On every last Friday night of the month, the hosts an informal gathering, in a setting similar to an AA meeting, for the residents of the Crestmoor neighborhood who were affected by the Sept. 9 pipeline explosion.
It’s a small gathering, and folks can come and go as they please. But usually the same people come every time, catching up on each other’s lives and consoling one another through the struggles of rebuilding their homes and lives after the disaster. They call it "Coffee Hour."
With the promise of anonymity, the group allowed San Bruno Patch to record their thoughts and words.
The following are their conversations on a recent Friday night.
Sharing and coping
Three women gather on one side of the room, sparking a conversation.
“Did you have to get rid of your clothing, like your linens? Were those smoke-damaged or were those salvaged?” one woman asks.
“Well, they sent them to a special treatment (place) to get it back, but some of them we had to throw away,” one of the other women says.
“She’s having a heck of a time finding clothes,” the other woman says about the neighbor standing next to her. They all briefly chuckle.
“Oh, really?” the second woman says.
“I don’t like the styles,” the first woman says.
“And furniture?” the third woman chimes in.
“I don’t care for the style of furniture. Now, it’s too big and oversized,” the first woman responds.
“I don’t care about anything in the house. I only care about the [photo] albums that we put together. We have a lot of albums. That’s the one that’s tough. It’s hard to get the pictures back. So now we post all the pictures on a website,” the second woman says.
Still struggling one year later
A middle-aged man sits at a table alone, away from everyone else who has gathered at the center, nibbling on hors d’oeuvres. His home wasn’t damaged. But he was at Skyline College when the fire broke out and wasn’t sure, at first, whether his home would be OK.
“I’ve reached a point where I not only have to take medicine to go to sleep, but at this point now, I wake up and feel drunk when I haven’t had anything to drink.
“I went until 1 o’clock this afternoon before I was even able to do anything. I was like a drunk person, walking into things, bumping into things. I never thought that [the fire] cumulatively could do that much to you, but it does,” he says.
“When did that start setting in?" I ask.
“Well, the sleep deprivation has been all along. But in the last week, it has become much more and more and more. Like, oh, not a good feeling,” he responds.
“Is there anything in particular that’s preventing you from sleeping, like are you thinking about something?” I ask.
“Well, sometimes I wake up and I see the dragon’s breath. It just keeps going and going,” he says.
The man goes on to talk about the community college class he was in was the middle of taking before the explosion.
“I was finishing up at the Skyline College auto program. I spent the last two semesters walking in like a zombie every day with only 2 1/2 hours of sleep every night. But I was going to be there on time, no matter what, even though I was a mess,” he says.
“They wanted me to just drop the class and take it again. But in the mission control and computer program, you have about 65 students or more that want in [that class]. And it’s a one-year class. And when I was in that class, he had the most students in his class ever. And it was at 29.
“Everyone was just like, ‘Why don’t you just take it over?’ But you can’t take it over because there’s no room.”
The man says he eventually finished the class.
Reconnecting, supporting each other
Three elderly people, one man and two women, stand near a doorway in the center to catch up with one another. Then the conversation turns to one woman, who has been in the process of rebuilding her home with her husband.
“You got your plans done?” one woman asks.
“The plans were submitted to the city on Wednesday,” the other woman says.
“Well, it says we have to wait for the Planning Commission to have their meeting.”
“Do you have to attend the Planning Commission meeting?” the first woman asks.
“Well, yes. But I thought that the Planning Commission, like the City Council, meets on a certain night. But they don’t.
“But they said the commission meets when needed. So when things come in, they give certain dates when they can all meet. Then they send that to us and then we pick out a date when we can go. And then we give it to our architect so she can go as well.
“So we don’t know when we’re going to be meeting. So we were going to try to head out of town or do something. We haven’t been away on a vacation.”
“Now, did you get another RV?” the first woman asks.
“No, we haven’t gotten another RV. The only thing we’ve done together—anything that can be called a vacation—was last year, Thanksgiving. My daughter-in-law’s brother lives up in Oregon and he invited us up for Thanksgiving,” the second woman says.
“Oh, good,” the first woman says.
“So we drove up there on a Wednesday, stayed up there Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and came back Sunday, I guess it was,” the second woman says.
“That’s not a very long vacation,” the man says matter-of-factly.
“That was it,” the woman responds. “And then one day, [we] drove up to Vacaville. Now, big deal. That’s it.”
“That’s a day trip,” the man says.
“Well, you’ve had so many things you have to keep doing. So it’s like, ‘Oh, we can’t go now,’” the first woman says.
All this week, San Bruno Patch looks back at Sept. 9, 2010, and talks with people affected about their lives in the past year.
View the San Bruno Patch Facebook page for all stories on the fire from the past year, a link to videos and photos from Patch and our readers.