San Francisco – Take 2

We stayed in Napa for four nights, giving us the opportunity to spend another day in San Francisco since it’s only an hours drive from the Fair Grounds.  While we were in Canada, Siobhan kept talking about what she wanted to do the last time we went to Frisco but didn’t have time for; an Alcatraz Tour, biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, a visit to Sausalito and maybe a walk down Lombard Street (the crookedest street in the world).  On July 11th, we got three of those four things done!

The Alcatraz Tour tickets proved to be the toughest to get.  The tours for that day were totally sold out.  Being persistent, I was able to learn that the ticket office on Fisherman’s Wharf (actually, Pier 39) routinely holds some number of tickets for “walk ups”, those that show up for the tour without tickets.  That was the good news.  The not-so-good news was that people start lining up for these tickets as early as 4AM, you must stay in line to keep your place and they even pay a security guard to make sure you do just that.  We agreed to get up at 4AM to get to the pier no later than 6AM and hope for the best.  When we arrived, there was already more than 50 people in line.  We joined them, hoping it wasn’t too late, although, we would not get the answer to that question until at least 8AM when the ticket office began selling tickets.  With a couple of hours to wait, I walked to the front of the line to count out our positions, number 63 and 64.  My research indicated a typical day would have between 50 and 100 available seats on the boat to get to the island.  We were feeling hopeful.  Oh, I must share that the first three people in line arrived there just before 4 AM and somewhere around spot 15 there were three people sound asleep on the pavement in their sleeping bags.  Now, that is commitment to attaining your goal!

We got the tickets around 8 AM for the 8:45 shuttle boat across San Francisco Bay to the island of Alcatraz.  Martin & Michelle, the couple in front of us in line all morning, joined us for a quick breakfast while we waited for boarding to begin.  They are a really nice couple, both working for an airline that provided them with the opportunity to take advantage of two or three day layovers in various cities around the world when their schedules fit.  We had fun getting to know them a little bit at breakfast and on and off during the tour when our paths crossed again at Alcatraz.  Also, we loved their British accents!

The ferry boat to the island, once underway, gave us an entirely new perspective of the beautiful San Francisco skyline.  And as we approached the island, we could only imagine the feelings of freedom fading in the hearts of those guys being brought out here to serve their sentences years ago when the prison was operable.  In its day, Alcatraz was a federal penitentiary for the most hardened criminals.  Getting your ticket punched to come here was the last thing any criminal wanted for they all knew that once you arrived, there were only two official ways out (completing your sentence or dying) and only one real way out (in a box).

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The official tour began on the dock where we were introduced to some of the park rangers and heard from Bill Baker, the last living prisoner who served time inside Alcatraz.  The prison was closed down due to its relatively high operating costs.  Since then, he wrote a book about his time here and I had him autograph a copy for me in the gift shop when we finished our tour.  Once inside the complex, we saw a brief movie history of the place and received our headsets for the self-guided audio tour of the complex.  I’ve always known I didn’t ever want to find myself in prison and this experience dramatically reinforced those feelings.  We learned about some of the most famous prisoners that spent time here and the crimes they committed to earn their spot.  Al Capone, Birdman, Mugsy Siegel, etc.  and stories of the always unsuccessful escape attempts.  One such escape was ten years in the making where the prisoner made himself a guards uniform, learned the exact times of laundry deliveries to and from the island, etc.  finally, after all that precise planning, he made his attempt and actually got out of the prison and on to the boat.  However, he somehow got on the wrong boat and instead of ending up in San Francisco he landed on another island where he was recaptured and returned to Alcatraz for an even longer stay.  Others simply jumped into the bay but never made it to the city, about one mile away through frigid, rough water and busy shipping lanes.

There were three prisoners that made an attempt and it is not known, still, whether these people survived.  Of course, there are many hypotheses.  I got to speak to one person who actually worked as a guard in the prison and he believes two of them died and the third made it to South America to live freely.  He believes, though, that even if that guy did make it, he would have died of natural causes by now.

Back on the mainland, we grabbed a picnic lunch from the Jeep and then walked a few blocks to rent bikes for the ride over the Golden Gate Bridge which connects San Francisco and Marin County across the bay to the north.  What a wild experience that was.  This bridge has a multi-use path on both sides of the bridge.  The heavy traffic is separated from this path by a railing so as they go whizzing past, you feel like they are going to take you out!  And the walkers,  don’t understand the purpose of the yellow line painted down the middle of the path with the bicycle pictures painted on one side and the walker pictures painted on the other.  Many insist on walking four across, using the entire path for themselves.  So frustrating, and then they look at us bicyclists with disdain when we shout out “on your left” as we ride past.  Oh well.  We got safely across the bridge after some stunning views and photos of the bay and the city skyline.  A great (mostly) downhill ride from the north end of the bridge brought us into the bayside town of Sausalito where we did some shopping before having lunch and a beer on the second floor deck of a local restaurant overlooking the bay and the city.  So beautiful.  Rather than riding all the way back, we grabbed a ferry across the bay to Fisherman’s Wharf, rode back to the bike shop and headed back to the RV in Napa.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the energy to walk to Lombard Street so that adventure will have to wait until our next visit.

Another awesome day!



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