We had just ordered dinner at a seafood restaurant in the San Francisco neighborhood of Panama City when we noticed the man outside carrying a shotgun. Our table was in the front window. We had a plain view of the man with the shotgun. He was pacing back and forth on the small patio just outside.
It was Friday night, the 19th of February. We had flown into Panama City from San Jose, our final stop in Costa Rica. We were scheduled to fly out in the morning to Bogota, Columbia, for another short layover, en route to Quito, Ecuador, our next major destination. The restaurant was a block away from the hotel where we were staying.
Other than a brief glance backward from our taxi toward the Canal the next morning, this restaurant and the hotel were the only points of interest during our short layover in Panama City. But we were happy and excited to be in a new country after three delightful weeks in Costa Rica.
Our first impressions of the man with the shotgun softened almost immediately as we watched him. Far from menacing, he appeared to be a grandfatherly sort, dressed in a khaki uniform. He had a gentle bearing. At one point, a waiter delivered to him a steaming hot beverage in a ceramic cup, coffee no doubt, or so I thought.
He reminded me of my own Irish grandfather, Barney Maguire, who we called “Dad.” Shortly after emigrating from Ireland, when my mother was a small child, Dad Maguire worked for a time as a security guard at the old Stotesbury estate, known as Whitemarsh Hall, in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania. (Mr. Stotesbury was a legendary, super wealthy financier, whose image is imortalized as the bushy white-mustachioed capitalist in the boardgame Monopoly. http://www.serianni.com/wh1.htm)
If I may say so, Dad Maguire was to security guards what a golden retriever would be to the world of watchdogs. In other words, his gentle and friendly nature made him ill-suited for any actual emergency requiring the skills of a security guard. (Fortunately, there were no such incidents, at least that I have heard of, during Dad’s years of service at the Stotesbury estate.)
So, as I watched the gentle old man in the khaki uniform with his shotgun, pausing to sip from the hot cup of coffee, I thought about Dad Maguire. Here in Panama we were a long way from Philadelphia, farther still from Donegal. The khaki uniform and other regional features of this Panamanian were different, to be sure, but his essence was similar.
How strange it seemed to see a guard watching over parked cars carrying a shotgun. I suspect it was not even loaded.
Are there really desperadoes in Panama City, ready to launch an attack on a restaurant? If there were, would they be thwarted by the grandfatherly figure carrying a shotgun and sipping hot coffee? Perhaps, on reflection, he was stationed there more to assuage the patrons than to ward off any actual harm.
In the end, the man in the khaki uniform with the shotgun was an endearing figure. His gentle image is the most enduring of our memories of our brief visit to Panama City.