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.

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