Quito - 21st Century; San Francisco - 19th Century
Standing in line at the 16th and Mission Wells Fargo ATM this afternoon, I was taking a deep breath and trying to transport myself back barely 36 hours early when I was at the wonderful Cafe Cultura in Quito's La Marisical. In theory the U.S. is the "world's leading nation," and San Francisco is its golden child, a quaint, artsy city with perfectly swept streets and serves as the epicenter of the vanguard of technology and progress. Reality could not be further from that myth.
Granted, I'd heard of recent machete hold ups in La Marisical, but there is no question it is infinitely more civilized and classy than any spot in the Mission.
As I saw an inept technician pulling paper out of the ATM and a MUNI bus creaking by jam-packed with smelly, sloppily dressed passengers, I could not help but long to be back in Quito, the largest city in a nation with 60% of its population living in poverty. Yet, it has an amazingly effective bus system modeled on those of Curtiba, Brazil, and Bogota, Colombia. Both cities' bus systems are incredibly effective. Passengers enter a raised, glass enclosed structure and pay their fare in order to enter the sliding glass doors of the bus stop so they enter the bus without having to deal with the driver. Since the buses and platforms are at the same level, people in wheelchairs simply wheel in without any hassles. The buses are filled with clean, well dressed polite passengers similar to what one would see in Barcelona.
San Francisco, the alleged technology center of the world, has MUNI, a public transit system using 19th century technology, rude and incompetent drivers who are often crack addicts and earning $100,000 or more a year. Even a recent TV investigation has brought about no action or progress on the feces of humanity that drive these buses. If you are in a wheelchair, getting on the bus is extremely difficult. Out of desperation, many passengers enter illegally through the back door and are insulted or assaulted by the drivers. That is why I usually walk in this city.
I have worked nearly 20 years in a field that has taken me to many similar "third world" cities. Many times I am told that first and third world conditions exist in the same place. However, I am increasingly convinced that the U.S. is destined to become the capital of the New Third World by century's end, a place filled with exploited, deprived masses as the tiny ruling elite hunker down in their walled mansions. Bogota, once the most violent cities in the world, now has a crime rate lower than that of most major U.S. cities.
Need I explain why I hope to retire in South America, not the U.S.?