Jim and Gayle Cummings and Debbie Smith, friends from out of town, were visiting and wanted to see San Francisco. On Sunday, April 6, we drove them around the city, hitting some of the main sights: Twin Peaks, Golden Gate Park, the Cliff House. Our primary destination was the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB) and we figured that we’d park in the Presidio, walk along Crissy Field to Fort Point and then hike up the stairs to the GGB. No dice! We forgot how many people come out for a gorgeous spring day. We found a parking space and started looking for a way to cross Doyle Drive (the main highway from downtown to the GGB). With the current state of construction, we eventually found we’d have to walk a couple of miles out of our way to just reach Crissy Field. So a couple of miles away was as close as we got to GGB.
Jim and Gayle also wanted to visit Alcatraz. Neither Dave nor I, both born and raised here, have ever visited. So we reserved tickets and waited in line to get on the boat at Pier 33 on the most beautiful day of the year (so far). Debbie separated off to visit the Academy of Science in Golden Gate Park. The Alcatraz tour was interesting and well done. You need to schedule a takeoff time but once you’re on the island, you can wander around at will and catch any boat back. We ambled up the hills, enjoying the 360-degree views, all spectacular. The buildings are crumbly and falling apart, photographically good for us. Greenery was blooming all over and the island was covered with nesting seagulls and cormorants.
Eventually we got to the Cellhouse, the main prison building. Once you enter, you’re provided with audio tour equipment and the narrative begins. Some of the original guards speak, including our own George Devincenzi. (For those who don’t know my Customs background, Mr. Devincenzi was a Customs’ supervisory inspector that I worked with for many years.) The guard who gives the audio instructions on where to go, made me feel like a prisoner. “Go past Cell 46 and turn left. Stand against the wall and look up.” The tour covers what daily life was like for both the guards and the prisoners and goes into detail about the 1962 escape that succeeded for 3 prisoners and the 1946 murderous escape attempt that failed. It was well-presented.
Most windows in the Cellhouse are translucent so the prisoners only got to see the glorious views of San Francisco when they were in the recreation yard. The administration office was the place with large windows facing the city.
There were a couple of pictures of George Devincenzi around and I never saw him looking so young! There was a guest author on Alcatraz that day, Jolene Babyak, who lived on Alcatraz when her father was a warden there. She remembered George well.
When we got back to the mainland, we decided not to pay $22 for the two 5×7 pictures they had taken with us standing in front of a green-screen Alcatraz, so you won’t see them here. But this tour is truly worth doing if you are in the area.