A San Fracisco treat, Part 3

Posted on March 5, 2014

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The city really doesn't seem so far away.

The city really doesn’t seem so far away.

I am an awful swimmer. I tell people I could swim to save my life, but in all honesty I’d probably just opt to turn over, float on my back and wash up wherever the current decided to deposit me. But, even for me, aka the “human rock,” The Rock seemed deceptively close to mainland San Francisco.

As Maureen and I took the ferry and crossed the 1.5-mile stretch of the bay, I could understand why prisoners would think they could swim to freedom. For us tourists, the views of the city and the bay were stunning, but I could see how permanent residence there could drive one mad—apparently on New Year’s Eve, the sounds of the evening’s celebrations wafted towards the island, always present but always unattainable.

The closest we'll ever get to prison... I hope.

The closest we’ll ever get to prison… I hope.

I was pretty impressed by the way the “tour” of the island was conducted, in that it wasn’t really a tour at all. Guests are dropped off at the dock, given a brief introduction, and told they can wander wherever they want and return on whatever ferry they want. An optional self-guided cellhouse tour was available as part of the ticket price. 

So Maureen and I wandered a bit. The National Park Service did a great job preserving what was there—one got the feeling that prisoners could merely be out to lunch instead of having vacated the facility 50 years ago. I also appreciated the service’s decision not to remove the graffiti from the American Indian occupation of the island in 1969. Everything gave us visitors the sense that Alcatraz wasn’t cleaned up to be put on display, but rather left as it was, history intact.

I was recording EVPs and looking for ectoplasm the whole time.

I was recording EVPs and looking for ectoplasm the whole time.

We perused the cellhouse, making our way through the building until we got to solitary confinement. Truth be told, this was the part I was most excited about, as I had recently seen the Ghost Adventures (aka “bros with cameras and blacklights screaming”) episode where they witnessed glowing red eyes out of cell 13 and experienced motion sickness in cell 14. I strapped on my paranormal investigatory pants and went in both cells, not really picking anything up. I might have felt a little dizzy in cell 13, but that may have been the ghost of those deep-fried Oreos more than anything.

Somewhere on the outdoor part of the tour, both of our audio guides decided to reset themselves and start from the beginning, so we enjoyed the view a little more before catching the ferry back.

The rest of the day consisted of preparing Maureen’s apartment for her housewarming party, where I was happy to cajole into attending a recently married and rarely seen Mr. David Kelley-Widmer, now living in Berkeley. I wish I remembered more of the night, but higher-alcohol brews and an entire container of chocolate-covered almonds had a rather detrimental effect on mind and body.

Talk about 'peak' performance.

Talk about ‘peak’ performance.

Sunday morning was rough, but we managed to get our act together and drive over to Oakland (a marked contrast from San Francisco, by the way) to bottle some homebrew that Maureen and a friend had created. On the way back, we drove up one of the treacherous San Fran hills (thankfully no more walking) to an overlook called Twin Peaks (no mysteriously murdered homecoming queens there I’m told) which provided some seriously breathtaking (almost literally, because it was so windy) vistas of the city. Again, this reminded me of Athens and several of the hills that jutted out of the solidly packed neighborhoods—namely, the Acropolis and Lykavittos Hill—and provided great views. 

And then, the next morning, it was time to go! I left a sunny and 70-degree San Francisco to return to a frozen hellscape of Chicago where, less than an hour after leaving the airport, I almost slipped on ice and fell on my ass. Home sweet home indeed. Coming back was a lot more difficult than I thought. After three days of beautiful weather and a laundry list of fun activities I wanted to tackle, all of my motivation was sapped when thinking about freezing temperatures and having to do mundane things like actual laundry again.

And, as we sit here in the beginning of March with three inches of fresh snow to add to the pile, there’s no end in sight. But there’s always more traveling. If there’s one thing I took away from the trip, it’s that a new place and a new adventure can reawaken the mind and spirit. All it takes to shake up the doldrums of everyday winter life is a plane ticket (and, if you’re cheap like me, a friend to crash with). I hope to go somewhere new and try something different as soon as time and money allow. But I think I’ll stay away from the deep-fried Oreos next time.

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Posted in: Lincoln Square