Total System Failure

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Rob Manor couldn’t have been happier with the way his day had gone. The morning deposition was more revealing than he hoped and he felt completely prepared for trial Monday. Even the disarray and clutter on his desk didn’t bother him as he ’commed Nell and informed her he was out the door.

“Enjoy the game, Mister Manor,” she said in her perky way.

“Believe me, I intend to. And you have a nice weekend too.”

He fumbled into his suit coat, grabbed his briefcase and ambled out into the common office area where a few heads turned. It was no secret he was leaving early for the third game of the World Series, but he still felt sheepish playing hooky even if he was merely stealing a few hours. It was a few hours he could not in all good conscience bill to a client.

Elevatoring down to the building’s garage, he located his jet black 911 and popped the trunk. He traded his briefcase for a bundle of clothes and a wire coat hanger, went looking for the parking lot manager. He found Ray in his office, asked if it was okay to use the attendants’ changing room which was merely a formality. They had discussed how he would need it weeks ago when Manor finally had his ticket in hand.

Ray looked properly envious.

Manor emerged from the washroom a different man: casually dressed in jeans and long-sleeve wool Pendleton, his suit and tie carefully folded over the hanger which he dropped unceremoniously into the trunk.

“Let the games begin!” he shouted gleefully as the gate was raised and he pulled the bill of his Giants cap tighter onto his skull. The guy in the attendant booth smirked at him. With five hours left of an eight hour shift, he would have to settle for a radio play-by-play.

It was an uneventful twenty minute ride south on 101 to the Third Street exit. Manor wound his way through the familiar blighted neighborhood which always seemed so out of place and in such stark contrast to the glory of the sporting events played close by. At one of the entrances to the Stick, he paid a fee and, to his mild but pleasant surprise, quickly found a parking space not far from the entry gate. He had a Polish sausage in one hand, a beer in the other and ten minutes to spare as he took his seat.

He was ready. The crowd was ready. The teams were ready.

And then the earth shook.

For one startling moment more than 50,000 people became instantly silenced. They rattled in their seats like fake snow in a paperweight. Seconds afterward they sat stunned and uncertain as they stared at a blank scoreboard. Cement dust filled the air and made it difficult to breathe.

A sense of normalcy eventually returned as the powder settled around them without further tremors. No one panicked. In fact, in the absence of any official word, the people next to Manor soon began yelling the names of favorite players, cat-calling them onto the field. Don’t let a little thing like an earthquake get you. Go Giants. Go A’s!

Manor immediately became worried about Jeannette and the kids. Tommy and Theresa would be home from school and their mother would be with them, thank God for that. Watching the game on television no doubt. He tried to remain cool. They would be as concerned about him as he was for them and he automatically reached for the folded cellular telephone he carried in a belt pack. No dial tone. Steady. The communications net must be down is all.

Not until then did he actually feel a shiver run up his spine.

Of course, Jeannette would have everything under control. Keep calm. The kids are safe, the Pacific Heights condo is in a new building and should easily have withstood the shock.

Besides, Jeannette was such a catastrophe freak, he reassured himself. If anything, she was overly earthquake prepared. He was suddenly extremely glad of her vigilance and prayed it would be more than enough to pull the family safely through.

He had to call them and rose to his feet. Amazingly, few of the people in the surrounding seats seemed in the least bit fazed with only here and there someone walking casually up an aisle as if they were heading to get a beer. For the most part, he realized, everyone was still staring expectantly at the playing field. He sat down again feeling somewhat foolish.

“What can you expect in California?” the guy next to him asked. “Give me Toledo and a good tornado any day.”

Hearing the announcement over the generator-powered loud speakers hastily brought into use gave a sense of the enormity of the situation to the people in the stands.

“The game will not be played today,” the speakers crackled as they came to life. “Please remain in your seats and make an orderly exit out of the park. The game will be re-played next week. All tickets will be good at that time. Please keep your stubs.”

Manor gave up trying to find a payphone after someone told him they were all useless. He worked his way through the throng into the lot toward where he remembered he parked, but confusion reigned. There was little pushing and shoving although drivers soon clogged all exits. Cars trickled slowly out.

It took half an hour to decide he was standing on the exact spot where he parked. Then he spent another fifteen minutes walking in ever widening circles in search of his vehicle.

Occasionally he heard reports of how bad the disaster was. Car radios worked, but few stations were on the air. One small public station reported major destruction throughout San Francisco including, most incredible of all, the failure of the Bay Bridge.

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