Not everyone was so lucky. Pulling into our street, I glanced at Mrs. Olsen's house. As a kid, one of my first jobs was gardening for this kind old woman. Now her home looked a shambles, a spray of bricks from the toppled chimney littering the shake-shingle roof. Mrs. Olsen hadn't taken this earthquake business so well, my father informed me, but the neighbors would help.
No, not everyone was so lucky. Ten miles away, up the winding road to the Loch Lomand Reservoir, many of the rural homes amid the redwood trees had been wrenched off their foundations and spun down the hillside. In my youth, I had passed these houses time and again on the way to the reservoir with Dad for some trout fishing.
The next morning I went down to Bonny Doon Beach, a crescent of sand flowing out from towering shale cliffs seven miles north of Santa Cruz. It was raining and work crews were picking through a 20-foot-tall pile of rubble left by a landslide they believed had buried Gary West, a 41-year-old waiter.
West's sister and her husband were there in raincoats. She hoped West had somehow managed to slip back into a sea cave before the rock slide could have caught him. I waited 90 minutes to find out.
The sheets of rain thickened, and I gave up. I learned a few hours later that the crews had discovered West's battered body near the foot of the cliff.
That night I returned to Southern California. As I left, the work crews were busy cleaning up the mall and other sites of devastation. Civic resurrection was already well under way. But I felt hollow, for so many reasons. Even when new buildings rise, Santa Cruz would never be quite the same.