Being married to an airline pilot has its perks. In fact, I kind of think that the Pilot has the Best Job Ever, and I should know, since after all he’s spent 17-plus years in the military as well. Why is it the best job ever, other than the fact that it means he no longer has to spend months on end in places like Afghanistan or Iraq?
Because sometimes he gets trips to terrific places and his family can tag along.
So recently, tag along is exactly what we did, on a trip to San Francisco, California. We didn’t fly out with him- we went out a little earlier so that we could meet up with family and have dinner with them, which we did, at an Italian cafe in North Beach, not far from our hotel. (Okay, well, we didn’t actually eat there- we ate Chipotle before we got there. That’s one of the bummers of being gluten free… most Italian food is effectively ruled out, but the glass of wine I had was delicious!) And do you know what the best part of the evening was, besides seeing family? That we walked everywhere we went. At night. And were (mostly) safe because everybody else was out there walking too. I love Atlanta, you know, but a walking city it is not.
But San Francisco is very much a walking city, and I’d bet you we probably put in about 10 miles in our two days out there. I could certainly live that way! And one of the things we did while ambling about the city was to go on a tour of Alcatraz. Now, touring Alcatraz is not something you do on a whim. We had to order tickets about a month in advance- apparently, everyone wants to tour the place, making it a very popular tourist destination. Which typically makes me not want to do something. But, this is an exception- one of those things you really have to do if you’re visiting San Francisco- kind of like going up the Eiffel Tower if you’re in Paris. Yes, everybody’s doing it, but that’s because it really is that cool. And so, into the very long line we shuffled, and onto the boat that takes you out to the island. In my opinion, anything that gets you out onto the water is worth doing- I love being on the ocean even for short rides in the harbor (I have been known, back when we were spending lots of time up at Whidbey Island courtesy of the US Navy, to ride the ferry boats just for fun). And this one is a very short ride out to the island that houses the famous prison. In no time at all, you are stepping out onto where some of history’s most notorious criminals were housed in the early part of the 20th century. That the ride is short is in itself significant: these criminals really were being kept very, very close to the city, teeming with normal life, all happening right there almost in front of them. But they were also worlds away. You could see how strong and swift the current was, and feel the chill of the cold, cold waters of the Pacific. They are pretty sure that nobody who tried to escape ever actually made it.
The prison itself is a fascinating place to walk through. You are given a headset to guide you, and you get to learn about the cells where the different individuals were held, where they ate their meals, and everything about their strictly controlled lives. You learn about who tried to escape, who was held there, and yes, that does mean Al Capone. And the best part of the tour for us was the fact that we just read a book together called “Al Capone Does My Shirts” by Gennifer Choldenko. Things don’t always come together that smoothly for me- it sounds good in theory to read about a place and then go visit it, right? Actually making it happen, however, is more complicated than that. But we pulled it off this time, and as we walked around the island, we were imagining Moose and his sister Natalie and where they might have lived and what they felt like, living there on the island with all those convicts, taking the ferry across to the city in order to go to school or whatever else they needed to do. Having just read their story brought the island to life for us.
And that is what a good story should do.