san francisco -- as the airport's public address system bleats out its recorded warning, I think of Kubrick's shuddering, malfunctioning Hal 9000 computer in 2001. The faux-feminine sanitized voice contrasts sharply with the message: Welcome to San Francisco. We are currently on Homeland Security's threat level orange.I don't know the meaning of threat level orange, but it breathes menace. Nowhere is safe, nowhere is secure, nothing is permanent, watch your suitcase, watch your back.
In the streets of San Francisco, something profoundly unsafe is evolving -- unsafe for dissenters, unsafe for police and possibly unsafe for the American government. The reaction to the war here has been binary in nature: for/against; yes/no; on/off. Yesterday the police issued parking tickets and directed traffic. Yesterday the protestors had day jobs, lives and responsibilities. But today and for as long as the momentum lasts, both factions have an additional edge to their personalities and a whole new set of responsibilities.
A few hours earlier, as I ordered a beer in the Philadelphia's airport bar, I silently thanked the gods that I did not get asked for identification. I don't know how they feel about Canadians here any more, but I hear stories. Today I secretly long for the anonymity that was once the real significance of a Canadian passport.
In better times, Americans are the kind of people who drive a few miles in order to return the milk you just purchased and mistakenly left on the counter, or the folks who fix your mom's ski binding at the cost of nothing but a smile. On the other hand, I have heard tales from hitchhikers about bourbon caps sailing nonchalantly out a half-open car window, the driver knowing full well there'd be no need to re-seal the bottle.
As Canadians, we haven't quite grasped or understood the neurosis and volatility of this time and place. In downtown San Francisco, police form a cordon around the financial heart of Union Square as protestors parade with placards. Police pickup trucks are parked nearby, their sole purpose to feed the cops their daily ration of potato chips and Skor bars.
A teachers' job fair has lured me here, but the hotel conference centre where it's taking place has been thrust inadvertently onto the front lines. Tourists mingle with the police while misplaced placard-carrying protestors try to find the rest of the march. Such is the confusion of war on the home front.
War resistance has a keener edge here than in Canada. To march on Yonge Street is to be in good company, and seems more a show than the reckoning occurring here. On these streets, if you protest you risk being called a traitor.
Yet there's impossible beauty here, in the scenery, the city's steep hills and the people on the street. I feel I'm mainlining both purity of cause and California's blinding sunlight standing here on a corner in a shirt and tie.
A sharply dressed homeless man named Rock seems to agree with the police presence. He claims to have a son stationed in Kuwait and another who was killed in the collapse of the Twin Towers. Is he telling the truth?
My flight's on time, and as I walk toward the gate the loud speaker repeats its recording: "Thank you for visiting San Francisco. We are currently on Homeland Security's threat level orange. Please do not leave your baggage unattended."