Anzac Parade to Alcatraz Island

Or the nature of roads, and the surprises at the end of them.

Do Whatever You Want

For most of my life I have believed certain rules to be constant and immutable. But the customs governing roads, streets, ways, avenues, paths, routes, thoroughfares, and highways seem to have changed without notice.

For instance, it is the nature of roads to be multi-directional. Even roads that claim to be unidirectional are, in fact, multi-directional. A sign may try to dictate the directionality of a road, but the reader of the sign, or walker of the road, may choose to interpret that sign in any way they please.

Just as you may see a word you've read many times before and suddenly find yourself incapable of making sense of the little lines and dots and circles, the longer you look at the picture of a line within a circle the less sense it makes. No matter what anyone may say, within the boundaries of the road and the limitations of your personal mobility, you may go in any direction you please.

It is also the nature of roads to go somewhere, although there is supposed to be less room for interpretation in this rule. For instance, the unnamed road that intersects with R336 and Furnace Road near Galway, Ireland leads to Galway Wind Park, Fermoyle, Derroe, Upper Cloosh, and nowhere else. Within those places you may find a hundred other places to go, but the little unnamed road is limited to the somewheres, someplaces, and wherevers that are directly connected to it.

Recently, I've discovered the rules of the road have become a little... slippery. If I had a life, or any real responsibilities, I'd say it was inconvenient, but I don't want to make too much of it. I will say it was disconcerting to be walking toward Bogey Hole in Newcastle, only to end up on Alcatraz Island.


It started out as a Feeling, which then grew into a Hope. - Regina Spektor

While walking southeast along Anzac Parade I was assailed by a sense of the familiarity of my surroundings. Not quite déjà vu because it didn't feel as though I remembered this place, exactly, instead I seemed to be remembering another place like it. Specifically, I remembered the corner between the lighthouse and the Warden's house on Alcatraz Island, and the view of superbly blue water in the bay.

That déjà vu seems to be the key to the phenomenon. Other than starting with 'A,' the only thing they seem to have in common is that I have been to both places. Since then, all the other times I have um... slipped... from one place to another, it started with the déjà vu. Either I haven't found any slippery roads that lead to places I've never been, or the phenomenon is only possible if one has been to both roads.

To describe the experience requires words like addled, asea, adrift, bewildered, befuddled, mystified, shaken, but such words are inadequate.

Instead, imagine feeling your lungs twisted and your heart sprained, then you are afflicted by sudden blindness and the sensation of grasping something essential only to have it slip away. At first, I was too surprised to do anything other than stare around me in surprise. My first impression was that someone had turned off the sun; 4:30 pm on Friday in Newcastle is 11:30 pm on Thursday in San Francisco.

I don't know how long I stood beneath the pooling security light - time never seems to matter much to me except when all sense of it is gone. To my left there was a cat shaped darkness with lambent eyes staring at me from an empty window bay. It mrowwed at me and Mao trotted over, reached up to dig her claws into my thigh, and stretched her back with a smug purr. On my right was a lighthouse, beyond which city lights reached out to me across a vast expanse of night dark water.

I knew immediately where I was, the memories of both places had warped and merged in a way that was now firmly cached in my little grey cells, but the impossibility of travelling nearly 12,000 km in a single distorted heartbeat was something of a barrier to my belief. Mao was no help; her catness makes it hard to know if she thought she was being helpful by letting me draw my own conclusions, or enjoying a joke at my expense. Probably both, cats are complex like that.

Despite the obvious reality of my surroundings, I found myself returning again and again to the impossibility of it. I was a lone prisoner, remanded to solitary without even the rumored ghostly apparitions of long dead inmates to keep me company. I encountered no guards of any kind either, ghostly or living. Soon, I felt sure that I had always been on Alcatraz, and my imagination invented stories to fill the gap of disbelief: I was a tourist who'd missed the last ferry, or even a prisoner forgotten by the system and left behind by the world.

I spent the whole night between spaces; running interference between Mao and the birds, exploring the vast empty quiet of the fortress in the bay, staring out at the magnificent view of San Francisco at night.

A ghost, or a child of ghosts - I felt conspicuously invisible - the unknown spectre that startles birds and cats and sends a shiver up the human spine. At some point I tried to sleep, but I'd start to drift off only to blink and peer at my surroundings while my mind went over all the same impossible theories over and over again.

A Prisoner Glimpses Escape

In the morning I evaded the tour guides and gift shop employees, then pretended to arrive with the first ferry load of tourists. I took the tour for form's sake but didn't hear a word of it. And when I hurried back to the dock to take the next ferry off the island, I was suddenly afraid that whatever strange phenomenon had brought me there in the first place would also prevent me from leaving.

I tried to convince Mao that the wobble in my step as I boarded the ferry was because of the choppiness of the water, but she only wove her long body between my feet and blinked skeptically. Resting my arms on the rail at the stern, I watched the island as the boat headed toward the mainland. Between one blink and the next, my brain switched from contemplating the fantastical impossibilities, to the practical ones. My suitcase and passport were in Newcastle. I could contact my embassy and tell them my passport was stolen, but how was I to explain how I'd gotten from Australia to San Francisco without it?

I looked down at Mao, but she has no patience for human bureaucracy.

Since that night I have discovered a few slippery paths and roads:

Walking South to North through the intersection of Fort Street & Quadra Street, Victoria, I can slip to 14th Avenue and 44th street S.E. Calgary. Strangely, I always emerge traveling West to East on 14th ave. The reverse journey is also possible.

There is a random pathway in Teide National Park, on Tenerife island, that has taken me to an equally random pathway in the Black Forest. Sadly, I've never been able to find either path again, so my information is incomplete. In wandering aimlessly I eventually made my way to the village of Hausach, but that took a few hours.

My hope is that I will one day have a comprehensive map of the places that overlap or slip together. And, in writing this, I aim to reach others who may have experienced this same phenomenon. Whatever happens next, you can be sure I intend to carry my passport with me.

#travel #alcatraz #roadstoeveryhere #passportadventures #lost

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