by Jan Baughman
(Swans - August 14, 2006) It was an ordinary Monday on July 31, back to work at my day job in South San Francisco, the Industrial City, as is prominently displayed on the surrounding hills in Hollywood fashion. I headed out around noon to run to the bank and get some lunch, only to find groups of two to three policemen standing on every corner, police cars and motorcycles parked at various points along the street, and, as I approached the freeway, police cars at each on ramp and off ramp.
It was a bit disconcerting, to say the least and then the realization struck: Tony Blair is visiting Genentech today... Genentech is the behemoth company that gave birth to the biotech industry and new life to South San Francisco, attracting in its shadows all the smaller companies that could no longer afford the Silicon Valley dot com-era rents. Tony Blair came to for a lunch meeting with Genentech and other local company executives to discuss secret things, perhaps how to stay competitive with India and China.
Curiosity got the best of me, and when I returned to the office and finished lunch, I ventured out on foot with a colleague to see first-hand the extent of the Kafkaesque enforcements. By then the main road to Genentech, Oyster Point Boulevard, was closed to traffic in both directions and one could see the horde of civilian cars, whose bad timing caused them to miss their important meetings while having to sit and wait at the mercy of the police lines for the departure of the statesman. We walked up the road toward Genentech -- the only civilians in sight -- and along the way, every fifty feet or so on each side of the street stood a police officer. Each nodded politely at us as we walked by; we apparently did not fit The Profile of potential terrorists. There were officers from South San Francisco, Pacifica, San Mateo, Burlingame, Daly City -- the entire bay area -- it would have been the perfect time to rob a bank, or exceed the speed limit. A few minutes later, two police motorcycles with flashing lights sped (and I do mean they were speeding) importantly by, followed by a couple of police cars and finally, The Motorcade. There were vanloads of men in suits, then two darkened town cars full of men in suits, and more cars and vans; in total about 8 vehicles, with more police cars with important flashing lights at the rear. A couple of minutes after the motorcade had passed, the officers lining the street were given the dismissal signal and off they went in unison, having successfully protected the prime minister from the threat of all of us mad biotechnologists whose accomplishments Mr. Blair came to learn about.
Will there be a leader in this lifetime whose policies are not so unpopular as to require a massive, undisclosed budget to protect him or her from the very people they are elected (or appointed) by to lead? The sorry facts on the ground suggest that the further implementation of a police state is more likely.
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