Wednesday, April 02, 2008

San Francisco, Day 3

Alcatraz Island

We drifted into the San Francisco fog early this morning, ferrying over one and a quarter miles of bay water to the famous Alcatraz Prison. Today I learned that the island was originally inhabited to maintain control of the area during the gold rush, and then later as a prison for Confederate criminals during the Civil War. All things that I did not know.

The tour itself was really interesting. Of course Al Capone was housed there in the twilight of his syphilitic insanity, and there were a few other famous criminals who lived there, but the real intrigue of the complex was how locked down and cold it was compared to the sunny warmth of the city right across the bay. How frustrating it must have been for those inmates knowing that freedom and civilization lay such a short distance away. In fact, the audio tour told us that on New Years Eve, inmates could hear the drunken cheers and hearty laughs from the other side of the water.

While this was a cool experience, I have to admit that the Ohio Reformatory in Mansfield was so much more amazing. The peeling lead paint, tales of escape, and the sheer number of murder stories there really enthralled me. Alcatraz was impressive for its infamy, but Shawshank is still my all-time favorite.

Pier Market Restaurant

Those who know Amy well understand that, like many women, she turns into an Incredible-Hulk-like monster when she gets too hungry. While looking around for a decent lunch stop, my fiancée was slipping into furious delirium because her tummy tank was on empty.

Luckily, we found the Pier Market. Joanna suggested we get the clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, but we opted instead for some seafood. Amy had what she called “The Best Shrimp of My Life,” and I had a salmon steak that was grilled and basted in a mango barbecue sauce. Let the idea of how delicious this was just marinate for a moment.

It was wonderful, and the best part of all—Amy’s hunger was qualmed and she changed from green and muscley back to her normal size and color.

Wax Museum

Lame, lame, lame. Madame Tussauds wax museum in Las Vegas is made from actual casts of actual celebrities who come in to pose for the statues. San Francisco’s more generic counterpart along Fisherman’s Wharf was more of one artist’s 3D interpretations of celebrity photographs, making for a much different—and much less realistic—experience.

Like I said… lame.

Aquarium at the Bay

The skin of a stingray feels like slimy felt, while a shark bears a similar texture to a wet snake. I know this because I touched both of them at the Aquarium on Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf.

In the lower level of the building lies a series of glass tunnels, surrounded on three sides by water while fish and sharks and starfish swarm on both sides of you and above your heads. Considering the water in the bay is freezing cold and too dark for effective snorkeling, this lower-maintenance option gave us more than enough opportunity to see what sea life is like in the area.

Since Amy and I are nerds, we really enjoyed this little adventure. Amy particularly took pleasure in a series of stingray embryos that showed the gestation of the creature. I had to drag her away from the little guys because she was so fascinated to watch their diminutive, underdeveloped gills gasp and twitch inside their embryonic pouches.

But then again, I got yanked away from a tank of tropical fish earlier on because I liked all the shiny colors, so how can I complain?

Sea Lions

We compared Amy to the sea lions that loaf on battered wooden docks at the back of Pier 39 because they seemed happiest while curled up against another warm body, sleeping and in the sun. Really, the only difference is that Amy doesn’t weigh eight hundred pounds with fur all over her body. Otherwise, the two could be twins.

She spent a ton of time watching the sea lions wrestle and grunt and slosh and sunbathe. Aside from the stench, the whole scene was pretty serene—the sun started to set and glitter off the water, while spectators ooh’d and ahh’d at the sea lions grappling for position on the wood planks. We were mesmerized, but probably due largely to the fact that we’d spent seven hours walking around in the sun.

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