Sunday, February 22, 2009


Last weekend being a long weekend and all due to President's day, I had friends coming over visiting. I enticed them to California citing the warm, glorious spring-like weather. So of course, the day they landed, it poured like I haven't seen in months. Driving to the airport, I could barely make out the tail-lights of the vehicle ahead of me through the blinding rain. O boy - so much for spring-like weather!

By now the "San Francisco tourist circuit" is a well known route for me. Of the two visiting friends, S has been to the bay area before while it was the first time for V. So, though we had planned other things to do on two of the days, there was no avoiding the "let's go to SF and do touristy things" cry. It then struck me, instead of going on the bay cruise ferry yet again which had a very likely chance of me jumping into the Pacific if I heard Captain Nemo's voice (ya that is the name for the guy who gives the voice over on those tours) once more, why not do the Alcatraz tour instead?

For, you see, in spite of being in Pier 39 a zillion times before, I have never been to Alcatraz since those tours are *always* sold out. This time around, I was smart and booked tickets 3 weeks in advance.

Anyways, as I as saying, S and V arrived and we were having fun. The day of the Alcatraz tour dawned dull, cloudy and rainy (well, when it had been pouring for the past 48 hours, there was no reason for it to stop on that day either, was there?). I was worried that the tour would be canceled but a quick call to the tour operators confirmed that they kept the tour running come hell or high water. Oh well!

This I have to say for S and V. Where mere mortals (e.g. me) would have balked at the rain and shrunk from the prospect of taking the train to SF and then take public transportation to the pier and then travel on a ferry in the downpour, S and V cheerfully said, "Oh we are from Seattle. We are used to ignoring the rain and going about with our life. Come on, don't be such a wimp."

Who could say no in the face of such enthusiasm?

So off we set out. Mercifully it turned out that the rain was intermittent only and was never very heavy. After lunch, we ran pell-mell to the boarding area for the Alcatraz ferry - as usual we had ill-timed ourselves and were perilously close to missing our ferry. There it turned out that we were not the only crazy souls - the tour was sold out as usual and people in the long queue even stood in the rain cheerfully!

The ferry ride was rougher than usual. The boat rolled about quite a bit. But the incessant drizzle was finally taking a siesta and the sun came out to see the world a bit. S and me were very enthusiastic and clicked pictures from all possible angles. Of course, the Golden Gate bridge was our pet subject.

The ferry soon reached Alcatraz island and found the choppy waves near the dock too rough. After a couple of attempts, the ferry was finally able to dock at Alcatraz.

By this time the drizzle had woken up again and we were thankful that the guided tour of Alcatraz was indoors. We hurried our way to the entrance (quite a climb to get there) and picked up our head-phones and player for the self-guided tour.

As we neared the starting point of the tour, I saw the cells for the first time. Narrow, small rooms with a small bed, a small basin and a tiny toilet at the back. My stomach did a flip - this is how prisoners live?
The self-guided audio tour was an excellent one. But the more time I spent inside the prison, the more closed in I felt. I noticed S and V had become extremely silent as well and none of us were shutter-happy anymore. We were taking pictures more because we *had* to rather than because we wanted to. The unspoken thought was "I don't want too many memories of this place."

I could only imagine how horrible it must be to only see the outside world through bars! How long and similar each day must feel if the one after it only brought more confinement! How does a person keep from going insane under such a circumstance? Perhaps that is why the law tries so hard to make sure that no innocent get punished wrongly.

By then, the intermittent showers of the day had turned into a steady downpour. From inside the prison we could only see bleak and gloomy skies outside. The weather seemed to match our moods. Though we knew we were free to leave when we wanted, the place was still so depressing!

Once the tour was over, S, V and me made the unanimous decision to get back on a ferry to the mainland as quick as possible. One ferry had already docked and we ran all the way in the pouring rain down to the jetty to board it. We so did not want to stay on the island any longer than we had to!
On the way back, we were very silent, absorbed in our thoughts. Finally, I said out loud what all of us were thinking, "So far I have not had any intention of committing any crime - after seeing Alcatraz, I don't think I will get that intention ever!"

Really, prison is a seriously creepy and frightening place!


Bharathis said...

Talk about prisons being depressing. Our own Andamans Circular jail has an even sadder history, having principled freedom fighters for inmates instead of notorious criminals.

Archana Bahuguna said...

Prison cell pic- very scary!

Archana said...

In the fifth picture in this article(from top down)is that "Welcome Indians" written in the entrance of Alcatraz?!I hope they mean the native Indians..

-Archana Narendar(yet-another-archana)

Venkat S Murthy said...

Indians welcome!?

Wonder what these American-Indian's are upto in US

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