San Francisco, Part 3.

Alcatraz! But first, other stuff.

On our first day in San Fran Ness-Ness took us to the Castro district for lunch. That is the historically gay neighborhood. I believe it’s referred to in the movie Milk (phenomenal movie, go see it). There were your standard gay area shops but there was also two naked guys wandering around. Older naked guys. Wandering around the streets being naked. To be honest they weren’t completely naked, they were wearing tiny sparkly cape over their parts. Not the eggs, only the stalk. And one guy’s cape was too short so his stalk was peekin’ from the bottom which somehow made it worse. Once the gentlemen had passed we went to a cafe for lunch. Please note the name. Keeping faithful to the area and its motif.

At first I was like those prices are kinda high and then they brought the food out and I was like never mind. The portions were big, the food was excellent, you should go there. The fruit crepe was dope as hell. A+ fruit crepe.

Another thing I saw whilst strolling the streets: a sign shop that does hand painting. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about anything with calligraphy or hand-painted letters (big big fan). Imagine my delight at seeing this. So many styles! So crisp, so even! Strong, purposeful brush strokes! I swoon.

Now, Alcatraz. Crickets loooooooves behind-the-scenes tours. Loves ’em. I do too but he did all the booking so we saw all kinds of secret magical things. One of those things was a tour of Alcatraz conducted by a person (the basic tour has you carry around a little tape recorder that instructs you where to go). I am now awash in knowledge. Allow me to share it with you.

As I said before I only took three photos at Alcatraz because I was trying to live in the moment but I will rely on the gazillion other people that have been there to provide me with pictures. Okay, so Alcatraz was a tortoise-back-shaped island until around the mid-1800s when it was made into a military fort. I think it’s been part of the U.S. Government (as opposed to San Francisco property) since then. I know it’s now considered a national park so when we went on our tour a federal park person accompanied us. She pointed out that since we were on federal property, even though we were only a mile from San Francisco, no one could use marijuana or marijuana-based materials at any time. (I do not personally partake in the healing weed but that point of it being illegal intrigued me.) Now, one might think it’s only a mile to San Francisco, why didn’t any of those escapees make it, and it’s because of the temperature of the water – very cold – and the current. There is a race to swim to San Fran every year but it was pointed out that these people had trained and, more importantly, were wearing cold water wet suits which insulated them. One of the first things the soldiers did when they got to the island was hack a chunk of the side of the tortoise back so there was a sharp cliff. That way invaders didn’t have a way to get up to the fortress. They also grew agave plants all over the side of the cliff because you cannot navigate through them, they’ll slice you right up. Here’s an oldey-timey picture where you can see the man-made cliff.

When the fortress was done fortressing it was used for holding POWs and the prison was built right on top of it. So when you’re standing at the base of the main building you can see massive stone chunks which then turn into cement and that’s where the prison layers begin and even those are visibly different, from the POW prison to the criminal prison. There are several other buildings on the island because the guards and their families lived in the same place as the prisoners. The guards had nice apartments and there were twelve ferries every day back and forth from San Fran so the wives could go and pick up necessities and the families could go see a movie or whatever, but they lived right next to the cells. Imagine being a little kid and growing up like that. Anyway, because of the guards being residents there was a social house and a school house and a power station, etc. Alcatraz was only the prison we know it as from 1930-something to 1960-something, not that long.

If I had to sum up my experience at Alcatraz it would be astonishment at how similar it was to Shawshank Redemption. I’ve probably mentioned numerous times how that is my favorite movie but I figured it was hyped up to make it a more interesting story. I was wrong. Apparently the new inmates came off the ferry chained together at the feet, were hosed down and given anti-lice powder and then were walked to their cells naked while the more experienced prisoners yelled “New fish!” at them. The cells at Alcatraz look just like they do in Shawshank (except that the walls are painted pretty shades of salmon and mint, which is weird). They had The Hole which I got to visit. The showers were all open with rows of overhead pipes and sprinklers. They showed movies twice a month. Heck, even look at this picture of the yard. It’s got the layout and same stepped area that is in the first scene where Red takes bets on who will cry first. The similarities are nearly endless.

More on The Hole: It is solitary confinement in the dark. It’s supposed to really break you down. In Alcatraz it was originally a leftover portion of the fortress underground.

There was a toilet off to the side for the guard to use and let me tell you that was the scariest thing I saw on the whole tour. If anything is haunted there it’s that toilet. I don’t know how to describe it but it was run down and the smooth white seat was cracked down the middle and I think it didn’t help that it was on the edge of a looooooong corridor that was dark (remember, we’re in the fortress here so many creepy corridors to be had) so if you were sitting on this toilet (no stall, out in the open) on your left were prisoners trapped in darkness and on your right was a tunnel leading to who-knows-what. POW corpses probably. Nightmare fuel, I tell ya. Eventually they moved the solitary confinement upstairs where it was sound-proof and in complete darkness. Here’s an article about it. Don’t read it, maybe. Because once something is known, it cannot be unknown.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/11245414/My-19-days-in-solitary-confinement-on-Alcatraz.html

The SC cells looked like this:

I have to say the coolest part of the tour was showing how the cell doors opened and closed. I’ll try to explain it. At the end of the rows of cells is a large box. In that box is three levers. Over the all the cell doors in a massive bicycle chain with metal pins in it. The guard chooses to open cells 2, 5 and 13. The guard pulls the first lever to 3 (there’s a strip with numbers on the side of the lever so he knows where to line it up to). He pulls the second lever to drop the pin into the door of cell 3. He pulls the first lever to 5. Pulls second lever to drop pin in cell door 5. Pulls first lever to 13. Pulls second lever to drop pin in cell door 13. Finally, he pulls the massive third lever, those door with pins in them move with the bicycle chain and open. The rest of the doors don’t have dropped pins in them so they don’t open. I found a video showing you how it works. Start at 3:39.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbVMbdaz8ZI

The reason I know how all this works is because they have a section of the chain housing covered with plexiglass so you can see it in operation. It’s pretty awesome. There’s no electronics so it works in a blackout. Totally worth checking out.

Next entry: Muir Woods and other stuff.

Addendum: Cricket took a picture of the upsetting basement toilet. Horrifying. Enjoy.

Leave a Reply