Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Un-editorial cartoonlike, this one went entirely unlabeled. The pancaked Cypress Freeway in West Oakland had
become an icon of the Loma Prieta earthquake by then, and I thought I'd drawn Gov. Deukmejian and his
Jimmy Durante nose and Dumbo ears often enough without tattooing him with "Duke." But I had also run my quota
of cartoons for
The Stockton Record, so this one never ran.
Twenty-four years ago last week, Game 3 of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A's at Candlestick Park. ABC was showing highlights (lowlights) of the A's beating the Giants in Game 2 when the screen went yellow, then screen-test splotchy, then black.

In a few seconds the living room of our suburban Sacramento home, 93 miles away from the ballpark, hopped up and down a couple of times. I walked fast into the next room to warn of an earthquake, where Nancy, pregnant with our son, thought she was just getting nauseous.

Measuring 6.9 on the Richter Scale, the earthquake killed 63 people, injured nearly 4,000 and left 12,000 homeless. A section of the Bay Bridge collapsed, as did a long stretch of the elevated Interstate 880, called the Cypress Freeway. Fires spread wide through San Francisco's Marina District, old buildings falling over in the street and breaking gas lines. In Santa Cruz county at the earthquake's center, houses and churches and stores toppled.

Game 3 resumed a week later. The A's swept the Giants in four games.

We in Sacramento escaped the destruction, but two jobs connected me to the aftermath — commenting on it as a freelance editorial cartoonist and writing about its effects on California agriculture as a farm reporter.

On the former, my cartoon commentary followed the arc of a temblor.

First was happy complacency, life being to laugh, the only care in the world the conflicted loyalties of Stockton-area fans as the two Bay Area baseball teams met for the first time in the World Series. Thus:

Then the quake hit. Editorial cartoonists are at their worst in times of natural disasters, with no one to blame and no point in blaming while so many suffer. Often cartoonists play the God card — God or an angel weeping for the loss, or a giant arm dropping from the sky to comfort or smite. Or cartoonists lionize rescue workers, or isolate a suffering child, trying to commiserate or share the blow. This is what I did:

Probably no one saw it, or those who did thought, "Yeah, so?" or didn't know I had tried to render a seismograph's depiction of a quake. I might have been better off just scribbling the Red Cross phone number.

After the shock wore off came damage assessment. The earthquake raised questions about policy and procedure. Blame. Particularly over whether the state's infrastructure, the collapsed freeways, may have suffered from frugality and inattention:
By the time I had hit my stride and angst over the issue, I had also run out my quota of cartoons The Record, so the cartoon at the top, the one I'd preferred over all I did on the topic, didn't make print.

By many accounts, something had changed with Gov. Deukmejian in the earthquake. Whether the scope of the disaster changed him, or he wanted to tend to his legacy near the end of the term, or something else, is unknown. But he transformed from deflecting blame for some of the earthquake damage by his extreme fiscal conservatism (to which the cartoon at the top refers) to becoming an administrator who could work with both parties in crafting fairly quick and effective earthquake aid.

As a farm reporter, I was writing about the earthquake's effect on agriculture. In Watsonville in Santa Cruz County near the epicenter, I saw a massive tent city set up on the county fairgrounds, mostly farm workers driven from their homes by damage or fear of future damage.

Talking with a grower in an hilly apple orchard, I jumped at what sounded like cannon blast. It was an aftershock that felt like Earth had been kicked, hard. All the trees in the orchard rattled their leaves in one quick shake. The grower didn't even blink.

No comments:

Post a Comment