>Welcome to the fourth and final chapter of my grand endeavor to San Francisco, California as narrated by me. In previous chapters I indulged you in exciting times expierienced by me and my buddies at the golden gate at SFO and Universal Studios at Los Angeles. In this chapter, I will let you in on our visit to ‘The Alcatraz’ island and stroll down the down town streets of SFO.
THE TRIP TO THE WEST
-narrated by me
Sunday:May 26 The Ultimatum
Back in our hotel the Saturday ended without much drama. We were pretty tired after an exciting day at ‘The Universal Studios’ and slept for the most part of the ride back to our hotel in San Mateo. Now the hotel we had reserved this time was classic. Unlike the dump we had stayed the previous night, this hotel room had everything that would make you feel right at home. We actually arrived past midnight and hotel staff had left for the day, but the keys to our rooms where kept in a mail box with our names as a security code. Talk about technology and the comfort it brings. As I mentioned in the earlier chapter, we followed the same under-booking formula and this time it worked like a charm, no-hassle. We retired to our comfortable rooms and after a brief discussion about weather sustained control of the market forces by a regulatory body help in maintaining the balance of supply and demand in a nation’s economy (not really, the talk was mostly about you-know-what!!) it was time to sleep.
When I woke up the next day, I realized that I had just had an absolutely wonderful sleep. There was a big clamoring going on around me and I could hear people talking in high voices. I was unable to make out what it was about and but then again, I wasn’t paying attention. I half listened to what folks were saying as I went on about the usual rituals in getting ready for the day and by the time we started our car, I vaguely understood that someone had woken up really late. Our first destination for the day “Alcatraz Island” – the notorious island prison made internationally famous by the movie ‘The Rock’ (which also the island’s nick name ) featuring Nicolas Cage. As I reveled at the fact that I am going to be in a prison (or at least used to be) for the first time in my life, I suddenly realized that, apparently, it was me that had gotten up late and because of that we might miss the ferry at Pier 33 to the Island. Of course, no one can stay mad at me for a long time, especially when I so naturally pretended that they I had no idea about what or why they were screaming at the height of their voices.
Anyway, after getting scammed for 20 dollars by a con artist at the parking area (seriously) we caught the ferry on time and set sails to experience the great and depressing Alcatraz. On the outset it looks like a midevil fortress beset on the rocky island in the middle of San Francisco bay. Indeed it was used as a fortress during the early wars of our ancestors, but what made it known for, in the later years and today is the iron clad maximum security prison and the notorious convicts that it housed. Upon arrival, one unmistakably notices the enticing scenery set around the Rock, which completely masks the deep and much darker stories associated with it.
The island was surrounded by spectacular views to The Golden gate and San Francisco city sky line, but one cannot escape the feeling that the inmates of this federal penitentiary saw the outside world only for a brief moment of the day. As we strolled down the concrete corridors listening to the audio narration of the prison’s history and the experiences of some of the inmates in their own words, the sense of being free gets a whole new meaning. The prisoners’ narrative of how they did anything allowed by the prison guards to pass the day made me cringe at the reality of countless hours I waste on a daily basis. Scheduled hours with the visitors, precious little moments of music and sanctioned indulgence in sports seem to be the only thing they looked forward to while the empty and endless times of loneliness slowly engulfed them with nothing to do but rue the faults of their life time, committed in peace or a fit of rage. One certainly finds it interesting to see the way society marks an act as noble or criminal.
The stories of Alcatraz include escape attempts, some which are daring and others mystical, while seeming impractical. Factually the most intense escape attempt resulted in an intervention by the US Marine Corp which come to be known as ‘ The Battle of Alcatraz’ while, as far as drama goes, the escape of three convicts using dummy heads at their beds and soup spoons for scraping the tunnel tops the list. During its 29 years of operation, the penitentiary claimed no prisoners as having ever successfully escaped. It is definitely a tribute to the strength facility as well as the discipline and bravery of the prison officials.
Beyond the grim history of Alcatraz, the place still seems to be living with the old. The walls and the prison cells seem to have not aged at all, since the facility was shut down by federal authorities. The audio narration that was provided guided us along the various pathways, cells and rooms while giving a chilling chronicle of of each of the venue. It also included interviews and narratives by some of the prisoners themselves, as they told us their sad days and joyful moments. When it was time to go, we did it with heavy hearts.
The ferry ride back to the main land was a kind of getting-back-to-the-holiday-spirit sort. By the time we docked, we had a few hours left before it was time to catch out respective planes back home and we decided to have walk around SFO downtown. After having a good lunch in a Pakistani restaurant, we headed out into the streets. Now I have never been to a really developed American city before and hence in every which way, the SFO downtown mesmerized me. Posh offices, tall buildings, corner coffee shops and ATM centers, corporate banks, luxury hotels and the city’s own wavy roads reminding you that this is a mountainous land. Although I have seen these sky scrapers on TV, it is nothing like standing next to it for real. There is something about the place where all the buildings are tall enough to block the sun completely off the streets on a bright day. More I wandered those impressive streets the fact that California has the highest tax and was one of the cities with crippling cost of living in all of the US was beginning to disappear in my mind. For a few minutes I was living in my dream place exactly the way I pictured it. But then again, such blissful moments have a lifespan similar to a rainbow. As soon as we came back to our car, my brain (at least the functional part) quickly calculated my salary and expense for a year and a negative number in big font and red color flashed in front of me (Stupid Brain).Sigh. At least, it was good while it lasted.
We are only a couple of hours away from our scheduled flight departure and, the sorrow had filled the car already. We had a great time these past three days here and saying good bye really sucked. After a very long time we had spent some excellent experiences and, for what its worth, this trip will be remembered for a long time. Following the tradition of guys around the world, we spent the last few minutes joking about cars, movies and women before boarding our respective planes.
As for me, as I trudged off the Sky Harbor International Airport back in Phoenix to take the local bus to my house only one thing was in my mind – “Oh My God, I gotta work tomorrow!!”
Thanks for joining me. Until my next time.