Originally published 30 December 2014
Front gate, San Quentin prison!
I got up this morning and enjoyed a shower cold enough to give someone hypothermia. It was a rough start to the day. Breakfast was at a little cafe in what could basically be considered an industrial park, near our hotel. I had a breakfast burrito the size of a small dog. Laurie had huevos rancheros. Everything was homemade, including the tortillas. Little hole in the wall diners sometimes bring forth amazing things.
It's not a Bill and Laurie trip unless we wind up somewhere weird. In Paris, we toured the sewers. In the southwest, we went to Marfa, TX. In California, we decided to drive another 3/4 mile from our hotel to visit one of it's more famous neighbors......San Quentin Prison!!
San Quentin Post Office
I ran across a weird attractions website and it seems that San Quentin has a museum and an inmate craft store. The museum is only open on Tuesday and Thursday from 10 to 4. And it's Tuesday! So instead of popping out of bed early, we take our time this morning. We have a nice breakfast, then sign ourselves into prison.
We arrive at the wrong gate, but are directed by an incredibly friendly guard to the correct gate. We arrive at the correct gate and are greeted by an equally friendly and helpful guard who explains the procedures and where to park. We drove to the visitor's parking lot and left our rental car. I already knew about a few of the rules and stopped Laurie from doing one thing that would keep her from going in the prison......wearing denim.
Front gate, check in area, and craft store. View from behind the yellow line.
The denim thing is so that the people visiting don't wear anything that an inmate would normally wear, so you're not confused with them. No blue, no denim, no orange (like jumpsuit orange), no cameras, no phones, no weapons, knives, drugs, liquor, etc. We head into the visitor's building but come in the wrong door. It turns out we're in the "visit an inmate" visitor's building. We exit and come around to the gate. The guard checks our ID, we sign in, and come through the gate into the prison. Understand, we are are inside the wire, but NOT in population. We did a few construction projects in occupied prisons in Raleigh and I had to go in to measure and check out jobs.....going out in population is VERY different from where we were at.
Inside the gate is sort of like a little town. A few feet outside the gate is the San Quentin post office, and Laurie mailed some post cards from there. I assume that some staff live in the small houses inside the gate. We are allowed to walk unescorted to the museum, maybe 150 yards inside the gate. We're warned not to walk any further. We enter the museum where a guy in his 60's (he was a court reporter in the San Francisco area and he and a former warden came up with the museum idea) is sitting behind the counter and welcomes us in.
The "big" house on the hill.
The museum itself is fascinating. They have all matters of tools and weapons used by the guards throughout the years, an actual size prison cell that you can stand in, and a scale replica of the gas chamber used there for many years. They had a huge collection of shanks, crafts by inmates, guns used by the guards, historic items....if it had to do with running a prison, they had it. The history of the stuff was really interesting and I would have loved to have stayed longer, but we had to get on the road. I was told by the guard that I could only take photos if I were on the other side of a yellow line/traffic hump just outside the gate...so I did take a few pics.
From here, we head south, across the Golden Gate bridge and into San Francisco. I was ready to pay the toll, and wound up being confused as hell when I couldn't find the toll booth. It seems that bridge tolls are now done via the internet. You cross the bridge and they have your car license plate on file. You log on, put in your license plate number, and pay your toll. I plan on doing this after I finish my writing tonight. We didn't stop at the bridge visitor center as it was a bit of a zoo, with tour buses, and tons of people.
We fight insane California traffic for about 30 minutes until we clear the city and wind up in more sane driving areas. Out on route 1 running down the coast, the weather has turned a bit foul. While no rain, a cold front has come in. Temperatures have dropped into the lower to mid 50's and the wind is blowing 25-35 mph constantly with gusts to over 50 mph. Let's just say when we stopped along the way to take photos, we were quick about it. We did a short hike on one of the bluffs and walked the wharf in Santa Cruz. I just felt worn out by the wind.
We have also discovered that California has a LOT of rules and laws.....honestly to the point of being ridiculous. When you cross the state line out of Oregon, there were NINE signs spouting state law and rules. As you travel through the state, the government doesn't become any less heavy handed. After a while, it seems oppressive to someone from a place like Tennessee where the government isn't dictating each and every moment of your life. And I know it's bad when Laurie is complaining about it.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Monterey bay
California oddities to control people are many. Soda in restaurants is often sold in 12 ounce cans instead of fountains with unlimited refills. I read that some towns require this to restrict the amount of soda people drink. In the supermarket, a 12 pack of cokes was $ 7.89 PLUS a nickle a can deposit, PLUS sales tax. By the time you're done, 12 cans of coke cost over 9 dollars. Liquor, on the other hand has so little tax on it, the cost is 20 percent less than in Tennessee. While I don't think either should be taxed, I find the logic of this borderline insane.
Looking out on the Pacific!
You can't get in a state park or a lot of beaches for less than 8 or 10 bucks. We wanted to see the elephant seals but they only allow you to see them if you're overseen on an official tour, which requires reservations in advance and costs 7 bucks a person, plus 10 dollars admission. We asked the park ranger at the gate if California had a 5 day pass we could buy to get in the parks like in Oregon. The woman was very short and abrupt. She said "NO!". She said we could buy the 200 dollar season pass if we wanted. I find it disconcerting that the state employees we encountered at the prison were ALL very helpful, and genuinely nice. The park employees we encountered were neither. Seems like it should be the other way around.
Santa Cruz beachfront
We wound up in Monterey in an old time 1960's hotel. It is spotless, all updated, new carpets, beds, paint, fixtures, it's like a time warp. The desk clerk is an older woman who is very cheerful and helpful. We just love the place.
Tomorrow, we poke around a little in Monterey, then off to Big Sur!
A very California thing......traffic.
I'm Bill. My wife Laurie and I love to travel and share our stories. We especially love it when we have been able to motivate our readers to start traveling on their own, and making their own stories.
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