San Francisco again - Alcatraz

Trip Start Aug 26, 1994
Trip End Sep 18, 1994

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Flag of United States  , California
Tuesday, March 4, 2003

DAY 9 SAT Jono and I left Maryann at home while we drove to the airport to pick up our mystery guest, Jeanette. At the toll gate of the Golden Gate Bridge I leapt from the car and dashed across the road to the safety of the footpath. Left to my own devices I visited the Golden Gate Souvenir Shop where I was able to purchase my first tacky souvenir, a metal pencil sharpener in the shape of the bridge ($1.25) for Tim. I was now free to fulfil my second American goal, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on foot. There wasn't much to see, as usual, as the ever-present fog restricted visibility to fifty feet or so. My guide book had warned the vertigo-afflicted against looking over the side of the bridge, however I found the sight inferior to that offered by the good old Sydney Harbour Bridge which I reckon is much further from the water. I completed the two mile walk in thirty minutes and met most of the population of San Francisco along the way.

To while away the time while I waited the return of Jono and Jeanette I bought a soda at a mobile kiosk at the lookout on the other side of the bridge and sat on the stone fence watching an endless parade of tourist busses disgorge their usually Asian contents.

On the return journey we visited Sausalito, a Castlecrag sort of place with lots of yachts and trendy shops. I bought a couple of cards and a real cheap ($9) pipe.

After a very late lunch I set off alone for Healdsburg town to buy some aftershave. I must have spent half an hour in the Payless supermarket looking around and another fifteen minutes selecting the aftershave. Impressions of Infinity for Men did not prove to be a hit back home. Although I am known for my uncanny sense of direction, I found that I had no idea which road to take to get back to the house. My phenomenal instinct came to the rescue eventually and I managed to find South Fitch Mountain Road, identified by the Halloween mask carving of the bushes outside one of the picturesque houses along the way.

DAY 10 SUN Today was to have been the day we visited Alcatraz, however the tours were all filled up. For the first time ever the Golden Gate Bridge was not concealed by mist. After booking the Alcatraz tour for Monday we strolled around Fisherman's Wharf. This world famous location was mainly composed of souvenir shops, restaurants and seals, in fact it was the first tourist attraction I have seen which is a tourist attraction because it is a tourist attraction.

We drove up the big hill to Alamo Place, site of that famous row of houses, and had lunch in the park. Leaving the elegance of Nob Hill, we drove to Haight Ashbury where Jono took a picture of me under the famous street sign and we visited many hippie shops selling expensive t-shirts, incense and posters. We saw quite a number of aged hippies, one of whom danced up to us and exclaimed "I'm crazy, you're not!". If I had had a larger budget I could have spent a fortune on esoteric bits and pieces. instead I bought a mug, some beads for Margaret and a poster for Alexandra.

Traffic was really bad due to the fact that it was the Labor Day weekend. We inched our way out of the city via the Presidio, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and headed towards Mill Valley, a trendy village comparable to Double Bay. Maryann and Jeanette were in seventh heaven, spending ages in each dress and bric-a-brac shop. Maryann's tastes can only be described as colourful. She certainly evinces an appreciation of objects which demonstrate a startling boldness of design.

Some considerable time later we returned to Healdsburg, just in time to visit the antique fair in the town park. Nothing I could afford, unfortunately (old records sold for $25). The day was rounded off with a refreshing swim in the Russian River.

DAY 11 MON My first cool morning! The Golden Gate Bridge was covered in mist, as usual. We parked in Fremont Street (every Californian city of any size seems to have a Fremont Street) so that Jeanette could collect her Greyhound ticket. As is common with Greyhound, the terminal was located in a very seedy part of the city. Jonathan and I went to the bathroom and were startled to find that the long row of cubicles had no doors. A line of men squatted with their trousers around their ankles, doing their business without any sign of embarrassment.

We parked in the Anchorage Shopping Centre at Fisherman's Wharf and visited a shop selling only fridge magnets. Jono bought a magnet for $3 so that he would get a discount on the parking fee. At 11.30 we boarded the Red and White Line boat for our ten minute trip to Alcatraz (Spanish for pelican). While the others sat inside and looked out the windows, I braved the frigid winds on the deck outside. Alcatraz was ominous and imposing from a quarter of a mile away and even more so at close quarters. A large yellow sign warned of the dire punishment awaiting anyone who tried to help a prisoner escape. As we walked up the steep roadway I could imagine little Alexandra a few years ago in the same spot. I paid fifty cents for a self-guide book, much to Jono's horror, and proceeded to read out descriptions of the various places of interest.

Our ticket included the hire of a tape recorder and we spent half an hour being audially guided around the attractions in the main prison block. To the observer it would have looked rather strange. A hundred people apparently programmed to imitate one another, moving from place to place and staring fixedly at walls and bars. We saw the cells where Clint Eastwood and his co-stars dug holes in the wall before climbing to freedom. Did they escape? The ranger who later led the "escape tour" reckoned not. If they had, he insisted, they would have turned themselves in , served a few months, then sold their story to Hollywood. As soon as the tour finished we rushed back to the wharf. I paused only to pay a last visit to the bathroom (more like a horse trough).

Back at Fisherman's Wharf I purchased a souvenir mug for Margaret and we walked to the open air square in the Anchorage Shopping Centre to eat our sandwiches. A musician named Stephen Dreyfuss played "Green Onions", "One Note Samba" and other tunes on his saxophone. People clapped politely and I couldn't help thinking that if Margaret had been with me we would have had the mall shaking with thunderous applause.

I came close to falling asleep on the return journey. We have made the ninety minute journey from San Francisco to Healdsburg so many times that it's hard to maintain interest. I saw out the closing hour of the day with a Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve Dark Beer while Jonathan prepared dinner.

Seat belts. The seat belts in the cars I have travelled in have always been automatic in the front. One opens the door, sits down, closes the door and the seatbelt runs up the door frame. I have been nearly throttled several times by this outlandish contraption.
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