Getting Home

By Susan E. Bunting
Hayward, California, USA

It was a beautiful October day. Unfortunately I had to work late since I had run a training session for my department. I lucked out and got a train right away. I even got a seat. As the train left the Embarcadero station, it picked up speed to go through the tunnel under San Francisco Bay. We shook and shimmied as we sped through the tube, which was a normal ride. Then the lights went out, the train slowed and came to a stop. No worry — BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) occasionally had system problems and Murphy’s Law required that a rush hour trip have some bumps along the way.

Getting HomePartial lights came on, then the train operator spoke over the intercom. “I don’t have any power and I can’t reach Central.” Using emergency power, he got us to the next station, West Oakland, where we could see and hear pandemonium. Someone said there had been an earthquake, but it didn’t look bad. I didn’t notice the collapsed Nimitz freeway that’s visible from the train platform.

Since I grew up in Oakland, I knew that if I could get to 14th and Broadway, I could get a bus to anywhere in the Bay Area. My destination was Hayward. I caught a bus that took me to 14th and Broadway. When I arrived, I was directed by transit workers to go across the street and down a block. When I got there, the stop was closed due to flooding. I wandered a few blocks looking for another bus stop. As I walked, I saw fallen masonry. I think I even stepped over a puddle of blood.

I waited at the next stop for over an hour. No bus. Finally, someone noticed a bus with “Bayfair” as the destination sign. It was a block away. We rushed to the bus, shouting at the bus driver, “How much? Where are you going?” She calmly said, “Don’t worry about the fare, just get on the bus. I’m going to Bayfair Mall by way of 14th Street.”

She packed everyone she could on that bus, and there was no charge. She had ended her shift but came back to work to help. By this time the sun was setting, and the city was dark. As we neared East 14th and Fruitvale, we could smell natural gas. She didn’t rush, but did her best to get each of us safely to our destination.

I reached the South Hayward BART station around 9:00 p.m. What was normally an hour commute had taken four hours. I drove crying into my apartment building’s parking lot to find my husband and neighbors waiting for my return, gathered around the barbeque for warmth, light and food. Some people never made it home at all. I was lucky, but I also had vital help. My thanks to all the transit workers who stayed on the job in the spirit of true public service.

Originally published as HeroicStories #250 on Nov. 5, 2001

3 thoughts on “Getting Home”

  1. Humanities best always arrive in the worst situations. As Mr Rogers (children’s tv show host) said, “When something bad happens, and you are afraid, look for the helpers.”

  2. I was as a telephone repair tech at the time of the 89 earthquake, and it was by far the most extreme one I had felt in my lifetime of 49 years. Inside a customers home in Concord, Calif, we felt the quake, and moved to the safest places we could find while the shaking was happening, and as it eased, we noticed the TV had gone dark, despite still be on. I went out to my truck and turned on the radio to find news that could tell us what happened, and I found all my San Francisco based stations were off the air as well. An ominous feeling of doubt, question and worry hit me as I wondered if SF was still there. It was, but the giant tower used to broadcast radio and TV signals, was not.
    We all made it without harm or damage, but, many, did not. I appreciate all those that made extraordinary efforts to help those in need, and went the extra mile to do what they could, to reduce the impact on others, as much as they could.

  3. I must have been on the BART train immediately in front of Susan’s that day because my fellow passengers and I were informed the one behind ours had gotten stuck after the earthquake. Under the circumstances, I was just glad to have cleared the Bay tunnel, but our train also stopped in West Oakland, and I was trying to get to Berkeley, five stops and five miles further north. The conductor had everyone evacuate the train and, being unfamiliar with the local buses, I had no choice but to walk. I remember the day was bright and clear, and there was a strong sense of camaraderie among so many strangers unexpectedly commuting on foot. I have never forgotten how everyone around me seemed to simply acknowledge our mutual predicament and get on with their long walks not in fear or frustration, but with relief and relative good humor. There were many good graces, small and large, that day.


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