Lands End, San Francisco, 1976: The radio was all abuzz. A tzunami was coming. It would arrive around 8:30 just after dark. San Francisco residents are advised to avoid the beach and low-lying areas.
Naturally, we all wanted to see it.
As I rode my motorcycle out Geary Boulevard, I remembered Playland at the Beach. I’d since seen movies from the thirties, showing a boardwalk thronged with crowds in strange bathing costumes. But the week I’d moved into Ms. Douglas’s upper room, I’d driven down Ulloa Street to the ocean.
Playland at the Beach was abandoned. An empty boardwalk, in the middle of the day. I walked around like a human on mars. I heard a garish, distorted laughing and followed it. Through an open door I entered a building, the Fun House, now empty, sunlight coming through the windows. There, a huge mechanical clown inside a glass cage rocked back and forth, bellowing with wild laughter.
Nobody was around. I went back outside. It was all closed. Rides closed. Concessions closed. No cotton candy. No crowds. Two blocks off the beach. Wild laughter echoing round the corners. Empty.
Not long after, Playland had been razed. Ugly apartment buildings were to spring up later, but now, just empty lots two blocks off the beach.
I parked my motorcycle at Land’s End. Land’s End is a cliff, just above the Cliff House restaurant and the winding highway. Once there was a house there but only foundation stones remain, and a gazebo. It rises a couple of hundred feet above the ocean. A great place to see the tsunami.
From the verge of Land’s End, with a crowd of excited people, we peered down past the trees and brush to the highway and the beach below. We watched a fool dash past the police cars to the beach and back. The radio had said Do not go to the beach. Repeat. Do not go to the beach.
They’d not said anything about Land’s End. We laughed at the fool. We wondered at the police cars. A tsunami can be 30 feet tall, and in record cases 100 feet tall. Either would sweep over the seawall and engulf the police cars.
The time approached. Bottles were passed around. A scent of smoke and wildness in the air.
You never know, maybe the tsunami would sweep up the cliff. Maybe our laughing crowd would be killed, carried and buried into the crushing black of the ocean. It was a beautiful night for it, the air so fresh and clean.
The time grew near. Sometimes a big tsunami will first pull the water back, exposing the ocean floor.
The time came. No water pulled back. The waves on the beach seemed about the same, just like always.
We waited a while, but that was it. This particular tsunami, said the radio next day, was only about an inch high.