First the signs went up, three days ago: No Stopping 10 AM to 10 PM Tuesday. SFPD. They appeared every several hundred feet, tied to trees or street lights on both sides of our street and surrounding blocks, defining what would turn out to be about a quarter-mile-square Zone of Silence. Then, in mid-afternoon, the San Francisco Police Department arrived en masse: patrol cars, motorcyles, cops on foot, even a few parking meter scooters. The bomb-sniffing dogs are the scariest.
It is downright spooky on Sacramento Street. Traffic has been rerouted, road blocks at the top of the hill send pedestrians two or three blocks around the Zone. Where we're used to cars, trucks, buses, whizzing bikes and occasional skateboards, moms pushing strollers, passersby talking incessantly on cellphones? Nothing. Utter silence. Finally too curious about it all I intercepted a neighbor or two walking quietly home (after being cleared for entry) and got the word:
Shimon Peres is in the 'hood.
Mr. Peres, who's speaking at a fundraiser at Temple Emanu-El down the block and across the street, has enemies. Some of them, hopefully not intending any harm, are protesting a few blocks away, but none of them are getting into the Zone. My neighbor across the street, whose house has an uninterrupted view of the top of the Temple, just walked by to report the sniper on the roof who is poised to pick off anyone threatening. Carefully carrying my ID, I walked down to the corner mailbox a few minutes ago. There is a line of people waiting to go in -- thankful for the cold wind having died down I suspect -- stretching halfway uphill from the main entrance on Arguello Blvd. They will pass through metal detectors, beside the dogs. "Sorry about the inconvenience," said the very courteous cop behind the barricade. "We'll be out of your hair in a couple of hours." I told him it wasn't inconveniencing me at all, that I felt extraordinarily safe in the Zone.
A long block downhill, on California Street, the protestors.are chanting pro-Palestinian phrases. They have been joined by our requisite San Francisco nutty person in a quasi-Statue of Liberty outfit shouting "God bless freedom of speech." Maybe he's not so nutty; maybe he has a point. The women in head scarves and long skirts walk quietly around him, holding onto their signs. Another exceptionally courteous cop, after mentioning he'd never witnessed anything like the Peres entourage that had just driven by in its shiny black cars, said, "Technically, ma'am, we've got the area in lockdown and you shouldn't be on the streets."
It cannot be easy to be the President of Israel. Probably isn't easy to be a Palestinian either. I haven't figured out how to fix the Middle East yet; although my feeling is that there are inequities, injustices and centuries-old enmities enough on either side to make it unlikely to get fixed any time soon.
But yes, God bless freedom of speech. And may the noise return to Sacramento Street with the morning.