Day 2: Saturday March 16th: Up around 7 am. We had trouble sleeping late. John was awake at four am – still on Ohio time. We had breakfast at Denny’s on the first floor of the Holiday Inn and then took the F bus to Pier 33 where we boarded the ferry to Alcatraz aka The Rock. The audio tour of the island and the facilities was very informative. Several of the buildings were built in 1859 and were used as a military fortress during the Civil War. Later the Island was used as a military prison and more recently it was a Federal Penitentiary from 1933 until Bobby Kennedy closed it in March 1963 – 50 years ago on March 21st to be exact. Many notorious prisoners were housed in Alcatraz; Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly being the most famous and Robert Stroud, better known as “The Bird Man of Alcatraz”. Stroud, who was portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the 1963 movie as a misunderstood criminal who only wanted to take care of his birds, was in reality a rebellious violent man, a deviant who had to be housed separately from the rest of the population. And he never had birds at Alcatraz. The old walls and bars, the tiny cells, and the ‘Hole’ where prisoners were put in solitary in utter darkness for discipline were eerie. I could feel lots of unholy ‘vibes’ from the past misery that is still held in the mortar and bricks of the structure.
When we got back we decided to go to Chinatown for dinner. With the help of John’s smart phone app and Bill’s S.F. public transit map with schedules we figured out what bus to take. When we boarded we told the driver that we wanted to get off in Chinatown, so that is where he dumped us.
I’m going to diverse here and explain about the MUNI, which is San Francisco’s’ public transit system. It is comprised of electric street cars that run on rails and some busses. First there is the F line. These busses make a loop through Fisherman’s Wharf to the Bay Bridge area by way of Jefferson and Embarcadero Streets up Market Street and back. They seem to run one after another. The Fs are actually old electric streetcars, the kind that have two arms that connect to the power grids running above most of the streets. [Cincinnati ran similar electric streetcars up to the late 1950s.] There are currently 24 of these streetcars in San Francisco, all built in the 1920s and 30s. Fourteen were acquired from Philadelphia and ten came all the way from Milan, Italy. Each bus has been painted to represent a different city that was served by this type of streetcar with the name of that city on the side placard. ‘Jersey City’, ‘Philadelphia’, ‘Cleveland’ and Milan, Italy’ were some of the city names I read.
There are numerous other buses and streetcars also operating in the city: modern updated versions as well as many older functional busses. I even saw some of the famous Trolleys. They are made of wood, brightly painted in reds, golds and greens, and open on all sides. The MUNI runs all over the city. Up and down the steep streets and through all the neighborhoods: Nob Hill, Pacific Heights, Marina and Haight-Ashbury, to name a few. But they are not able to travel on the two curviest roads in San Francisco; the infamous Lombard Ave and Vermont Street.
Passengers can hop on any of the MUNIs, pay $2 and get a transfer ticket that is good on any other streetcar, bus or trolley for the next 90 minutes. But we soon learned that just holding out the ticket will get you on with no questions. So it seems you can ride all day for $2. We rode the #30 a lot as it ran past our hotel on Columbus Ave. At one stop for #47 on our way to the Golden Gate Bridge the bus looked too full, so we tried to wave the driver on, but he insisted that there was room for us in the back of the bus. So we paid our fare and squeezed into the mass of passengers. We were packed like sardines, standing body to body. Glad we didn’t have too far to travel. Guess it was rush hour.