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Friday, August 26, 2011

San Francisco & Alcatraz

Today's the day, the journey from Seattle to the rest of America begins! As with any major travel, the experiences begin at the airport. First new experience - you know that vertical license issued by the state before you turn 21? Not accepted at airport restaurants. Even if it says "turns 21 in 1942" you have to have the horizontal one or they won't sell you a drink...  pretty ridiculous considering that most countries don't even care how old you are so long as you can reach over the counter. Anyways, another thing to keep in mind when traveling is the people. While eating at Chilis you might say hello to Steve, an oil worker from Alaska, who tells you of his plans to retire in Thailand on social security. All you have to do in order to renew your visa is cross the border to Laos every day - not bad considering that you can live out the rest of your days there like a king for pennies a day! Steve also invests in Gibraltar stocks where the returns are apparently very competitive.
After arriving in San Francisco I took a bus to my hostel. Many will take a taxi to get up North but why do that when buses only cost $5? After hopping off the bus it's only a few blocks walk to the Green Tortoise hostel. After checking in, hostel mates Deanna and Trudy from Australia suggested joining them for pizza which was only $3 with a coke because of the hostel discount. Back at the hostel they opened a keg and started racing crabs. The hostel put little flags on hermit crabs and had everyone split into teams. Whichever crab won, that team got a bottle of two buck chuck. After many very confusing races all with different rules, my team won the free bottle of wine!
While we were celebrating, some of the others from the upcoming cross-America trip starting appearing. After some spirited discussions on politics, and killing off the wine, everyone watched in amazement as gymnastics wizard, Adnon showed off his yoga skills. At one point I volunteered to climb up on his shoulders and waved my arms around a bit. After people nervously watching started to panic I jumped back down and eventually went back to the room where a new guy named Justice had arrived. Two very fitting career choices come to mind for this guy - one to do with a gun and the other a gavel.
This morning I went to Alcatraz. After a short ferry ride, this is a former prison facility turned museum. Specialized tours are available by local guides, but the audio tour takes you throughout the main facility. After over an hour of walking around listening to the history of the island and stories from the days when notorious inmates Al Capone, George "machine gun" Kelly, and Robert Stroud "Birdman of Alcatraz" roamed the facility, a ferry ride back to freedom and food sounds pretty good. On the way back I stopped for a 20 minute video presentation… which made me miss the 12:55p boat. I was hungry so this was not good. For the next half hour I was a prisoner on Alcatraz.

Upon arriving back in the land of the free, the crab bisque bread bowl at Boudin’s Bread was a treat. After a good meal, some free sites to see (cost $10 to actually go inside) are the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien Liberty Ship and the USS Pampanito Submarine. Next, the Musee Mechanique is a museum full of old mechanical attractions and arcade games. Finally, a walk down the Wharf and it's break time. After resting back at the hostel some Dim Sum at the House of Dim Sum makes a good snack. 
Later on, everyone headed for the bus and, after a long info session (one of many to come), the Green Tortoise departed San Francisco for Zion National Park in Utah. After leaving, everyone found buddies for the "buddy system" and some of us played cards. One of the games we played was a version of Rummy, similar to Gin Rummy, that we later referred to as English Rummy.

After a couple hours the bus stopped so everyone could eat and do “the miracle” - where we changed the seats into beds for sleeping. The sleeping areas were designated as the “caves” (under the tables), “tables” (on top of tables), “mosh pits” (on front and back platforms), and “bunks” (up on shelves hanging from the roof of the bus by chains). Bunks aren't as quiet as the other spots, especially the caves, but you get a whole sleeping quarter to yourself which is a big plus for tall people. Up in the bunk it seemed to me like the driver was falling asleep because the bus kept hitting the center median and roadside bump strips. According to the driver, the bus is just really wide which makes it hard to drive perfectly within the two noise strips.

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