Thursday, October 4, 2012

DAY 43- BART, F Train, & Alcatraz…

I opted to sleep in a little more and give BART a try.  BART stands for the Bay Area Rapid Transit.  It has an average daily (weekday) ridership of about 365,000 and claims it has a 90% on time record. It had me curious to give it a try and see how rider friendly it was.  I decided I would use it to get down to the Alcatraz Landing where I would catch a prepaid Alcatraz ticket I had reserved 2 days prior.  I was planning on taking BART from Walnut Creek down to the Embarcadero stop where I then would catch an F Train Trolley down to the Fisherman’s Wharf.  Then, it would be just a short walk to the actual Pier 33 where the ferry leaves from. 

The actual estimated travel time of the BART from the Walnut Creek to the Embarcadero stop was 40 minutes.  Then there was the connection time with the F train trolley and etc...  I had a ferry time of 12:35PM but they recommended being there at least 20 minutes prior to that.  So I figured that if I caught the BART shortly after 10AM, I would be on time.

I got to the BART Station in Pleasant Hill shortly after 9:30AM figuring it would give me time to figure out the parking and buy a ticket.  I drive up to the parking ramp area and the light inside says Garage is Full.  WHAT?!?  I back up and drive around the block hoping that there is an overflow parking lot or off street parking.  Nope, nothing of the sort!  I drove back to the parking ramp and drive in.  The first two floors are not filled up at all but have a reserved permit only parking from 8 to 10AM.  I see a parking lot attendant walking through the garage area and I roll down my window.  I explain that I’m from out of state and asked if there was an overflow parking area available or if he had any suggestions for parking.
Photo- Pleasant Hills BART station platform.

No there isn’t an overflow parking or off street parking but if I want I can pull into a spot on the second floor and sit with my vehicle until 10AM.  Okay I said and thanked him.  I thought this was rather interesting and could see how this would sway a person not to ride BART.  Isn’t the idea of mass transit to make it convenient to ride?  So I sat in my car until 10AM and I wasn’t the only one.  There was at least another 9 people that did that too.

There was a couple of times when this man would get out of his car and head for the station area.  The parking attendant seemed to come out of nowhere and point him back to his car.  In my thoughts, I started to refer to the parking attendant as the parking Nazi.  About 2 minutes before 10AM, the parking lot attendant comes by signaling all of the drivers in their cars that it was now fine to leave the cars.  It was a race to the stairs and elevators. 

I just followed the flow figuring they would lead me to where I needed to go. Down the stairs, I went; and around the corner.  Then, I stopped as I was confronted with a row of metal waist high machines that people were putting cards into or were placing cards against for gates to open.  I stood there wondering what to do when I was approached by a BART terminal employee. 

He asked if he could help and I explained that I was visiting from out of state.  He took me over to the pay machine area and walked me through what I needed.  $10 later and this blue paper card spit out of the machine.  I took the blue card over to feed through the waist high metal machines.  I then asked the employee about paying for parking.  It’s a dollar to park for all day in the parking.  I was directed to another machine where I put in my parking lot space and feed it a dollar.  So far this BART terminal seemed to be nothing but a bunch of hungry machines.

Next, the terminal employee directed me to go up to the stairs to the left up to the platform area.  As I started to go up he yelled that was the train I needed to catch so I started to run but I still missed it.  I stood there perplex and a younger lady with a young child asked me if everything was okay.  I explained the situation and she helped me by explaining the system of BART a little more thoroughly.  The train arrived and I sat down next to her and chatted while we rode the train downtown.  She was getting off at the station right after mine.

She then explained that the BART went through tunnels and eventually went through an underground tunnel that was under the water.  WTF!?  That’s how the BART got onto the semi-island like area that’s San Francisco.  San Francisco is after all surrounded on three sides by water.  The train started into a third tunnel area and started going down and my ears were popping.  Did I mention that the train is rather loud inside and that it’s kind of hard to have any sort of normal talking conversation?  You either sit close or yell to talk.  It’s a prime opportunity to train for talking to that deaf Aunt.

Next, I arrived at my stop and followed the crowd to the stairs that led up.  Up on the street, I headed for the first F train trolley I could find.  I asked the gal before I paid if this would go down to the wharf.  She said that she just came up from the wharf area and that I would need to go over to the other side to catch it.  I thanked her and crossed the street with the light.  I waited for the next yellow F trolley train to arrive.
Photos- The F Trolley Train out side and with standing room only inside.

I got on the trolley train and it was standing room only.  I watched out the window for Pier 33 as I got down to the wharf area, even though the train operator was announcing the stops you could barely hear them over all the other noise going on.  BUT you could hear the trolley bell being rung by the operator at cars and people to warn them to get out of the way.  I will say that San Francisco’s mass transit is not a quite ride.

I got to Pier 33 with over an hour’s time to spare.  I found a shady spot, drank water and ate a snack.  I checked in and was told that at 20 minutes before they would start lining up for the ferry over by the white tent area.  I waited a bit more and then they changed the now loading sign to my reserved time.  I got in line.  It was hot in line and it would be hotter as the day progressed.  The high was predicted as the mid-90’s.  People in line were fanning themselves and complaining about the heat.  I just stood there still and I felt fine.  There was a bit of a breeze that would come off of the water every now and then. 

Soon the line was moving.  Off in one section the line went by a mirror and around an enclosed area.  It was an area the whole line went through and it was slowing down the line.  I got there and realized that they were taking pictures of groups with the wall behind which had a picture of the Alcatraz Island on it.  I asked the salesman if I could just forgo it because I was by myself.  He waved me through.  But I thought how cheesy touristy it was.
Photo- The San Francisco skyline you could see towards the
back of the ferry as the boat went over to Alcatraz.

The ferry ride over was rather enjoyable.  You could see the city skyline wonderfully over the top of the boat as you headed out to the island.  There were quite a few sailboats out and it was just a beautiful day.  When we got to the island we were directed to an orientation area where a gentleman explained a bit of interesting history and then proceeded to explain rules and things that we could do.  He also explained where the schedule for return ferries was and that the last ferry left at 6:15PM; so you needed to catch that one unless you wanted to sleep out on the island with all of the ghosts.  He was teasing of course.
Photo- The orientation talk before we were set lose on the island.

The prison of Alcatraz was eventually closed down because of deteriorating buildings and high operating costs.  The last inmate left on March 21, 1963.  Some of the more famous inmates that Alcatraz held were Al “Scarface” Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Arthur “Doc” Barker, and Robert “The Birdman” Stroud.  The movie character Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs was based on “The Birdman”.
Photos- Alcatraz Island as seen from the near the arrival gate.

I followed the road/path area to the cell block; a steep ¼ mile hike that climbed the equivalent of about 8 stories.  There was a handicapped/disabled chair like lift on the other side for those that couldn’t managed the hike up.  I enjoyed the views as I climbed.  When I got to the cell block, I got in line for my headphones with audio tours.  They explained the operation and off I was walking through the cell block as directed by the tour.  They had pictures of the people that were supposedly on the tours audio. 
Photo- The average cell for inmates at Alcatraz.

It was a very good tour taking you through the different cell blocks and explaining what life was like.  There was even sounds and voices in the background that were designed to make you feel what it was like in the prison at the time it was operating.  But the most eerie thing was when a National Parks employee was closing a row of jail cells.  The sound vibrated throughout everything and it threw echoes.
Photo- The prisoner "Rec" yard.
Photo- The "Hole" or solitary confinement for those inmates that were bad.
Photo- The guard's control room for the prison.

I walked around and explored some more of the island.  I also watched a 17 minute film about how now there were garden areas and bird sanctuaries on the island; in an attempt to bring back some of the natural ecosystem of the area.  It was all very interesting and before I knew it was time to see about catching a ferry back to the Pier.

The F train trolley and BART seemed a bit simpler to me now that I kind of knew what to expect.  I managed to find my way back to the BART station where I parked my car.  Thank goodness I remembered the stall number of where I parked my car or I still would be wondering around on the HUGE second floor of the parking garage.  It was funny because while I was looking for my car a guy came up to me and was asking me where to find the elevators for the terminal.  I had to laugh and say I don’t think you want to ask me because I’m still looking for my car. 

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