I was at work at the recently funded start-up I worked for at Fifth and Townsend, on the third floor. A very old warehouse converted into funky office space. Things started shaking and we were freaked out. Concrete and brick walls started flexing and I swear I could see waves flowing though them. You could have ridden those waves! Power was off and we got out of there quick. I just wanted to get back home to our apartment in Pacific Heights where my first wife and 3 1/2 month old daughter were. It ends up my workplace was a building that also had survived the 1906 earthquake. I think it's still there today.
I immediately saw that another building's walls had collapsed on a side street off of Townsend. This was right next to the 280 freeway exit ramp that was completely garfunkled off its moorings. Under all of those bricks lay the bodies of two editors (John J. Anderson and Derek van Alstyne) from MacUser who'd just met with my boss. When searching for the rare street parking space in the area, I'd sometimes ended up parking on the same street in the same location. I recalled wondering, "What would I do if I was here and an earthquake happened?"
I very gingerly drove home trying to avoid passing beneath overpasses (very difficult in those days in SF). I was hearing about all the damages and mayhem on the radio in my car. I finally made it back to Pacific Heights and, compared to what I'd been listening to, things seemed normal. I raced up to see my then wife and kid. I was about as white a sheet from what I'd seen and heard.
My wife greeted me and appeared very relaxed. "You don't know what's happened?" Of course, she hadn't heard. No power so no way to get an update. She told me that there was a lot of shaking, but only a few pictures were unbalanced (Pacific Heights is on bedrock; I was in South of Market, which is filled in marshland). Our daughter slept through the whole thing. She said when it was done she looked out the window and saw a guy walking his dog, nothing unusual. And then she said a sentence I'll never forget: "Things looked OK, so I thought this must be what they mean by California having frequent tremors." We'd recently moved here for the first time.
A good friend of mine, who I'd later hire to work at the Fifth and Townsend location, was commuting home from Vallejo and heading up the Bay Bridge when the earthquake struck. Fortunately, he was a way off from part that collapsed. He had a very long trip home that night all the way down around the south bay.