And, I thought I was paranoid.

          It’s been a couple of years since I visited Quito, Ecuador, but recently, I saw a similar pattern in my SF neighborhood, the Marina. Is fear winning? It is puzzling evidence, the first real indication of our sinking socio-economic status in the world.

          Quito is a beautiful city at almost 10,000 feet with a population of 1.4 million. Its classic architecture is Spanish colonial, but several modern skyscrapers abound on the North side. We stayed in a high-rise hotel in the north on the edge of the old colonial city. I remember the first night, because after a check-in cocktail, my toothpaste popped out of the tube; and in the morning, an hour before sunrise, the delivery vans and taxis chatter furiously with their horns. The old town buildings, in various states of decay or repair, are painted in bright earth tones, and a wall with a large gate encircles them, like vivid haciendas with concertina wire along the top ledge or broken glass bottles of green, brown, and clear embedded in the concrete. The city was cleaner than SF, except for a wash of diesel on everything; floors on transits and some public ways could be slippery. The culture seemed formal, not black tie or corporate formal, more rustic patriarch casual. We felt safe. One night while me and several compadres–mostly retiree’s or about-to-retires, zoo docents, and a couple of kids (in comparison) including myself–walk back to the hotel from a restaurant in old town, and we pass a single young man on almost every corner next to large houses or apartment complexes. They are early twenties in baggie pants, shirts, and baseball cap askew, like N. American hip-hop.

          Our group gets too close to one, and he looks away and raises his shirt to reveal the operator end of a silver with black grip 45. Yikes, we pass quickly, and one of the about-to-retires, an HP sales technology manager, says he’s probably been hired to guard the cars.

          I am on the 30-Stockton on my way to free-write at Café Roma; it is a beautiful blustery day, 65 degrees, and status clouds over the Gate are on an on-shore flow. I choose a light sport coat. I am on the north side of the bus headed east on Chestnut, and I look up from tuning the iPod to the Pine Leaf Boys, Blues De Musicien. An armed guard is standing outside of the Bank of America. At first, I think he is just taking a break, but he is standing almost at attention, parade rest. He is wearing a white shirt and arm patch under full body armor, and with no drink, cigarette, or snack, he does not appear to be on a break. He is wearing dark sunglasses and scanning all persons who pass the bank, left to right, right to left, up and down, and down and up. I catch his eye staring and he returns the stare until I look away. WTF, is he guarding cars? He is a private security guard, but I didn’t realize BofA in the Marina needed Blackwater-esque security.

          I must be underestimating all those Marina moms with strollers, young turk/player spawning males, special effect auteurs, finance suits, and tourists are potential bank robbing terroristias? WTFx2, what next AR-15s, Kalashnikovs, and RPGs?

          And, I thought I was paranoid.

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