Ambushed by the past: A blog post about the glimpse of television that prompted my previous two blog posts

October 19, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 19, 2014

Sometimes, current events catch you by surprise. On Tuesday night, a part of my past popped up unexpectedly.

In between World Tavern Poker tournaments at the Big Easy, a restaurant in Cary, N.C., I sat in a high chair at the island that separates the bar area from the dining area. The Kansas City Royals were hosting Baltimore in what would turn out to be the fourth and final game of the American League Championship Series, and I wanted to keep an eye on the action.

But images on another screen, showing an old Major League Baseball event, caught my attention. The video was fuzzy, and the sound was off, and my view of the screen was obscured, but somehow, I recognized the event after seeing just a second or two of footage.

CNN was showing a documentary about the event that’s known to the world as the San Francisco earthquake. I murmured “1989 World Series” (or words to that effect) to myself. Suddenly, scattered memories of my experiences of the Loma Prieta temblor began flashing through my mind.

I remembered something horrific that either I’d seen on TV back in ’89 or heard (or read) someone describe around the time of the quake. Part of the upper deck of the San Francisco Bay Bridge collapsed in the earthquake, and at least one driver had unwittingly driven toward the absent section, recognizing the gap only after it was too late to stop. The car or cars had plunged down with fatal results for all involved.

Did CNN have images of this part of the disaster, I wondered as I watched the program on Tuesday night. If they did, would the network would air it?

Part of me dreaded seeing the footage. But a ghoulish part of me, the part that likes horror movies, the part that gawks at the remnants of car crashes on the side of the road and reads about murders, wanted to see it. Would it be as horrible and upsetting as I remembered?

To be honest, my attention wandered — partly because I wanted to check on the progress of the ALCS game, partly because my dinner was brought to me and partly because that’s the way I am — so I’m not sure exactly how the program handled this incident.

In fact, I’m not sure whether or not this incident was recorded on video or film. (And I don’t care to check, thanks.)

But as I wondered about whether video existed, I thought to myself, Well, if something like this has happened in the present day, of course there would be video.

Because that’s what happens nowadays. If something interesting happens — if someone’s kid, or someone’s dog, or a stranger in a store does something even mildly remarkable — someone will pull out a smartphone and start recording. The more interesting or unusual the event, and the more the people who are around to witness it, the greater the likelihood that multiple videos of it will be posted on YouTube or elsewhere on the Internet.

And this started me thinking: My God. That earthquake happened twenty-five years ago! That’s a quarter of a century!!!

The last thing I expected when I went to the Big Easy was to be ambushed by memories of my college years. But that’s life sometimes.

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