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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! And, as with any major travel experience, it all begins at the airport. First new experience... you know that vertical license that the state issues you before you turn 21? Yeah, 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 great thing about traveling is the people you meet. While eating at Chilis, for example, you might say hello to a guy named 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 over into Laos every day - not bad considering that you can live out the rest of your days there like a king for just pennies a day! Steve also invests in stocks in Gibraltar where the returns are apparently very competitive.
After arriving in San Francisco, I took a bus to my hostel. Many 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, some hostel mates named Deanna and Trudy, who come from Australia, suggested joining them for pizza - 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 from Trader Joe's. 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 started 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 then waved my arms around a bit which, apparently, gave those watching cause for concern. After the nervous spectators started to panic, I jumped back down. Eventually it was time to head back to the dorm where it turned out a new guy named Justice had arrived. I figure this guy needs either a gun or a gavel and his destiny will be complete.
This morning I went to Alcatraz. After a short ferry ride, we arrived at this former prison facility turned museum. Specialized tours are available with local guides, but the audio tour takes you everywhere in 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 sounded pretty good. On the way back I stopped for a 20 minute video presentation… which made me miss the 12:55 boat. This was rather unfortunate considering how hungry I was... for the next half hour I would be a very unwilling prisoner of Alcatraz.

Upon arriving back in the land of the free, the crab bisque bread bowl at Boudin’s Bread was a treat. Following such a good meal, it's really worth visiting the free sites along the wharf (actually $10 to go inside) - the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien Liberty Ship and the USS Pampanito Submarine. Also pretty cool is Musee Mechanique; a museum full of old mechanical attractions and arcade games. Finally, after a good rest back at the hostel, some Dim Sum at the House of Dim Sum made for 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 we had left, 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” - a special Green Tortoise event where everyone makes the seats into beds for sleeping in different places. The sleeping areas were designated as the “caves” (under the tables), “tables” (on top of tables), “mosh pits” (on front and back platforms of the bus), 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, for us tall people, is pretty important. Up in the bunk it seemed like the driver might have been falling asleep because we kept hitting the center median and roadside bump strips. According to the driver, the bus is actually just really wide, so it's hard to drive perfectly within the two noise strips.

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