2008 – The Birdman of Alcatraz, or, What’s in the Box?

birdAh, holiday letter time. Is it possible that it is yet again time to encapsulate another year of our lives? In my annual struggle to formulate an amusing yet coherent tale to weave, I have decided that my parents’ July visit warrants some exploration. Although my parents consistently come out each year, the circumstances of their last few visits have not been exactly conducive to relaxing and site-seeing. Once I reminded them that there would not be the spectre of a medical procedure looming large and that we could actually do stuff, they were downright eager to make the trip.

One thing that I have always wanted to do with my parents was to take the tour of Alcatraz. Steve and I went on this tour years ago and I distinctly remember seeing a picture of the notorious Doc Barker and thinking, “Huh. That looks a lot like my dad and uncles.” Finally, 11 years later, we planned to go on the tour together.

We were going on a night tour and were not due to the port until 5:30, so we decided to go into San Francisco early, eat in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, and walk the rest of the way to the port. We parked by Ghiradelli Square, thinking perhaps we might want a hot chocolate after the tour, and started to walk down along the waterfront looking for a good place to eat. After a few blocks, we found a good-looking restaurant and went in. As we were waiting to order, my mom expressed some concern about how far we might be from the Alcatraz tour, so we looked at the little tourist map we had with us. Steve quickly allayed our fears by pointing out where we were and showing us that we were only a few blocks from the port, then quickly stashed the map away.

As dinner progressed, time began to run short and, as always seems to happen in these circumstances, we encountered wait staff who didn’t want to hurry us along too much, and never seemed to appear to give us the check. Finally we were on our way, but I had a niggling worry in the back of my head. As we left the restaurant, I looked at the nearest cross street and then down to the map. Steve, the Eagle Scout, had misread the map and we were about 8 blocks from the port, not the 2 or 3 he had promised. My parents were real troopers and insisted we should walk it, but I know the distance was longer than expected, as was the brisk pace we had to maintain in order to get to the port on time. But arrive we did and shortly thereafter were allowed to board the boat.

Once on the island, we were faced with a fairly steep hill up to the prison; there was a shuttle available, but that was for the old and infirm, right? Finally at the Big House, we started the tour and made our way to the picture of Doc Barker. My dad didn’t seem to be as impressed with the resemblance as I was, but the way he tried to avoid having his picture taken next to the evidence leads me to believe he’s hiding something. Perhaps I should research whether or not Doc Barker had the “Barker toe”, a pigmy, almost vestigial version of a normal little toe. Do you think records were kept of the inmates’ feet?

On the night of our tour, the hospital wing was open for viewing, including the room in which Robert Stroud was confined for 11 years. The regular audio tour really takes up the entire time you have on the island, so there wasn’t much time to explore it before the ferry left for the City. My parents were a bit tired, so I took a speed tour through it alone, then came back down to find Steve, who had fallen behind, and tell him he needed to go up there, too. However, now it was getting very close to when our ferry was due to head back. Before Steve went into the hospital wing, I cautioned him to mind the time and not miss the ferry.

Once on the boat, my parents and I found a couple of seats and waited. As the time ticked away, I started watching the door nervously, wondering if Steve would make it. Finally, minutes before the ferry was due to depart, I called Steve on his cell phone, which he answered breathlessly saying he was just getting on the boat. And, indeed, there he was striding across the threshold, carrying. . . a cardboard pet carrier?

The name Alcatraz comes from the Spanish for “Island of the Pelicans.” In fact, much of the island is a protected bird sanctuary and many different sea birds nest there; while we were there, gulls and cormorants were everywhere. Apparently, as Steve was rushing down the hill to catch the ferry, he came upon a park ranger with an injured gull in a net. They were trying to figure out what to do with it, as well as trying to ignore Steve who they thought might be a crazy guy taking a bit too much interest in their activities. When Steve mentioned that he volunteers at WildCare and could take the gull off their hands for them, they suddenly took notice. So, there he was, on the ferry to San Francisco with an injured gull in a box, getting much attention from the people around us.

It was dark once we got back to the City and we were faced with a new problem. There was no way we were going to walk the mile or more back to the car, so we needed to get a cab. We weren’t certain how a taxi driver would feel about having a gull in his car, so Steve threw his coat over the box and we finally managed to hail a cab.

gullThings started off well enough; Steve was sitting in the back seat with the box on his lap, covered by his coat, and we didn’t have far to travel. But then, the quiet ride was suddenly interrupted by a “rat-a-tat-tat.” The gull started tapping sharply on the box. We all just looked at each other and began talking loudly, while Steve made a point of drumming his fingers on the box. Trying hard (and unsuccessfully) not to laugh, we finally got to our car and bid the good man goodnight. Of course, now the promised hot chocolate was out of the question.

We still had foster care raccoons in our enclosure to take care of, so upon arriving home, I fed and cleaned the little rascals by flashlight while Steve took the gull over to WildCare and set it up in a cage to wait for morning. It wasn’t until we had finally finished taking care of all the critters that we noticed the light blinking on our answering machine. Pressing the button, I heard another volunteer from WildCare say that she had heard we were going to Alcatraz that day and they had just gotten a call about an injured pelican; could we pick it up and bring it back with us.

So, there you go, my friends. Long-time readers may remember past tales of vacations that turned into animal rescue sagas or death marches. We managed to bring my parents into both worlds in one fell swoop. Now you know what awaits you should you ever come out for a visit. Don’t be shy…

As for the rest of it. . .

2008 has progressed with very few hiccups and no notable changes to mention. This fall, Steve and I took a weeklong vacation to New Orleans, greatly enjoying the swamp tours, historic tours of the French Quarter, warm beignets, wonderful crawfish etouffe, and, of course, the rum drinks. Oh, how I love a good rum drink. As per my usual, I had our vacation scheduled with truly Germanic-precision, complete with daily calendars showing how long we should allow for each activity.

I am still the law librarian in the Palo Alto office of Townsend & Townsend & Crew. Once again, it has been an incredibly busy year at the firm and the research projects just seem to get more challenging. Luckily, this also means that I find them more interesting. I also continue to serve as the Government Relations Chair for the San Francisco Bay Region chapter of the Special Libraries Association, and this winter I was selected to be the chapter Secretary.

Steve continues as the development lead for the Collaboration Services group in Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit. He is also still doing the lighting design for a local community theatre, volunteering on musicals, dance concerts, and chorale programs, and I continue to assist him as best as I am able.

As we approach the end of December, we have finished our sixth year volunteering at WildCare. Baby season was extraordinarily long this year, with orphaned raccoons coming in well past the usual end date. It was joked that Steve and I were raccoon magnets because a new baby raccoon came in every Sunday on our shift for 3 weeks straight in October, as well as on one random Saturday when we stopped in to pick up food for the set we had at home. We still had raccoons in our own enclosure through the first week of November and there are still 2 or 3 groups yet to be released this winter. Steve wants to cover their food in wrapping paper, and I do believe we will be wearing Santa hats on at least one release.

We have somehow managed to keep ourselves to 4 cats, in spite of near constant temptation from our “friends”. Cassady had to have surgery to amputate a chronically-infected toe this spring. It was terribly sad watching her stumble around with an Elizabethan collar on afterwards, and having to pill her twice a day for two weeks was no picnic, but she is all better and continues to lord her queenly presence over Ezra, Elsa, and H.B.

If you want to keep up with us throughout the year, I continue my infrequent blogging at Adventures of a Midwestern Girl in Sunny, Sunny California (www.midwesterngirl.com). I have also been strong-armed into joining FaceBook, which I am actually finding to be quite a pleasant experience. Finally, both Steve and I have Twitter accounts. My tweets are fed directly onto my blog home page, but you would need to click the link from my blog to find and follow Steve’s feed. The 140-character length of the Twitter updates seems to fit Steve’s attention span quite well.

Wishing you and your families a wonderful holiday season and peace in the New Year.