The Rock

30 June 2008

The Rock

Long before we started this journey, Alex has drawn up a list of places that he wanted to visit. San Francisco was high up on the list and in particular Silicon Valley, the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. We had pre-booked tickets for the Alcatraz tour and today took the short boat trip across to Alcatraz Island from Pier 33.

The only mandatory stop on the Alcatraz tour includes a short orientation talk from one of the National Park rangers who look after the island and like a good many of the people who were being dutifully orientated, my knowledge of the island and its history pretty much started and stopped with Clint Eastwood. Of course I knew about Al Capone and The Birdman, but nothing about the other parts of the island's colourful history.

Indians Welcome

We started the tour with a Discovery Channel movie about the island which explained why Indians Welcome was painted on the walls opposite the dock, the only way in and out of Alcatraz unless you were brave or crazy enough to try to swim the mile in freezing water between Alcatraz and San Francisco.

On my birthday (November 20th) in 1969, a group of native Americans claimed the island and occupied it in protest against the treatment of their people by the US government. The protestors occupied Alcatraz for nineteen months before being forcibly removed.

I had never heard of this protest and it was interesting not just because of the events on Alcatraz but because we have planned our route Between Two Oceans to take in several sites in native American history.

Alcatraz seems so close to mainland San Francisco that it's easy to imagine how its proximity to normality amplified the isolation that the prison's inmates must have felt. As the audio tour described, when the wind blew from the right direction, voices would be carried across to the island and particularly on New Year's Eve those incarcerated could listen to the celebrations from their 6x9' cells.

Having never been inside a working prison, I can't really imagine what living inside one must be like. But as the number of visitors touring the cell block roughly worked out around the same as the three hundred or so prisoners at the jail at any one time, if the noise and lack of privacy was anything like it was today then it must have been unbearable.


A lack of silence and me time is one of my worries about this trip. Back in Wales I often close the door to my studio to shut everything but me and my thoughts out. It's something I've done all my life and while I know that it's not always the healthy option, I think I need time that alone for my sanity.

Tomorrow morning we leave San Francisco and head on down to Phoenix, Arizona. For most of the rest of this journey we'll travel together in a rented RV and I know that I'm going to find it more than a little difficult to be alone with my thoughts, given the small space that we'll be traveling and living in. Still, I'm sure that we'll work it out and that everything will be just fine.

Goodbye foggy San Francisco, at least until I'm back here to record another DVD in September, and tomorrow Hello hot and dry Arizona, where the last time I looked it was 109 degrees, and the adventure proper begins.

By Andy Clarke

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