por Jamie Lawson
20 years ago today, Joe and I were celebrating our first anniversary. It had been a challenging year, but we'd made it through, and we decided to celebrate by visiting one of our favorite restaurants at the time, the Cardinal diner, for an early supper. It wasn't far from home, just down the street at the corner of Meridian and Hillsdale Avenues. (In 1991 it was quite new -- it had a look that nowadays is called "retro" with a lot of brass and red glittery vinyl seating. It apparently closed sometime last year, more's the pity.) Just before we left a news report came on the television about a fire in the Oakland hills.
When we returned, no more than two hours later, we turned on the television and the local stations were all broadcasting images that looked like a classical version of Hell -- flames lighting the night sky in blazing ribbons and clouds of luminous smoke; tall trees ablaze from root to crown, and sometimes exploding. We were watching the Oakland Hills firestorm, an incredible disaster that, before it was finally controlled some 72 hours after it began, destroyed over 3700 homes, killed 25 people and injured some 150.
Many of the awesome (in the original sense of the word) images of that night are still very accessible in my mind's eye, but for those who never saw (or don't remember) the firestorm, the SFGate has put up a small slideshow which captures it and its aftermath. They also have an article which focuses on one family, their tragedy and recovery.
Over the years since we have occasionally joked about what sort of karma we had, that on our first anniversary the Oakland hills burned up. There are a fair share of notorious events that have taken place on October 20 in years past: the Saturday Night Massacre, the opening of the HUAC hearings, the Johnny Bright incident. But a few pretty cool ones too: The Police played their first US show in 1978; Jacqueline Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis in 1968. As I say in the show close, every day has a multitude of stories. October 20, more than maybe any other day in the year, is the day that I go looking for them.