Five by Nine by Seven

The standard prison cell for a general population prisoner at Alcatraz.

It seems inhumane to have built a maximum-security prison within view of the San Francisco peninsula. In fact, it’s something that most of the former inmates who are interviewed for the audio guide point out; especially on New Year’s they could hear, see and even smell the festivities… Can you imagine being in prison for fifteen years without a call, visit, or letter (like one inmate explained), yet be able to smell pasta from North Beach?!

San Francisco – only 1 1/2 mile swim away…

The 45-minute audio-guide of Alcatraz, which is included in the cruise price, was exceptionally good and included interviews of former inmates, warden, and even children of prison guards who lived on the island. The sound effects were realistic, and the alternating clips of prison ambient sound and tour directions pushed the audio towards an art form (while Cardiff’s audio-walks pushed towards an audio-guide). Interesting note: the sound of the 250-pound steel cell doors closing was recorded by George Lucas to be the sound of the Death Star’s doors closing in Star Wars.

We spent about three hours all told with glorious blue skies and balmy weather. It was worth the price of admission, but I’m glad I waited to visit until I was with Bella and Dawkins. It is one of San Fran’s main tourist attractions and over a million people visit every year! We avoided the worst of the crowds by buying advance tickets for the first boat over on a weekday morning, still there were more people than I expected.

Touristy notes: while the weather was warm for us, normally it’s cooler on the boat and on the island. Also, there is no food on the island, so bring snacks if you want to spend time exploring.

The crumbling warden’s house.

We had lunch when we got back on the wharf – which was touristy and expensive, even just standing at a counter, ie Bella didn’t like her $8 fish and chips and barely touched her food. I was irritated to learn that she ate a filet of fish at Burger King later, but as Chad pointed out: it should be a lesson to me not to keep pressing her to eat outside of her comfort box (esp. when it costs more) and that the food hadn’t been very good anyway.

What am I complaining about anyway? Those Alcatraz inmates, even in the general population, lived in those tiny concrete cells. There was a rec yard sure, but just for the weekends. Total and absolute monotony in prison.

We all needed a small rest back at the apartment after a snappish and tired lunch.

In the afternoon, the grown-ups and kids parted ways. They wanted to exchange an item purchased the previous day and we wanted to visit Chad’s old undergrad campus, San Francisco State. Chad and I dropped the girls at the end of the Powell-Mason cable car line with specific and easy directions on how to get back home. They did it! And the independence of running free in San Francisco made them giddy and excited for the rest of the evening. Chad and I enjoyed quiet hours talking and holding hands on the MUNI and numerous buses – and he showed me all around his old campus telling me stories. We spent a bit of time on top of the student union, which is cool because it has stadium-style seating on top of a four-story building, ostensibly just so students can hang out and watch the rest of the campus.

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