Volume 1, Number 3 -- October, 1996
Alcatraz - A Survivor's Tale
The day dawned overcast and foreboding on our first trip to the rock. My associate was on time. My associate is always late, I let his punctuality pass without comment, this time. The third member of our team had assembled in the wrong spot, this did not reflect well on our planning of this operation. She had brought her boyfriend with her, he declined to be our fourth. He claimed that he had never been to Alcatraz, yet seemed to know much of its operation. This combined with the fact that our original fourth had begged off at the last moment due to "illness" caused me a moment's pause. What was going on here? Why was it that no one was acting as they normally did? What sort of ugly setup had I walked into this time?
It wasn't the first time I had found myself in a situation that had the potential to rapidly spiral out of control. In my line of work you learn how to deal with these things. Like that day at the baseball game for instance. That day I barely had time to get a quality drunk on before the storm broke over the top of me. Even with that, the day ended with three drunken guys buying roses for no one in particular in a little dive, playing twenty-three dollars worth of the theme song from Friends on the jukebox. That is how evil works though, it's insidious, waiting for your moment of weakness before it unleashes the demons to feast on your flesh. I know, I've been there and I've seen many a strong man not make it out when the time comes. That's why I'm hypersensitive to those subtle changes in karma that presage overly psychotic experiences, you just never know.
So far that day there had been no more clues, the drive up to the city was pleasant. We passed the time with the normal idle chatter about sports and weather and other such niceties. I was still struck by the feeling of impending doom, a sort of heavy leaden feeling that I get sometimes. It's not the sort of thing that always signals bad things, but it does often enough to make you pay attention. We made it to the city and dropped off the boyfriend at his place. Upon seeing his house, I could understand the attraction. Don't get me wrong, I don't think she was seeing him because of where he lives. He is a great guy and fun to hang with and she would probably date him regardless of his housing situation. That being said, a good location doesn't hurt your chances gentlemen.
We arrived at the pier in good shape about half am hour before departure. The weather was still a bit chilly and so I thought nothing of it when one of my friends suggested I buy an Alcatraz sweatshirt in order to keep warm. I chose a subtle little drape in keeping with my own understated tastes. The shirt was still garish mind you, but in a tasteful way. It was when we wandered into the giftshop that the antennae went up. Like most giftshops, this one had numerous small items with names on them. The odd thing was, none of the bric-a-brac had my name on it. It was as though some person or persons had been systematically removing all traces of my existence. It was when I caught my reflection in a mirror that I realized it. With my new shirt, I looked nothing like I did when we had first arrived.
The plan was simple, we go out to the rock, we see the rock, we come back from the rock. You wouldn't think that there is a lot to go wrong with a plan such as this, but you never know do you? The next twinge came when we ordered breakfast. We were all enamored of the Alcatraz tin cups, just $1.49 a piece. However, I noticed when we sat down to eat that I was the only one to purchase one. When I asked about this, my companions muttered something about their drinks not being available in tin cups. I let it pass, but I was alert just the same. They then started in on the jokes. "You can use your tin cup to bang on the bars when they lock you up." they said, all in good fun of course. The smiles and laughter were just a little too easy for my taste though, I could see the fangs behind their cheesy grins.
The trip over to the island was short yet telling. On the boat, my companions suggested I start taking pictures of the other passengers. This struck me as odd and I asked them why I should do this. There was an uncomfortable silence as they looked at each other as though trying to get their stories straight through mental telepathy. Before they could answer, I began shooting pictures of the happy tourists on their way to the rock. Little did they know that the reason I acquiesced so easily to they're suggestions was so the police could have a photographic record of the witnesses to whatever my 'comrades' had planned.
After a short, uneventful ride, we arrived at Alcatraz. This is an imposing place and I could identify with the feelings of the men who had been brought here all those years ago. On the one hand it is a beautiful spot looking at one of the finest cities in the world. On the other hand, it's cold and wet and that city may as well be a thousand miles away, because there is no way that those men were going to get anywhere near it. Yes, it must have caused them some mixed emotions to arrive at this place that had become the number one tourist attraction in San Francisco. They would probably find it amusing that Alcatraz would ever become a place for tourists, let alone the largest.
On your arrival to the island, you are indoctrinated by one of the Rangers. We managed to get ourselves a winner. I'm quite certain that an Alcatraz Park Ranger has one or two legitimate occupational complaints. Our Ranger however, felt the need to share each and every one of his with our little band of tourists who couldn't care less. I was standing there, listening to Ranger Bob's tirade when it all became clear to me. I was struck with the fiendishness of what they had in store. It was so obvious that I cursed myself for not seeing it sooner. My friends, along with the psychotic Ranger Bob, obviously planned on keeping me on this godforsaken island. I was to be Alcatraz's last prisoner, perhaps part of Ranger Bob's twisted subterranean freak show. I shuddered inwardly, while maintaining a visage of outward calm. I knew that if I let on that I knew about their little scheme I was doomed. If I just stayed calm, stuck to large groups of people and didn't let them get me alone, I would get off of this island. These curs wouldn't dare try anything in public, they preferred dark lonely corners for their brand of ugliness.
As we started up the hill that led to the cellhouse tour, I began subtly checking the crowd to see how many accomplices were at hand. That woman with the baby, friend or foe? That sweet looking old couple gamely making their way up the steep incline, innocent tourists or depraved white slavers? It was impossible to tell who was part of their plan for certain. How could I know whom they had gotten to? I had to assume that all of the Rangers were involved, wearing those hats all the time had to work on a man's mind. As for my fellow tourists, I had to be wary of any of the English speaking ones. I felt my best bet was to ingratiate myself to the large group of Germans that were walking just ahead of us. Let's face it, when the chips are down, you can do a lot worse than a large group of German tourists on your side.
The cellhouse tour included audio accompaniment in the form of a walkman with a cassette tape. Just about perfect if you wanted to isolate someone from their surroundings in order to sneak up on them from behind. I was a little too sly for them however, I took my walkman all right, but when I depressed the play button, I pressed the pause as well. I looked as though I was following the recorded tour through the old prison, but in reality I was hyper-aware of my surroundings. I was a finely tuned machine, and I was going to get off of that island. There were of course one or two tight spots, when my friends told me to step in one of the cells for instance. Just to take my picture of course, one quick hand motion, one camera shattered on the concrete, one heartfelt apology for "clumsiness", yet another nefarious scheme foiled. Thanks to my own wits and the presence of my stout German friends, I was able to make it through the cellhouse tour with a minimum of difficulty. I needed to keep my wits though, with every step closer to the boat, they would become more desperate. They would become more and more willing to take chances to see their plans come to fruition.
As we neared the end of our journey, one of my companions suggested we watch the short film on Alcatraz before we left. It was such a pitiful ploy to keep me on the island for a few moments more that I consented with a minimum of fuss. It was pathetic really, I had them and we all knew it. When we entered the theatre, my two "friends" suggested seating at the front. I couldn't very well reject them outright
without raising suspicion. So instead, I hemmed and hawed until I observed all of the seats being taken except for three in back, in the corner, against the wall. The seating problem being solved, I settled down to enjoy the film while the other two whispered furiously among themselves. Sure enough, about halfway through the picture, Ranger Bob came strolling through the darkened room. As he searched in vain at the front of the theatre, I had to stifle a chuckle at my foe's incompetence. I couldn't help but give him a friendly wave as the film ended, the lights came up and he was finally able to spot me leaving in the midst of my German phalanx.
My two friends were quiet, almost sullen, on the boat ride back to the mainland. I on the other hand, was the picture of ease and contentment as I proudly showed off my new Alcatraz T-shirt. After all, I had beaten them. They had thrown their best at me and still I was triumphant (thanks again in no small part those intrepid Germans). Yes, they were going to have to find another featured player for their depraved underground pastimes. I was gregarious, I was outgoing, I was thrilled to see the rock receding in the distance. I soon joined them in silence though, as I pondered their traitorous actions. Why had they turned on me? Was it for money? Jealousy? Were they merely swine? It was and is hard to say for certain. I think that I will have plenty of time to find out though. You see, I've invited them and my newfound German friends on a camping trip to Yosemite. You never can tell what might happen while camping, you just never know.
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