lights set up by the police to mark the cracks in the road. Windows were gone, glass sparkled along the ground. The wharf still stood and the ocean looked like it had diamonds on it from the starlight. If a tsunami was coming the ocean was not giving warning.

My friends were ok and I headed back home taking a different way near the police station as I knew there was a pay phone out front. I jumped over a few cracks in the road and tried the phone. Dial tone and my timing must have been perfect as I got right through to my family in Massachusetts. It was eleven pm my time and they had of course seen the earthquake news on their local channel but had not been able to get through to my house. I asked them to call Jennifer’s mother and sister, who lived across town from them, and to let them know Jennifer was ok.

I can not remember how long we were without power. I do remember that both Route 17 and Route 9 were closed for almost a month. There was no way to get to our jobs and no work to be found in our area, unless one had construction skills, so we spent our savings and maxed out our credit cards on rent and food. Spent a lot of mornings and evenings on the beach (I am a couple hours dead white and get sun sick and heat stroke easily so afternoons were spent inside).

When the highways were reopened they were one lane only so a one hour drive turned into a three to five hour drive. The city tried to consolidate by having buses going back and forth during peak times.

If the earthquake had happened six months after I had moved there instead of six weeks I would have been able to survive it financially. I would have been more secure in the new life I was trying to set up. As it was, going into debt that deeply in a literally damaged area was lethal to that new life.

I moved back to Massachusetts in January 1990.

Saturday In Salem

In early October a small group of JREFers (James Randi Educational Foundation forum members) and I decided to go into Salem, MA.  We first had a great meal at the Salem Beer Works Factory.  The day was a beautiful, sweater only day so we sat outside.  Blueberry beer, yummy burgers, and chocolate brownies; we were well fueled for the day! 

Essex Street was our first stop, if one can call it that as its non-stop shops.  I try to get to Salem once or twice a year but haven’t been in about two and a few shops appear to have changed hands and therefore changed styles (The Fool’s Mansion most notably, which seems to have gone from Ren Fair type clothing to Goth).  There were also my old favorites (New England Magic), some a bit touristy pricey (Crow Haven Corner) but fun to look at, and others more reasonably priced (Nu Aeon) in which I would sometimes pick up a few supplies when I was Wiccan. 

As it was the beginning of October, the high point of Salem’s tourist season, it was mildly crowded but not yet crazy.  Many of the shops had multiple readers (as opposed to the usual one or “by appointment only” during the other eleven months of the year).  None of us chose to indulge in a reading of any type but we did discreetly watch a few.  I was always iffy about psychic abilities but felt that perhaps it was the reader, the questioner, and whatever was used as a guide – tarot, runes, etc – that did tap into something.  It’s amazing how it’s changed since learning what Cold Reading is. 

I must still look a bit “Witchy” as when I was standing before a wall of bagged herbs at one of my favorite stores (The Broom Closet), a woman asked me what exactly were the herbs for.  I told her that they could be put into almond oil and used as perfume, ground and used as incense, and put into home made candles.  Probably not the witchy answer she was looking for!

I still love the look of most Wiccan items.  The pseudo Victorian or pseudo Medieval (depending on which store you’re in) look of the potions and spells is still attractive to me.  I’ve always felt that if I had the money my house would be a mix of Victorian, Medieval, Gothic, and Bordello. 

Through my friends I found a new shop around the corner at the end of Essex.  It’s not a crafty shop but a gem and jewelry store.  I bought two pieces of fluorescent chalcedony that, under short wave black light, will glow light green.  They look like they came from the bottom of the sea; almost shell like, yet very much a gem of the dry earth. 

We didn’t get into any of the museums or exhibits but it was wonderful to walk around, see the shops and people, and spend the day with friends.

I am hoping that in the spring we can get to Salem again and perhaps make it to Bears Neck Point in Rockport (an area with lovely non-crafty shops also on the ocean) in the afternoon. 

October 3, 2009


The Haglet (my grandmother) does a nice garden every year.  She has a few veggies (lettuce, green beans) but sticks to herbs (she doesn’t use them too much in cooking, she just likes the way they look and smell) and flowers. 

This year I asked her for a small patch of land near the patio to plant perennial, butterfly-attracting plants.  In the spring she and I shopped for these new plants.  Many of the butterfly attractors also call humming birds and bees.  

It’s been a while since I’ve worked a garden.  It was fun to set up the order of the flowers, picking the outfit for the yard to wear.   The earth is really soft and dark as Gram has taken such good care of it.  I try to be very careful while planting and if I dislodge any worms I always try to put them back in the earth as close as possible to where I found them.

I saw a few butterflies and my sister saw one hummingbird and blue jays were all over the place, one nesting in a rhododendron tree which was a bad choice as the local cats saw it as an all you can eat buffet, but the big attendees were the bees.  They didn’t bother us but went through the flowers like last minute holiday shoppers through a mall.

I didn’t loose any plants but did decide to go with more lavender next year as it is pretty and the scent counter acts the Haglet’s garlic and onion chives all around the whole garden. 

By late September the birds and bees weren’t doing their thing as often so I got my section of the garden ready for winter.  Moved a few taller items, cut everything down, moved my ceramic statues to the porch, etc. 

When I was done and putting together my tools one large lone bee flew in low over my patch, swooping around the area twice looking for flowers like a husband who at 4:45 pm remembered it was his anniversary.

Next year I’ll wait until mid October to prep for winter.

Lavender Lavandula  Hidcote Blue
Hardy Aster Asterxdumosus Wood’s Pink
Brilliancy  Dianthus Deltoides  Maiden Pink
Dwarf Lavender  Lavender Angusifolia  Munstead
Red Carpet  Sedum Spurium
Blue Butterfly  Delphinum Grandiflorum
Tickseed Coreopsis Grandiflora Baby Sun
Geranium Hybrid  Rozanne  Cranes Bill

September 13, 2009

Crazy Comes Knocking

I went for late night take out yesterday evening.  I backed into my driveway as the light was turning gray, just past sunset but not quite dark. 

“Excuse me, do you know what time it is?”

Down the drive way came a woman dressed in blue walking a mop of a dog all white. 

“It’s quarter to nine,” I replied, as I locked my car and set my food on its roof.  I felt it better to keep my hands free and my car keys out; my drive way’s not that long, she could’ve asked without coming down, and I don’t live in a good part of town.

“Thank you.  My husband is working in that house over there on the second floor,” she gestured vaguely at the other houses, “He’s doing some work for a really nice lady but the lady who lives above her is really crazy.  She comes out on her porch, leans over and screams at me if I try to go to the other lady’s door.”

“I don’t really know any of the neighbors,” I said, although I do know that cocaine can be bought up the street and handguns are one street over (no, and, no, to the questions you’re thinking).

“I don’t have a cell phone so I can’t call him and he’s been there over an hour and a half and I just want to get him home and make him dinner”

“Uh huh,” her faint lisp, heavy Masshole accent and brain vomiting made be wonder if this woman was keeping time with Jack Daniels and Jim Beam while her husband was “helping” the really nice lady...for over an hour and a half (I could make a remark about “eating” and “dinner” here but I shall refrain.).

“The lady who lives upstairs is really crazy”           

(you said that already and maybe she found the cocaine)                                         

“and violent”                                                              

(should I leave my food on the car roof as an offering before I back away and here’s hoping neither of you found the handguns)                        

“and I’m afraid she might try to hurt me if I knock on the other woman’s door”

(there better be an ending to this soon or I might try to hurt you and your little dog Toto too, cocaine and handguns be damned)

“so I was wondering if you would go and knock on the second floor woman’s door....”

“No!  No, absolutely not!  No way!”  Screw the offering; I grab my dinner and start to back away quickly, keeping my car keys facing forward in my free hand. 

She starts walking up the driveway with puff ball in tow, “I just want to get my husband and make him some dinner.”                                                                                      

Oh, that’s just lovely:                                                                                    

‘there’s a crazy violent woman across the street, can you go talk to her?’ 

‘No, because I’m too busy talking to the crazy woman in my driveway!’ 

And what the hell is “dinner” a metaphor for for this woman anyway? 

I hope the dog has its leash for dinner and escapes to saner pastures.  

August 1, 2009

The Amazing Meeting/TAM 7 ~ Penn & Teller ~ Tattoo Of Blood

The Amazing Meeting (TAM) is a weekend conference of science and skepticism put on by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) every in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. TAM 7 was my 2nd conference.


Tattoo Of Blood & TAM7 & Penn & Teller

Like sands through an hour glass so run the days of our TAMs.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My friend Heather drove me to the Manchester, NH airport.  We arrived early so we stopped at McDonald’s before hand. 

As it turned out, we could’ve left later as my plane was delayed about forty minutes due to bad weather in Florida.                               

Oh well, I was able to get a window seat. 

I sat next to a young dancer on her way to a week long class in Vegas.  Her brother and friends sat behind us.  Next to her was a drinking mother (guess she wanted to fly the liquid sky).  Her family sat in front of us. 

Flying above the clouds makes me think of being on the underside of an oxygen ocean during rough waves.  Then the clouds break and the earth appears again.  A whale cloud swims between us.  The Grand Canyon.  The desert looks like arteries with iron ore blood drifting through. 

Due to the late start from Manchester I missed the hotel shuttle.  Luckily Paul, whom I had met at a JREF function over a year ago, was on my flight (deja vu, as he was on my flight last year too) and we shared a cab and a nice chat to South Point hotel.

Checking in took some time.  Not nearly enough clerks.  Registered for TAM and bumped into the honeymooning Mr, & Mrs. Green, Jonas and Mary. 

Off to my room to settle in.  The room and bath was large.  Met up with my bestest JREF buddy and TAM roommate Chip. 
A college friend, April, lives about five hours from Vegas so she came down to visit some friends in the area and the four of us went out for the evening.  Hit a large, three story mall on the strip, The Forum I believe.  My grandmother would’ve loved it.  Had a great meal at a pasta bar. 

We went to the Bellagio after that.  Their water garden is very cool. 

The bathroom at the Bellagio had chandeliers.  That really didn’t seem necessary.  I don’t know if it was the luxury of the bathroom or just the fact that we were in a bathroom that made me think of suggesting doing something a bit low brow.  I stood on a toilet so my head showed over the door, one of April’s friends stood just inside the door and dropped her pants so only her shoes and pants showed from the bottom and April got a picture from outside.  Then her friend and I switched places.  Can’t wait to see those pics!

Read a bit more of “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand before bed.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The breakfast this year was much better than last year.  No sugary pastry but fruit, mini bagels, cereal, juice, coffee, tea. 

I treated myself to two books, “Secrets Of The Sideshows” and “Adventures In Paranormal Investigation” both by Joe Nickell.  I enjoyed watching him on P&T BS, reading his many articles and listening to his interviews on podcasts.  He’s always made me think of a cross between John Wayne and Captain Kangaroo.  Luckily I was able to get him to sign them and thank him for his work.                                    

Hal Bidlack, the Prince of Puns, the Bard of Bad Jokes, was once again the perfect MC.

Randi thanked everyone for being there and thanked everyone for wishing him a speedy recovery (I was not aware he was sick).  He said he had an unwelcome visitor of sorts removed and that he would be continuing with treatment.  He apologized for the fact that he would not be able to shake hands with anyone due to not being able to risk catching a cold.  He appeared full of energy during his opening remarks but was wheeled out of the conference room at the end of the day. 

The keynote speaker was Bill Prady, the executive producer of the tv show “The Big Bang Theory.”  He was laid back, down to earth, and of course, funny.  The clips he showed from his series made me wish I had my cable hooked up.

Found Bunny, looking like she just left a Ball, during the first short break.  She hadn’t even checked in yet, saying, “I know my priorities, TAM first!”  Chip and I had saved her a seat.

Fintan Steele (a name one questioner said was the perfect gay porn star name) was off color funny and a fountain of information with his lecture “Personalized Medicine, Personalized Mysticism”.

Phil Plait then introduced a special speaker, Robert Lancaster, from  Robert was still in a wheelchair and speaking slowly but much better than I thought he’d be after such a devastating stroke. 

Bunny and I sat together for the TAM lunch.  There certainly was not a lack of food in the buffet.

Jamy Ian Swiss and Randi were next, discussing Randi’s career and showing clips from Johnny Carson, Alice Cooper, and several straight jacket escapes.  I missed so much because I did not discover Randi earlier.

The Director of Science And Entertainment Exchange (SEE), Jennifer Ouellette, gave a lot of info on how Hollywood deals with Science and their story lines in her lecture.
The Anti Anti Vax panel, containing Joe Albietz, David Gorski, Michael Goudeau, Harriet Hall, and Steve Novella covered not just why and how anti vax and anti science is damaging but why pro vax is good and how it has helped humanity.

I sat outside for the Live Auction as it was just too loud.

Joe Nickell talked about the beginnings of modern myths such as crop circles, Bigfoot, and UFO sightings.  I love listening to him because he is just a walking library of experiences.

Bunny declared that the day’s lectures were very good with the exception of moments that made it feel like a “Power Point Death March.”

Finally got to meet Sherry!  She, Bunny, Jonas, Mary and I went to dinner at the Coronado CafĂ© in South Point.  We then took some very interesting pictures with the South Point horse and rider statue.

I hung out with Bunny and Sherry before the evening’s show (an extra event I didn’t pay to attend).  Randi was there and I asked if we could take a picture with him, apologizing that we were not dressed as “naughty nurses.”  He said he’d take a rich, old widow.  I replied that my grandmother was single, owned property and was an older woman - they know things.  He laughed and said make sure to give him her number. 

Teller also came by.  I was a bit uneasy about talking to him here as it wasn’t after he talked on a panel or after his show at the Rio; he was here as an audience member for a show.  Sherry said I should go for it.  So I did.  I thanked him for his work and said I had something to share, or perhaps show him would be the better way to say it.  I couldn’t really see his reaction but I heard him exclaim “A tattoo of blood!” 

Penn came by a few moments later and I did the same thing.  He tried to call Teller over. 

As I was leaving Teller came over with his phone camera and asked to get a picture.  Cool.

It was very crowded and I didn’t get a chance to really speak to either one of them but they seemed to really like it.

Back in my room I had a nice conversation with Chip, watched the end of the movie “The Rock” and read a bit more of “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand.   

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Jay Novella premiered his short film, “Ghost Hunters” (must be a link on the SGU homepage).  It was a brilliant piece of comedy.

Sid, Rebecca’s boyfriend, asked her to marry him.  Set up like a surprise, her family and friends were in attendance, George Hrab provided music, A Kovacs officiated, Adam Savage served as ring bearer.  Wow.
Michael Shermer spoke on Tribes and Politics with his usual smooth and witty thoughtfulness (and worked in the best descriptive used at TAM, “Dumbfuckistan” for part of the US).  .

Adam Savage, from “Mythbusters”, gave a very straightforward, down to earth, personal speech, filled with anecdotes from his life, on “Failing Upwards.”

The panel “Skepticism and Magic”, moderated bu DJ Grothe, consisted of Jamy Ian Swiss, Ray Hyman, Penn & Teller, Randi, and was ethically driven and thought provoking.

The 1stAnnual Citizen Skeptic Award was presented to Robert Lancaster for his websites www.stopkaz.comand

Shared a nice lunch with Bunny and Sherry.

Steve Bauer gave a great lecture on Jerry Andrus, including a short film of Jerry giving a mini tour of his home, the Castle of Chaos, which left no inch without inventions. 

The panel “Skepticism in Broadcasting” with Bill Prady, Penn & Teller, Adam Savage and Jennifer Ouellette was insightful and contained what was probably the funniest line of TAM, Prady’s “the ‘Father Bruce’s Gay Fly Fishing Fashions’ channel.’

Phil Plait spoke on Doomsday scenarios with his sharp wit. 

I skipped the Live Auction but heard that bullets from Penn & Teller’s catch went for $1100.

Sherry, Bunny and I had dinner at the Rio, took goofy pictures with a plastic frog necklace in a gift shop, and Sherry found a hawt dress for herself in a boutique.

Bunny & I went to the P&T theatre, signed the envelope and checked out the box on stage (needless to say, I didn’t really try to check out the box for trying to figure out the box, or anything Teller does magically, would be like trying to chase Teller down the hallways of his own mind and thinking you have a chance of catching him).  Discussed a bit of “Atlas Shrugged” when she noticed my “Rearden Metal” like bracelet.  Then we took our seats to listen to some jazz.
The back of the stage was light with an ampersand that changed color (as well as the background it was against).  On either side of the stage were projected red ampersands.  Mike Jones, with Penn on bass, played incredibly.  That man’s fingers can fly.

My seat was front row, slightly to stage left.

The show began with Penn walking out and Teller coming out of the box.  The bits were as follows (I don’t know the actual names for some of the bits so I’ll use the best descriptive I can):

Polyester Prophet (with a young audience member)
Cups And Balls
TSA (with an audience member and Georgie)
Red Ball
Psychic Comedian
Romantic Fire Eating (with Georgie)
Newspaper Tear (still included my favorite line, “Folgers and Smuckers are merging; they’re going to call themselves either Smolgers or....well, they’re going to call themselves Smolgers”)
Woman in Halves (with Georgie)
Coins And Fish
The bit based on Richard Wiseman’s work (with an audience member)
Nail Gun
Hanky (my seat was perfect for this as when Teller made the confetti fly I was, for a brief moment, in the eye of a tornado of sparkling color, beautiful, and afterwards realized I had ‘confetti cleavage’)
Bullet Catch (with two audience members)               

Bought a pack of P&T cards for my Sis.  Penn seemed to be in a bit of a hurry and I missed getting him to sign the pack as well as the copy of his book “Sock” and the sock monkey I brought (will bring the items next year).  I caught Teller for a quick picture but he seemed busy with visitors so I didn’t try to keep him for sigs. 

Bunny went backstage and Sherry and I went for soda and ice cream back at South Point.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Yummy breakfast.

Sunday Papers

Teaching Critical Thinking in a Therapeutic Setting by Don Riefler; subtle wit and endeared audience with Jolly Ranchers.

Patently Ridiculous, The Perfect Sommelier by David Green; discussed patents along the lines of magnets that age wine quickly.

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, The Pillars of Justification for Cyber Security by Adam Slagell; covered the idea of Security Theatre, the illusion of safety and cost effectiveness, mostly computer but some airport (stated he was glad it was the “shoe bomber” and not the “underwear bomber”).

The Constructive Skeptic, Rebranding Skepticism at the Grassroots Level by Steve Cuno; image control for skeptics, skepticism as a Service Industry, “I believe in what the evidence supports” as opposed to “I don’t believe in....”

Brian Dunnings’ short film “Truth Hurts” (link must be on and then his lecture, So What Were The ‘Lost Cosmonaut’ Radio Transmissions?”                     

How Are We Doing? Evaluating the Skeptical Web Presence by Tim Farley and Christian Walters.
Phil announced that next year’s TAM will be the weekend after the July 4th holiday again and also again be held at South Point. 

I found this to be disappointing.  I enjoy being able to walk outside and be on the Strip instead of having to take a $14 to $18 (one way) cab ride or negotiate the time for buses.  I guess people who have gone to multiple TAMs are bored with the Strip and don’t care.  

Unfortunately, I did not know about the Million Dollar Challenge when I bought my plane tickets so was unable to stay for it.  Had a quick lunch with Bunny.  It seems we always get into the best conversations about an hour before someone’s leaves for the airport. 

Again, plane delayed almost an hour. 

Great view of the Strip when taking off and turning. Saw the Rio distinctly (Bye for another year, Take Care Boys!). 

Dotted clouds between the plane and the earth look like sleeping chasing us.

Being inside the clouds is like being in a sleeping, non dreaming brain in between synapsis firing.

Flying into the sunset.  Pink line along the horizon.  Orange, red, blue on the tip of the plane wing appears to almost be glowing in the dying light. 

The city lights make me think of neural pathways, all knowledge going to and fro. 

TAM, once again, was a wonderful fun and a learning experience for me, both on a general knowledge level and a personal level.  Inspiring. 

I’m going to grab that inspiration and run.