Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Last Weekend: Part 2 - The Rock

Part 2: The Rock.

So I was told that the best time to go see Alcatraz was on the evening tour that they only hold on the weekend. I don't know who told me this but who am I to argue with whoever they were. I really never asked why it was supposed to be the best way to see the island I just took them at face value. So booking tickets with my favorite tourist companion, Steph, we set out for The Rock.

Just so you know I am not about to give you a detailed account of Alcatraz. You really have to see it yourself. I will, however, give you an overview in case you have been living in a hole and have no idea what they hell I am talking about.

Sitting out in the middle of the inlet to San Francisco Bay is a small island. It is just off the northern tip of SF and slightly off to the side from The Golden Gate Bridge. At some point it was a military base and then later a prison for prisoners that were considered to rowdy for other prisons. It was the first Super maximum security prison.

As we approached the island on shuttle I was struck by two thoughts: “Boy, this place is a lot smaller then it looks from land.”, and “Why the hell didn't I bring a jacket?” Seriously!? I have been living in this place for a year. I know SF is always cold, and now I am on a boat, at night, with no jacket. Seriously I am to stupid to live sometimes. Of course because I am supposed to be used to crappy weather on the East Coast I needed to save face and act like it didn't bother me. But just note, take a jacket when you go.

As my time on the Rock started it really became clear why the night time tour is the best. You have a timed ticket to get to the island, but you can leave on any boat heading back. The crowds really start to thin out as the night goes on and you can really explore without the crowds jostling you around. Plus, with less people give you more access to some parts of the prison that they can't normally open up due to staffing restrictions.

The hospital ward at the prison is one of those places that are only open for a limited time each night. If you get easily creped out by hospitals then you want to avoid this part of the prison. It is like when they closed the place in the 60's they just walled off this section and reopened it for you that morning. The lights don't work so there are little battery powered lanterns around. Operating tables and rusty surgical implements are scattered around. The look made you think that what used to be considered practicing medicine would now be considered barbarism. Down to the few padded rooms this place was stunning.

Another benefit is that the staff have more time to talk to you. Instead of needing to tend to every grubby kid they could spend more time chit chatting and locking you in isolation cells. They opened up a whole cell block for us that is typically not on the tour. And you could really see the decay that has taken hold over the years.

The last boat off the island is at 9:00. When we were boarding I was thankful for the mystery advice sa to when to go to visit but I was left a little wanting. I was happy to see what I did but wondered why I was told to go at night with such imperative. As the shuttle slipped from behind the island the real reason why the night tour is recommended finally set in for me. The Golden Gate bridge was lit up for the night and the view from the middle of the inlet offered a rare perspective to the majestic span. Then as the boat turned towards the dock the view of the city at night is unparalleled. No place else could you get a view of the whole city and all its major landmarks in one glance.

So to whoever it was that nearly a year ago insisted I see Alcatraz at night, Thank you. And to any future visitors, you now know what to do.

The Last Weekend: Part 1 - The Coast

If it weren't for the last minute, most things wouldn't get done. So don't judge me that I waited until the very last weekend to do some of the California Activities that are right in my back yard. I never wanted to play tourist for a year even though I am one. As a result I missed doing the touristy stuff that I probably should have gotten off the list a lot earlier. So I was off to Monterey and lastly Alcatraz.

So I was told Monterey is beautiful. I was told that I had to go at least once, but wait until the weather was nice. So I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally after six months of rain, there was finally a weekend when I was in town and the rain was not. I know that statement will mean nothing to any of my east coast friends who had to suffer through multiple blizzards this winter. Around here, however, the non summer came to an end and summer was back.

Right next to Monterrey is this little private community with collection of sub par golf courses called Pebble Beach. The weekend I was visiting was right before some little golf tournament called the U.S. Open. Deciding to first see what the big deal is about before hitting Monterey itself we hit the 17 mile drive around the 8 golf courses that pepper the whole Pebble Beach area.

The 17 Mile Drive brings you through the whole Pebble Beach community showing off fantastic coastal scenery and a slew of houses that have garages that cost as much as my house. Actually that might not be true, because some had garages that my house could fit inside, and I am pretty sure that real estate is more expensive around those parts then where my house is located. So those garages cost more then my house. Some sat dangerously close to some of the 8 golf courses that make up the area. Either they have golf ball proof glass or the golfers that play there can afford to fix whatever they break.

Halfway through the 17 Mile Drive you hit the coast. Believe it or not, in the near year that I have been living in CA and in the countless times I had visited in the past I had yet to actually touch the Pacific Ocean. Deciding that this was the time to correct that I can tell you this, unequivocally: The Pacific is god damn cold! Stepping in my knees instantly went numb and it took about 5 minutes before I even felt my toes again. It is distinctly possible that some shrinkage happened. CA may have the better weather then the east, but why the hell anybody would think of going into that water is beyond me. Note: At this point I was reminded of a standard rule of travel I had violated ... always keep a towel handy.

After continuing along the coastal drive another few miles you finally come to the crown jewel of the drive. Pebble Beach is not only one of the premier golf courses in then world it frequently fights for the top spot. As luck would have it we had arrived there mere days before they were set to host the U.S. Open. Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh were bumming around the place taking practice rounds and you could tell the staff was in full gear getting themselves and the place properly primped. I was dressed in a tee shirt, cargo shorts wet with salt water and a baseball cap. Yep... time for a drink in the club house.

Settling into the Club House Grill I knew Steph and I made the right choice of locations to get lunch. The staff didn't care I was dressed like a vagrant, several regulars were peppered around seated at the oak tables, and two spots at the bar were already waiting for us! Now in the past year I have been afforded the opportunity to live it up quite a bit. Lunch at “The Club” would be no exception. I did want something special for the occasion however. So instead of ordering my standard G&T I decided to get a Dark and Stormy. To this I had the distinct pleasure of stumping the bartender, Tomas, as to what is in one. Explaining the simple concoction of ginger beer and dark rum got the conversation ball rolling and soon my new friend was planted with Steph and I in conversation down our end of the bar.

Needless to say everything was superb. After taking a look around for a little bit we continued onto our next destination, Monterey. The main tourist trap in Monterey is Cannery Row and the Aquarium. So... the aquarium... let me say this about the aquarium. It is nice Not thrilling... but nice. It offers a great view of Monterey bay, and has some really cute sea lions. But, other then that, I felt that it is sort of showcased stuff that washed up in or is only found in the bay. Even the sea lions can be seen for free just a few miles away at Fisherman's wharf. The jellyfish were cool, but you can only watch invertebrates slump along for about 15 minutes. I will say that I may be spoiled by the National Aquarium in Baltimore, but I was underwhelmed.

I had burned enough daylight that it was now time for dinner. My new bartender buddy Tomas had fortunately directed us to a hole in the wall that after a little searching proved to be a fantastic treasure. The Fish House couldn't have been any more different then my lunch location nor named any more appropriately. The place looked like a standard 1970s split level house that had a seafood restaurant crammed inside. It was clearly a place that locals frequented more then tourists. After a brief wait, two seats opened up at the bar. Ordering a glass of wine got you a bottle that was upended until your glass was full, the fish were caught just that morning, and the oak grilled garlic oysters were amazing.

Now, by this point in my travels I like to think that I have finely honed my ability to talk to anyone anywhere and make friends. The bartender Sal was awesome and was aways quick with a joke and a drink for Steph and I. I never anticipated, however, there to be a downside to my new craft. I couldn't turn it off. As two very loud and rude ladies jumped the wait list for the bar and nabbed two seats next to me, all I wanted was for them to shut up and keep to themselves. Instead I became their new best friend. Nothing I did to put up the “Don't talk to me” flag worked. Such are the pitfalls of a year spent trying to make myself open and non threatening in conversation.

The Show

So this is not a post about the Tom Petty concert. Seriously. The show was awesome, but I had a tough time walking around with both my feet stuck in my mouth. Warning, parts of the following blog are unsuitable for children. And please note I was really buzzed for all of these events.

The show was at the Oracle Arena up in Oakland. This is where the Golden State Warriors play and is located next to the crap hole that is the Oakland Coliseum, where the Raiders and Athletics play. Oracle Arena is a much nicer place, however. As a much nicer venue it has some very nice stadium amenities. Some of which are good beer and flat screen TVs. So while waiting in line with my buddy Ian to buy some beer I happened to look up and the gorgeous flat screen was showing promos for upcoming arena events. The first ad I saw put me into a trance which produced a string of obscenities.

Me: “God, I hate Justin Bieber. Look at that little jack ass. It is an insult to real musicians that he is f@#$ing popular. I'd like to shave his hair off and feed it to him. The worst part is that he thinks he is the shit. The little crap nugget stands there talking about love? What the f@#$ does he know about love? The only chick he has loved is his mom. I can't wait for that kid to go the way of Lindsey Lohan and get hooked on smack so I can laugh at the irony. The little bastard.”

Ian: “Wow. I have never heard you say anything like that before.”

At this point I broke out of my trance and realized that not only was I talking out loud, but people were listening to me.

Me: “What?! Oh shit. I am sorry! I forgot I was talking out loud My apologies to any Bieber fans here.”

At this point some young pop tart in front of us in line sheepishly smiled and made the following admission: “Actually I have Bieber Fever. I think he is so cute. But I can understand he isn't for everybody.”

Me: “Wow, I seriously don't know what to say! You just stunned me that there is a name for the condition. Bieber Fever? Is there a name for the shakes he is going to have when he detoxes off of heroin? Shit... I am sorry. I didn't mean that. OK I did, but I just can't help myself. I should shut up. You helped catch me up to pop culture. But seriously I hate him.”

By this time were finally at the front of the beer line so I had something to put into my pie hole other then my foot. Of course the beer gave me another problem later.

When Ian and I finally reached out seats where Katie and Steph were waiting for us apparently parched from all the not standing in line they had been doing. So they started doing the natural thing which is giving Ian and I crap for not somehow making the beer line go faster. At some point during the verbal tennis match I turned to the kid next to me anxious to find a new conversation. The kid looked about 16 and was sitting next to a cute little blond that was clearly either his sister or his girlfriend. Remember... 'Clearly,!

“Ya know kid, sometimes I am not sure that women are worth this crap. Ya know?” He didn't know, but he said “Yeah” anyway. I should have stopped there, but I didn't. “So are you here with your girlfriend?” The kid looked at me and then helped me inert my free foot into my mouth.

“Dude, that's my mom!”

At this point I really had nothing that I could say. That didn't stop me from talking. “Really. Shit. Umm... Wow!”

Kid: “It's OK it happens all the time.” So of course at this point the kids mom decides to chime in.
Mom: “Really it is OK. It does happen all the time. I think it is a compliment.”
Me: “I am glad that you feel that way, because I feel like a schmuck.” Of course in the back of my head a new drunken plan starts to form. Mom is cute, not 16, and I am an optimist.
Mom: “Yeah, my husband gets a kick out of every time this happens.” So much for optimism. Oh yeah, at this point the husband decided to chime in.
Husband: “Yeah she really does look great.”

Mercifully at this moment the concert started so I could stop talking. As a public service announcement we were taking public transportation to and from the show. So in my intoxication I was only hurting my own pride and not anyone else.