by Sarah Sklare, '08,'09
7am. My alarm goes off. I stretch, hit snooze, and curl up for five more minutes of sleep, when suddenly I remember that today is my last day at work. Immediately I spring out of bed, determined to make my last day on Alcatraz a great one. I eat breakfast quickly while I pack my backpack, then jump in the shower, put on my National Park Service volunteer uniform, and head out the door.
I walk outside, heading towards George Lucas' Skywalker Studios (passing the Yoda fountain always brightens my day). I head toward the Palace of Fine Arts, a monument built as part of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. I stop at the pond for a moment to toss stale bread to the ducks and swans that crowd the water. Though it is early, still not 8am, the path along the San Francisco Bay is bustling with bikers, joggers, walkers, and their dogs. Feeling nostalgic I walk slowly, looking out across the bay at the fog coming off the water. Glancing out towards the center of the Bay I see Alcatraz Island, and realize I have to quicken my pace - I can't be late on my last day!
I arrive at Fort Mason, the park headquarters, just in time to catch the van down to Pier 33, where ferries shuttle to and from Alcatraz several times a day. We pile onto the staff boat and have the daily staff meeting, introducing volunteers for the day and deciding what programs we will offer. Since it is my last day I have first pick for scheduling, so I choose to do several dock announcements and one program. The fifteen-minute boat ride is soon over, and as we dock there is a bit of excitement - one of the volunteers has noticed a huge pink starfish attached to one of the pilings. I snap a picture, wanting to capture every moment of this day and knowing the starfish will disappear when the tide rises.
I head down to the pier to do announcements for arriving passengers. I face the crowd and ask questions, tell my favorite Alcatraz stories, and joke with the crowd. At the beginning of the summer I was nervous, but by today having a conversation with 300 people is a piece of cake. In fact, I really enjoy it! I'm always curious to know how far people have traveled to visit Alcatraz, so I ask the visitors to raise their hand if they think they're from the farthest away. Today we have visitors from as far as New Zealand and Pakistan. Finally everyone is off the boat and I prepare to do dock announcements all over again.
In the afternoon my boss arranged a little going-away party for me, complete with a cake and gifts. Most of the staff joins us in the ranger office, and they present me with my parting gifts. I'm happy, because most of my favorite volunteers are here as well as the rangers, and I have a chance to thank them for an incredible summer.
After we take pictures, hug, and cut the cake, everyone has to go back to work. I'm sad that the party has to end so soon, but so happy that everyone took time out of their day to say goodbye to me. Once they have left the office I wipe the tears from my eyes and walk up to the cellhouse to do some informal interpretation.
I spend a little while in the cell house doing cell door demonstrations (complete with big jangling set of keys and slamming cell doors), then I realize it is almost time for my program. Rushing down to the dock I accidentally startle a crowd of juvenile seagulls, who squawk indignantly at me. I reach the dock just as the volunteer announces my program, "Blackout: The WWII Years on Alcatraz." At the beginning of the summer I was given the opportunity to write my own program, and I chose to research Alcatraz during Word War II. I've given this program four or five times a week since I started, adding information and refining the program until I felt I had a pretty good one. Because this is the last time I'll deliver my program I throw in a few extra stories at the end, then answer visitor questions.
The day is almost over, and I want to say goodbye to everyone. I write a note thanking the Alcatraz staff for a wonderful summer, and ask them to keep in touch with me. As we ride back to the city on the last boat of the day, I hug all the rangers, volunteers, and staff and say goodbye. When the van pulls into Fort Mason I walk back to the Presidio, grateful that I have the long walk home to reflect on my last day at work, and to get ready to say goodbye to my fellow interns.
When I walk into the apartment that I share with some other interns, there is a note on the whiteboard from one of that says "I love Sarah." I see this message and it finally hits me; I'm leaving San Francisco tomorrow, leaving all these people whom I've come to know and love.
As I drift off to sleep, I think back on my summer. In the morning I'll have to get up, finish packing, and fly home to Chicago. Although I'm sad to leave, I'm overwhelmed with happiness too. I worked for the National Park Service on Alcatraz Island, an experience I'll probably never have again. I lived with a group of incredibly fun, interesting people who I grew to love; people whom I'll remain friends with for the rest of my life. This summer experience has undoubtedly been the best of my life.
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