I'm sure at some time we've all thought, "I really want to know what it was like to be at a federal prison deemed so brutal it was shut down, but I want to do it without leaving the cozy confines of a hotel lobby."

A few years ago, I took the Alcatraz tour with my wife and father-in-law. As a history buff, I found it to be a fascinating experience, but being a creature of comfort what I really remembered was the cold, windy boat ride out to the island, the blustery walk around the grounds and moving along with crowds through the cellblocks and the gift shop, where I could pick up a nice Alcatraz apron or a maybe a keychain.

So you've got to imagine I was thrilled with the National Park Service and Alcatraz Cruises for coming up with "Alcatraz: Life on the Rock," a traveling exhibit that's been on display the past few months in the lobby at the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara hotel and should be there until July.

It contains a plethora of prison paraphernalia including photographs of the Rock, models of everything from the prison itself to the sea birds that frequent it to a full-size replica of one the cells, planted just a few feet away from the lobby bar. It does, admittedly, take you a little bit out of the experience to examine the rigid cot and sickly, two-tone green paint scheme on the cell walls while sipping a Manhattan.


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But elsewhere in the lobby, I was able to lose myself in a display about the infamous 1962 escape, which includes a replica of the cell wall the inmates tunneled through, digging out a grate next to a rust-stained toilet. I kept looking around to see if another hotel visitor was coming at me with a shiv, just so I could dodge it the way Clint Eastwood did in "Escape from Alcatraz." (A real shank -- what is the difference between a shank and a shiv, anyway? -- is one of the artifacts that's part of the exhibit, too).

And even better, when I was done, I only had to brave the traffic on 101 instead of a windy ferry ride back to San Francisco.

GOOD LEGAL STANDING: If you needed to find a lawyer or judge Thursday night, you would have been wise to look at the Santa Clara Convention Center, where nearly 800 of them gathered to celebrate the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley's 40th anniversary.

The legal hotshots raised more than $1.7 million, thanks to sponsorships from the likes of Orrick, Wilson Sonsini and DLA Piper and a host of live auction items that included a dinner made personally by Flea Street Cafe's Jesse Cool and served at her kitchen table as well as golf with Nvidia's new general counsel and Law Foundation board president Brian Cabrera.

Those donations will go a long way toward helping the nonprofit Law Foundation continue to provide legal help to the needy on everything from fair housing and mental health advocacy to its well-regarded Legal Advocates for Children & Youth program.

And when it comes to fundraising, the Law Foundation won't be sitting on its legal briefs over the coming year. San Jose's Jim McManis announced that he and his wife, Sara Wigh, were making the lead gift in the "$40k for 40 More" campaign and they were soon joined by Elisa and Howard Clowes and Maureen and David Shannon. Nice to see all of those billable hours doing a lot of good for our community.

SJSU HONORS DAVIDSON: Charles W. Davidson's had many titles in his 80-plus years, including civil engineer, homebuilder and philanthropist. On Friday, San Jose State, the school from which he received an engineering degree in 1957, added "doctor" to that list, presenting him with an honorary doctorate of humane letters at its Honors Convocation on Friday.

Given all that Davidson has done for San Jose State -- he founded the fundraising Tower Foundation, made a $15 million gift to the College of Engineering in 2007 and has supported scholarships, an endowed professorship and the library and athletics programs -- you might be surprised it took the school this long. But Davidson did much of his giving behind-the-scenes and was well-known to receive recognition reluctantly, even when they put his name on the College of Engineering building.

OLYMPIAN RETURNS: I'd like to think the South Bay was cheering loudest for Polina Edmunds when the figure skater competed in the Sochi Olympics in February and now fans can cheer her again when she appears Thursday at Sharks Ice in San Jose, which was her training rink.

She'll be at the 6:30 p.m. Q&A event to talk about her upcoming appearance with "Stars on Ice" at SAP Center on May 11 as well as her experience at the Winter Olympics. The first 150 fans who get there can take part in an autograph session plus a public skate with her afterward.

KEEP THOSE LETTERS COMING: Debra Figone, recently retired as San Jose's city manager, was one of the five honorees Thursday night at the Character Awards presented in downtown San Jose by the Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Figone joked with the audience of more than 200 people that her husband, artist Allen Figone, "now has a new freedom to write letters to the editor of the Mercury News." She says she's told him he's got better ways to spend his time, but I say we would welcome the correspondence. And that also goes for the other honorees: Brian Adams, vice president of marketing/communications at Bellarmine College Prep; former Agilent Technologies CEO Ned Barnholt; Silicon Valley Creates CEO Connie Martinez; and Hopkins & Carley attorney Dick Noack.

Contact Sal Pizarro at spizarro@mercurynews.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/spizarro.