Escape to Alcatraz
by Jim Alderson, 1/9/03

I began plotting my escape from Alcatraz even before I arrived. My first view of the place was from the safety and freedom of Fisherman’s Wharf. It was a foreboding sight, rising from the San Francisco Bay into a gray sky amidst clouds bulging with a miserable cold rain. At the moment I was fairly ambivalent about visiting the famous prison, as my experience with jails is such that I rarely desire to enter one voluntarily, even one that is no longer in use and where the chances of my being forced to remain for an extended period of time were somewhat remote. Nevertheless, I had bought a tour and it was time to go, so we did.

I could very well imagine the apprehension Al Capone must have felt as what would be his abode for the next four and a half years and mine for an hour or so loomed larger in the mist, and I am doubtful he was approaching the Rock in accommodations nearly as obliging as those provided by the Blue and Gold Ferry that was ferrying me to Alcatraz Island.

Upon arriving, one’s attention, or at least mine, was drawn to the large number of birds who are now the primary residents of Alcatraz, a variety that would have delighted Robert Stroud had he been permitted to study them by Warden Ed Swope, who determined that the Birdman was there for reasons other than ornithological ones and disallowed it.

After touring what remains of the prison and surveying the choppy waters on the ride back to freedom, I decided that the decision made by Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers was the correct one, and attempting to swim for it was preferable to spending another minute in stir in that miserable place. Unlike Morris and the Anglins, my escape was abetted by Blue and Gold and was a successful one, and I immediately celebrated my breakout by consuming several Dungeness crab legs on Fisherman’s Wharf, in full view of any federal corrections official who might desire to take me back. There seemed to be none, and I had made it.

Apparently the notion of escaping the Rock by simply purchasing a round trip ticket had never occurred to Morris. The Alcatraz record for escapes had now been broken, and it was time to experience some of the other sights of San Francisco, including a football bowl game.

I continued what has become my annual late-December habit of chasing the Virginia Tech football team to wherever they might be playing in whatever bowl and have compiled a travelogue that now includes the width of the North American continent. I had originally determined that the logistics of traveling to San Francisco to be just a bit more forbidding than a jaunt down the Eastern Seaboard, but was swayed by a couple of disparate happenings and eventually decided: Why Not?

The first was an e-mail response to my last TSL piece from a Hoo who was so moved by my prose that he felt compelled to inform me that he regarded it as the worst bit of drivel he had ever had the misfortune to read. To show there were no hard feelings, however, he closed his communication with the salutation, ‘enjoy San Francisco, Hokie boy.’ Well, if a Hoo was going to the trouble of wishing me pleasant tidings on the trip, I might as well make it. And this from a representative of those who generally decide that since Mr. Jefferson didn’t take any bowl trips they shouldn’t either, and have now discovered that the secret to coaxing more than a handful of what passes for their fan base to travel somewhere other than the Peach Bowl for a post-season game is to land in one even closer to Hooville than Atlanta. I avidly await the announcement of Lynchburg’s Shoe Bowl. Thanks, man.

The second was the discovery by one of my tenants that when a lit crack pipe is dropped onto an armchair covered with cloth, it will ignite and destroy his possessions and damage a significant portion of my house, and my discovery that the amount of money allowed by an insurance company to repair said damage was several thousand more than it actually cost, a difference that easily paid for the cost of the trip. I was in possession of money to burn. Not unlike what landed most of the prisoners of Alcatraz on the Rock, I now had means, motive and opportunity.

The resulting excursion resulted in a whirlwind of experiences and discoveries, among them that:

  • RDU Airport is a miserable place to be both at 0530 when departing and midnight when arriving
  • A bar at O’Hare will charge exorbitant prices for a Sam Adams and a glass of white wine when they have customers who are every bit the captives as were the Alcatraz prisoners
  • No live members of the Dead still reside at 710 Ashbury Street where in 1967 they discovered that when the police have a warrant they will indeed come in
  • There is at least one panhandler along Haight Ashbury who takes a very dim view of the suggestion that he obtain employment
  • A chicken will behave as advertised when a Chinatown street vendor separates it from its head
  • New Year’s fireworks are best seen from Fisherman’s Wharf as they are shot from Alcatraz Island
  • Extensive research has proven that Dungeness crab is excellent no matter how it is prepared
  • Pac Bell is a beautiful stadium but no place to play football, leading to the vow that the next visit will be to observe Barry Bonds jerking a fastball into McCovey Cove rather than watching teams attempt to play football in conditions resembling the Dismal Swamp
  • Tech should have been a lot more than seven points better than Air Force, but that sort of performance against what seemed to be inferior teams is what landed them in the Nut Bowl in the first place

Lastly, Alcatraz is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t recommend living there, a judgment I would also make about the rest of San Francisco, and I haven’t been to New Orleans in a while and would really enjoy another visit.

Jim Alderson, who first made his mark with his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports.  While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1.  For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.


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