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Monday, May 1, 2017

CLASSIC TRIP - San Francisco, California 1998, Part 2


See Part 1 of this trip here.

Finally, we were ready to go over to Alcatraz. The Red and White Fleet provides transportation over to the island. The full price of $11 for adults includes a voucher for an audio tour when you get there (there are also discounted tickets available if you don't want the audio tour).  (The prices now start at $32.75 and service is provided by Alcatraz Cruises - Ed)

The ride over was uneventful. The boat does make a complete circuit of the island before docking giving you great views of the entire island.

Once on the island, rangers greet you and give a brief history of the island before leading you up to the cell house. You can also skip this if you want and head up by yourself.

We had our lunch at the dock (the only spot on the island where you are allowed to eat or smoke) and then headed up.

The buildings down at the dock date back to 1857 when the island was a fort erected to protect California's gold fields. There are some interesting tunnels behind the bookstore that meander through the old basements here. Most are roped off except a series of tunnels that lead to a small museum display.

The tunnels also lead to an alternate path up to the cell house that, to us, was more interesting than the more heavily used path. Here you can see much more of the old military barracks ant the guardhouse/sally port.

Up at the top of the hill you can see California's oldest lighthouse location (still in operation, current lighthouse dates to 1909) and the ruins of the warden's house which burned down in 1971. Then you enter the cell house.

Entering the cell house, you pick up a walkman style tape player with headphones. Then you proceed into the cell block to a point where you are told to turn it on. The tour itself is fascinating, conducted (on the tape) by a former guard and former inmates.

You see the cells... Al Capone's former cell, Robert Stroud's (the birdman) cell, the cells where convicts tunneled their way out, isolation cells, and others where rioting inmates herded in hostages and shot them. You can enter some regular and isolation cells to get a feeling of what it was like.

You also visit the dining area and the library, where the worst Alcatraz riot originated from.

Apart from the tour, you can visit the prison hospital, the military morgue, the recreation yard, and paths around the island where many, many flowers bloom (see picture).

After the tour you can meet former inmates who have wrote books about Alcatraz in the bookstore. Today's guest was Jim Quillen who was sent here for kidnaping about half a century ago. He is also one of the voices you here on the audio tour.

We rode the boat back with Mr. Quillen which led to an interesting point where Tim was allowed (for the only time in his life, we hope) to take candy from a convicted kidnapper! We talked with Mr. Quillen on the way back, who seems like he's made peace with his past and insists on being called FORMER prisoner of Alcatraz (when Tim asked if he was a prisoner here), and got some more stories in between book signings for other passengers.


After Alcatraz, although still too early for dinner, Letty didn't feel like going back to the motel and going right back out for dinner. To pass the time, we took Muni's #39 bus up to the Coit Tower on top of Telegraph Hill.

This famous SF landmark was given to the city as a tribute to it's firefighters after the big quake and fire of 1906 by a wealthy woman of the time. The tower is shaped like a fire hose nozzle and the views from here are exceptional but the tower itself has no access for wheelchairs so we were stuck at the bottom of the hill. Thumbs down to the city for not installing a ramp here (it would be very easy to put one on the west side of the tower).

The view from the bottom is still on top of the hill and is spectacular. This landmark has a very small parking lot and waits of over an hour are commonplace on weekends for a spot to park. Taking Muni's #39 avoid much of this wait and the hassle of finding a spot. Thumbs down to all the impatient drivers who almost run you down trying to cut in front of everybody else who waits patiently but thumbs up to the view.

Heading back down the hill, the #39 bus takes you to North Beach, one of SF's best neighborhoods for fun. Here you will find many nightclubs, bars, shows, and great Italian restaurants.

This is one of the best spots for dinner in SF so we decided to see what we can find here. We have gone to Capp's Corner (on Green and Powell, next door to Club Fugazi-Beach Blanket Babylon) many times in the past (thumbs up) but wanted to try something different on this trip.

Figaro Ristorante Italiano owner Luigi Dominici was standing at his front door giving us mouth-watering descriptions of the food within, so we decided to put him to the test. We were not disappointed.

Letty had the angel hair pasta with prosciuto, I had the spinach ravioli with tomato cream sauce, and Tim had the penne with marinara. An order of polenta with mushrooms for antipasti started us off along with the freshly baked sourdough bread with olive oil. Delicious, plus great service. Figaro, at 441 Columbus Street (at Vallejo) gets a big thumbs up from us.

After dinner we headed up Columbus a couple of doors for desert at Stella's Italian Pastries. Washed down with some delicious coffee, we had some napoleons, cheesecake, and Italian donuts. We died and went to heaven that night (see picture) so another big thumbs up here.

We caught Muni's #15 bus back to the Wharf where we transferred to the #42 back to our motel. On the way in we bought a bottle of wine to settle down with before turning in.


After a good night's sleep, we headed up Lombard in search of breakfast. Today we went to Mel's Drive In, famous as the drive-in from American Graffiti (not filmed at this location though). Although Mel's has cashed in on the diner craze, it is an authentic one (over 30 years) as opposed to the recreations you see at most diners.

Breakfast was good and basic and Mel's was crowded but fun. Thumbs up.

Lunch would be about the time we flew home so instead of expensive airport food we bought some Balance bars at the GNC store on Chestnut before heading out.

Back at the motel we packed, and feeling confident from the trip so far, decided to forgo the shuttle and take public transit back to the airport.


We waited...and waited...for Muni's #42 bus to take us to the BART station. We were noticed that about every other #30 bus (which also goes to a BART station) was accessible despite being listed as not and was also coming by every couple of minute. So we switched and walked up one block to the #30 stop and caught it to BART.

At the BART station, we almost missed the train because we didn't know that the Fremont bound (and OAK airport) train didn't run this way on Sundays. Luckily someone told us at the last minute and we climbed aboard. This made a transfer to another train in Oakland necessary after an interesting trip under the bay (which makes your ears pop).

At the Coliseum/Oakland Airport BART station, we had a choice of taking AC Transit's number 58 bus or the AirBART shuttle to the airport. We chose AirBART. We chose wrong...

The first AirBART bus shows up...and does not have a wheelchair ramp. The bus driver assures me that SOME of the AirBART buses do have lifts, and to just wait. At this time, Letty is starting to be concerned that we are running out of time and may miss our flight. The tickets for AirBART (which must be purchased in advance via a machine in the station) has soaked up the last of our spare change so it's either walk or wait. A recheck of our flight tickets lets us find out that our flight leaves at 2:55 (we thought it was 2:00), so with 55 minutes gained, we decide to wait.

15 minutes later (AirBART is supposed to run every 7-10 minutes) an unmarked, white shuttle van pulls up which does have a lift. A handwritten note in the side window says "Airbart". I ask the driver if this is indeed the AirBART shuttle and she says yes so before any passengers board I tell here that my son needs to board in a wheelchair. She says ok...just wait a minute.

After loading my wife and about 10 other passengers, the driver comes to me and tells me I should wait for another bus because this one is full. At this point my cork, holding back much pressure already, pops. I, in no way gently, inform her that is why I #@%! told you before you started loading passengers on board about my son and to either get us on board or look for a new job.

That bit of persuasion seemed to do the trick and we were finally on board (after we had to show the driver how the lift worked) and made it to the airport 30 minutes before departure. AirBART gets a very big thumbs time either AC Transit (who seemed to have their act together much better) or a shuttle van.

The flight home was as good as the first with just a minor delay (7 minutes) out of Oakland because the plane's radio wouldn't come on. It was fixed immediately (the pilot said otherwise we would have to get another plane) and we were on our way home after a very nice weekend...AirBART notwithstanding!

Copyright 1998 - Darryl Musick

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