Tuesday, June 19, 2018


When we visiting Alcatraz on the choir trip on June 11, 2018, we didn't know it was going to be as quite significant as it was.  I mean visiting Alcatraz, especially at night is pretty damn cool regardless, but when the ferry boat captain informed us that we'd be visiting Alcatraz (the last tour of the day too) on the 56th anniversary of the most (in)famous escape attempt in the history of "The Rock," we were thrilled.

My first view of "The Rock" from the ferry boat.  You can easily see Alcatraz as you pass over the Golden Gate, but to see it up close like this is something else.

You can see the white cliffs, which show just how difficult it would be to escape.  I mean where would you go?  It's a long swim across the bay (our guide said there aren't really Great White sharks in the bay, which is something I've heard before) in frigid waters at the best of times.

And the cliffs aren't really white.  Since it closed down, the island has become a bird sanctuary.  The cliffs are white from all the bird shit.

As soon as we got off the ferry our ranger (Alcatraz is now a National Park), led us up what amounted to a fiver story climb to the actual prison.  He periodically stopped to answer questions and explain more about the prison.

One question he asked right away was, "You've just been sentenced to 25 years in Alcatraz.  What is your biggest fear?"  The people quickly called out the obvious: rape, isolation, loneliness, death . . .
But the ranger said that the most common fear, oddly enough, was this: what will I do after Alcatraz? 

The fear of fitting back in (or being accepted back into society) was a real fear.  

I never even thought of that!

The tour of Alcatraz was really cool.  It involved a worker handing each of us what amounted to an iPod and a set of headphones.  The iPod contained an automated guided tour narrated by former prisoners and guards.  

An inmate or guard would say, "Now you've entered Alcatraz.  Straight ahead is the hallway the prisoners dubbed Broadway.  Walk toward Broadway.  Then turn right.  Continue down the hall until you see cell number 155 on your right . . ."

It was fascinating.  You could pause it when you wanted to look closer or take pictures.

I was so engaged by the whole thing that I was well on my way through the tour before I realized I hadn't been taking any pictures!  And I call myself a wanna be millennial!!!

Here is what you see as you are about to be issued your prison garb.

The towering cells.

This would be your home for 23 hours a day at "The Rock."

Another cell.

The former prisoners who narrated the tour.

There were quite a few people packed in the cell block for the tour.

I believe this was the solitary confinement area.  On the way up to the prison, I asked the ranger what the record for solitary confinement was.  He said one prisoner spent 14 years here!  However, this side of the prison did come with a perk.  It was on the east side, facing San Francisco.  So you could catch the sun as it rose.  Prisoners also enjoyed listening on New Year's Eve, for voices from people on yachts would carry across the bay to them and give them hope.

A student peers into a solitary confinement cell.  Could you imagine spending 14 years inside?

This was the size of the hole the most famous escapees used to get out of their cells.  The removed the plate and chipped away at the walls to get out.

The visitors station.  One prisoner noted how amazed he was when a guard notified him that someone was there to see him.  He couldn't believe it.  It was his sister.  In front of him was a beautiful woman.  The last time he saw her she was just a child.

The uniform that all guards wore.

The guard tower.  If you made a run for it, this is from where the guards shot you.  Worse than that, possibly, was what you can see beyond the base of the tower: the city of San Fran.  One of the prisoners noted how devilish this was on behalf of those who designed "The Rock."  Whenever prisoners glanced up, they would be constantly reminded of what they were no longer permitted to be a part of.  If you could just imagine being a prisoner for 25 years and seeing the city grow and change over that time period.  All the while harkening back to your biggest fear about not being able to fit in. You can see the city grow and change and realize it moves too fast for you because everything around you for the past 25 years has stayed exactly the same.

This was frightening, but the guides never mentioned what it was.  Just a bloody hand print above a doorway.

This is what the guards found when the searched the cells of the most famous escapees.  Before they left, they created paper machete imitations to place in the bed so no one would know they were gone for several hours.

We ended touring the cafeteria.  The guide noted how the federal government demanded that the food had to be good.  And it was.  Initially.  However, like our school lunches, it soon went downhill.  The prisoners were so tired of the same horrific spaghetti that they all tipped the tables over in protest. 

The guard, who was also narrating the tour, said he was just one of three guards in the mess hall.  When this happened he knew he was facing an all out riot.  So he did the only thing he knew to do - he broke some window panes to get their attention and began firing three shots into the air.  

He said that calmed them all down because he told them all calmly, "You all know where the next shots are going to land."

The guide then mentioned how the entire cafeteria had riot gas containers on the ceiling in case of riots.  The only problem - signaling them to open meant that the three guards on duty in the cafeteria would surely die.  Thus, they were never used.

As we left, we all noticed the lone inhabitants of the island watching us constantly.

The final ranger we met with who narrated all of the escape attempts at Alcatraz.  He was amazing! 

Monday, June 18, 2018


When Kristie and I went to LA last September, we made sure to stop by the Museum of Modern Art there.  Two years ago, when we were chaperoning the choir trip to New York City, I narrowly missed going to the MOMA there, so when Mr. C and I realized we would have a day "off" on the choir trip to San Fran, we both decided to make a trek to the MOMA in SF.

It didn't disappoint.  In fact, it was so epic, we made two trips there!

Here are some of the highlights.'

This piece was on the top floor.  It appears to be just an old dot matrix printer pushing out endless streams of text.  But when you look closer, it is transcriptions of news headlines.  Just seeing the printer spill out all of this (for lack of a better word) 'garbage' really made a point to me about the 24/7 saturated news environment we live in.  I mean I'm sure there are people who live their lives glued to Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN.  And for what?

To end up like this?

What do we miss in our own lives while we focus on other things - news?  Facebook? Twitter? The Game Show Network? Shopping? Snapchat? Instagram?  Pop culture?  What meaningless trivialities do we let clog up the space in our lives that could be filled with memories of our families and friends, with our jobs and doing good things for the world around us?

The museum was featuring the work of surrealist Rene Magritte.  I had high expectations for this, as I knew him for his famous paintings of detectives with bowler hats on and fruit in front of their faces, but those images were few and far between in this exhibit (and we weren't allowed to take pictures of his most iconic pieces).

I've seen this rock style of painting from Magritte before, but it was in a castle instead of hanging suspended in the air.  As I read the museum's interpretation of this style of work (which is one of my favorite things to do in art museums).  The critique noted how when you look at this painting, you are taken by the massive bolder.  I mean it's hard not to; it's the dominant feature in the frame.  I thought when I saw this, well, that's odd, but it's modern art, which happens to all be weird.  But the more I thought about it, the more I began to realize my focus was drawn to the massive boulder.  I would never have noticed it in so much detail had Magritte just painted a mountainside or boulder strewn field.

As I read more about the critique's take on this painting.  He noted how Magritte chose to suspend the boulder in air, for your natural instinct is to imagine it obeying the laws of nature and plummeting to the ground (which is what I was doing as I read that).  Then the critique noted how the reason Magritte does this is to draw more attention to the boulder.  Since it's suspended in air out of its natural habitat or environment, you can't help but naturally study the boulder in greater depth and detail.  Amazing!  

As soon as we stepped into the elevator - our plan was to start at the top and work our way down the seven floors - I noticed that along the top of the elevator were displays for the main attractions on each floor.  I spotted a Rothko beckoning everyone to the second floor.  I couldn't wait!

I quickly sent my wife these pictures.  She noted it was a payback for when my group in NYC wanted to go shopping while her group wanted to go to the MOMA.

Next up, Roy Lichtenstein, one of my favorite artists.  I first found his work years ago on a Magnet Arts trip with Mrs. Adams and Mrs. Stock to the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis.

I love Lichtenstein's use of dots, which I believe is called pointillism.  I love his sharp primary colors and the pop art he depicts in his work.  It seems trivial, but when you look more deeply, nothing in his work is trivial.  That's the point, in fact.  He turns our trivial detail against us to shock us.

I was in a different section of the museum when this piece stopped me in my tracks.  As I looked at it more, I thought, this has to be a Lichtenstein.  The dots gave it away.

Then when I scanned the plague, sure enough.  It was Lichtenstein!  

I've no idea what artist constructed this, but it fascinated me.  I just wish my iPhone did it justice.  There is just something about the colors and lines that captivated me.

Speaking of lines, they had one of my favorites on display too - Piet Mondrian.

I saw Mondrian's work in a Western Civ textbook from high school.  I have been a fan every since.  There is something that just fascinated me about his use of lines, which I never thought as interesting before his use, and his spare use of color on the margins. 


On our second visit to the MOMA, I saw this.  It stopped me in my tracks.  This is a Mondrian!  Only it's not.  It's a tribute to his work from another artist.  Gotta love the lines and primary colors at the margins.

The next section was a favorite of some College Comp students.  One of the books we read is The Element by Sir Ken Robinson.  In it he focuses on how people find their 'elements' (where you passion and talents intersect).  One person he highlights is the artist Chuck Close.  Close became famous for his art, but then he suffered paralysis.  Amazingly, though, it didn't deter him from his element.  In fact, he pioneered a new way to paint (holding the brush in his mouth) to create this amazing mosaic portraits.

Until I read this, I never realized that Close, like me, was such a fan of Lichtenstein's works.  Since I read this the dots that Lichtenstein used and the sections that Close paints are very similar and create a deeper viewing experience.

And, if I'm not mistake, this picture is of Roy Lichtenstein himself!!!

My favorite part was when a student turned a corner, saw the massive paintings and exclaimed, "Mr. Reynolds!!! It's Chuck Close!  The Element!  The Element!"  That totally made my day.

And speaking of making one's day.  The second floor - and its collection of Mark Rothko paintings - did exactly that.  I've seen his work at the Walker and at the MOMA in LA (which had an entire room devoted to his works), so I was ready this time.

I spent a good ten minutes in front of this one just letting it soak in.

The trick with a Rothko is to view it as close as possible for as long as possible.  Rothko himself said the best viewing distance is 18 inches.  I was even closer.

Rothko was famous for brushing layer of paint upon layer of paint.  So that the brush strokes seem to take on a life of their own as the shades beneath them flair out.

The colors bleed into one another as if they are gas clouds on Jupiter.  The edges just draw you in.

The colors swirl and take on a life of their own.

Finally, up close, the colors blend to form new shades you can't tell from far away.  Here I'm six inches from the painting (and keeping an eye out for security).  As I looked closely specks of orange began to peek out from behind the blue like stars winking in the night sky.

Now, if I can just convince my group on the 2020 choir trip to New York City to visit the MOMA there, I will die a happy man.