Leaving work tonight, I exited 71 Stevenson Street to the always eerie roar of helicopters. I don't know why I find them always eerie, but I do. It's not like I grew up in South Central, where hovering choppers are an almost constant reminder of hopelessness, or served in the military in 'Nam. I hear helicopters infrequently, but everytime I do, they freak me out. I always expect to read about it in the news the next day.
One time, a helicopter hovered over our house. I saw it and figured that some mass murderer was hiding out in the alleyway that runs behind us. After an hour or so, the helicopter left. Nothing on the news that night, or the next day. As far as I know, the killer is still at large.
Today, the helicopters were only part of the scene. There were two of them; one was hovering over Union Square. The other one was somewhere South of Market Street. Right as I turned the corner onto Market, two fire engines came tearing around the corner, sirens wailing. Then another one, followed by the Chevy Suburban carrying the fire chief.
A big clump of cops was standing on the sidewalk. No riot gear, but still, a big clump of cops.
By now, my adrenaline was pumping, and not necessarily in a bad way. Save for the year after 9/11, when the annual Blue Angels practice day suddenly became a horrible case of "what if?" I've always liked urban chaos. Chaos of all kinds, actually. With helicopters, fire trucks and phalanxes of cops, this looked like a good one.
What if it was Godzilla? I thought this for a moment. Something crazy like that? Or some kind of attack?
Before I had a chance to consider all of the possible doomsday scenarios, I saw the huge crowd of people gathered at the corner of Market and Montgomery, with the signs and the banners. And I heard the chanting and drum-beating, the specific quality of which identified the gathering as a protest march.
Of course. It was the third one this week. The last one was Saturday. It was supposed to be a "Day of Peace," but as usual, by the time it passed us, it had devolved into the usual "Free Palestine!" rally, meaning it was like a peace march, only instead of being peaceful it was really, really angry, and instead of signs encouraging peace, the marchers carried posters accusing Jews of being like Nazis.
And once again, an unplanned-for opportunity for a young Jewish Jawa to ask his father all sorts of questions, not a one of which the father, at the moment overcome with a myriad of negative emotions and wanting only to get far away, very fast, is at all prepared to answer.
The way I see it, you have no kids you cut your chances of dangerous failure by half. No kids means nobody takes what you say as the gospel truth, which means no chance for you to really screw someone up by displaying your less-than-stellar side when you should be behaving with sage-like calm.
So what did I do? I said, "Just keep walking. They hate us, and nothing we can do is going to change that."
I think I just heard a bunch of well-meaning people gasp with outrage. If you want, I can dig up an equal number of sources to back myself up as you can to prove me wrong. That's not what we're talking about here.
What we're talking about is me taking away my kid's right to make up his own mind, and that's wrong. Usually, I'm pretty good. When he said, at age four, that he liked George W. Bush because he had a cool hairstyle, I told him I wasn't a fan, but it was his call. When he parroted me during the 2003 Mayoral election and said, "Matt Gonzalez hates families!" I took the time to explain that, while I would not vote for Matt Gonzalez because I don't agree with his stated positions on pretty much everything, I have never met him and therefore do not know if he hates families.
Whatever I think of the people marching in the parade, it's up to the Jawa to form his own opinion. So when we sat down for a nutritious lunch of Panda Express and Rubios at the San Francisco Center food court, I tried to explain why I felt the way I did. I tried, but still probably failed. My heart wasn't in it. Mostly I was trying to make lunch last long enough that by the time we came back up to street level, the "peace" marchers would be gone.
San Francisco protests crack me up. When the Iraq war started, the protest calendar was full almost every day. They'd march down Market toward City Hall chanting, "The whole world is watching!" which is kind of funny, because if the whole world were to watch, most of them would probably go, "Well, sure, it's San Francisco. Business as usual."
Live here for a decade and you either become a professional protester or suffer from protest overload. It's the exact opposite of living in a quiet small town. Nobody knows you and everyone's mad.
Ten years in and I'm as blase about a protest as a native Angelino is about celebrities. Ten thousand people gathered in front of Dianne Feinstein's office to demand immigrant rights reform has the same impact as seeing Don Cheadle eating breakfast in Santa Monica. And this from someone who was an unwilling participant in the 1999 WTO riots for three days straight.
That's what the protest was about tonight; immigrant rights reform. I'm not sure if it was about legal or illegal immigrants. Had Godzilla been there, as a Japanese national I guess he would have had a vested interest. One thing's for sure. Dianne Feinstein totally would have met their demands.