For a good long time now, we have known that the Pope was coming to Philadelphia. Over the last few months, we have been told to expect hordes of people, to stock up on food, to expect to sit in traffic for hours, to treat this visit like an epic snowstorm, or like ten Super Bowls that are happening concurrently. Every news article showed all the roads that were blocked off, the handful of ways that you could actually enter and exit the city, and explained, in great detail, exactly how exhausting walking over the local Ben Franklin bridge would be to all who attempted to do so. We have been told to expect technology to shut down due to overload. I personally spent the entire week posting random thoughts on Facebook, such as discussing the wisdom of sending tourists to the most dangerous city in the United States to use as a giant parking lot because surely, all the criminals would respect the out-of-state license plates. Right?
If I stand on my roof, I can see Philly. On a good night, I can be there in 15 minutes. Yet for months I have been told first, that I should consider walking, and second, that it would take upward of NINE hours to do so.
My partner-in-crime Bubbles and I decided to go see the Pope at 1 pm. I hadn’t yet showered, dressed, or actually discussed with my husband that I was going to do so. (In case you were wondering, he was less than pleased.) Yet by 2:30 pm , we were standing in Center City taking selfies.
Philly created a fear cage and called it the Papal Zone and shame on them for scaring away millions of pilgrims. We were told to expect to park at least a mile away from the train station. We were in the first row. The tickets that were supposed to be sold out in the pre-sale months ago were so undersold that volunteers actually worked the ticket machine FOR me to get me one. The Ben Franklin bridge, where the massive zombie hordes were expected to cross over from Camden to Philly was epically, dismally, ridiculously empty. The city of Philadelphia itself was no more crowded than the recent wine tasting event in my hometown* and, I rather think that my local streets were much more difficult to navigate as there were still plenty of cars around and Philly was a no-drive zone. (*Astute observation courtesy of Bubbles.) While it did take a while to go through the second security stop near City Hall, that was more due to comic understaffing and a total lack of communication than anything else. There were only ten stations and no one was told that fruit wasn’t allowed or that all electronics had to be turned on and tested. Once inside the hallowed “safe zone”, there were free water bottles courtesy of WaWa (which on top of the free Slushies we had already enjoyed from 7-11 meant that we were well hydrated) and lots of jumbo TV screens on which to watch the Papal proceedings. Because I’m lazy, we pretty much crossed the street and decided that was close enough. Why walk 20 blocks in one direction only to walk back later?
What we didn’t realize is that the circle around City Hall would be totally enclosed and we would be locked in without a bathroom, food, or exit for the next three hours.
I’m sure there was plenty of police activity closer to the big man himself. There were lots and lots of cops with really big guns at the train station and I can prove it because Bubbles took a picture with one. There were snipers, because I took a picture of them on the adjacent buildings. There were eight members of the National Guard protecting a completely empty corner that seemed to have zero target potential, but they were kind enough to give us accurate directions. There were dozens upon dozens of police from many states and many types of law enforcement manning the barricades set up along Market Street, leading people to camp out along Market Street, even though the Pope was never going to actually drive down Market Street. But on the block that is City Hall? Not a one. We were standing in the shadow of one of the most well-known buildings in Philadelphia and the only uniform we saw was a guy in a Scotland Yard shirt who seemed baffled as to why people kept coming up to talk to him. (Sure, there were probably plainclothes cops everywhere, but I didn't see an earpiece, a bulge, or body armor on anyone and we had plenty of time to look.)
Did I see the Pope? Hell yes. It took a few hours and Bubble and I had to suffer through sore feet, hunger, and Jim Gaffigan. (Side note to whomever booked Jim Gaffigan for this event. You are fired.) We didn’t get the pleasure of watching Marky Mark (apparently, Philly doesn’t have any famous Catholics, so we had to borrow one from Boston), but we did get to watch almost everything else. When the giant TVs switched to live shots of the crowd and we could actually see the blue and red police escort lights start to bounce off the buildings – well, let me tell you first hand, it was a truly unbelievable feeling. I recognize that he is only a man and a humble one at that, but according to my faith, he is the big kahuna and to be that close, even for a Cafeteria Catholic like myself, was really quite breathtaking – even if he was just chilling in the back of a souped up Jeep Wrangler.
Getting out of Philly was just as easy as getting in – except this time, every single t-shirt vendor, button seller, and flag waver seemed to have shut up shop – along with every other storefront in Philly. It was actually sad that within a short two-block walk from the procession, there was hardly anyone out and about. The few establishments that were open were all fast-food franchises and even they were empty. I can’t even imagine the potential lost revenue. Even though there was only one train station open (out of the usual four) it was less crowded than a Saturday in December, when the trains are usually packed with families going into the city to see the lights. The bridge was still empty of all but a few hardy souls and the requisite Humvee of men in uniform.
I know this was only day one of a two-day event and I have heard that tomorrow is expected to be more crowded as the Pope will actually be doing mass instead of a wave, but I sincerely doubt there will be a huge pick up in traffic. I will be hosting a Faith and Football party, where I will be serving Holy Ghost cupcakes, Blood of Christ punch, and Body of Christ ‘nilla Wafers, so I’m obviously going straight to Hell which will preclude me from going back to Philly. But I urge those of you who have been told over and over again to stay far, far away to possibly reconsider. I can’t promise that your day will be as easy as mine. That it won’t rain. That something awful won’t happen. That you will get close to the Pope. I can, however, remind you that this is a once in a lifetime event.
Do you want to say you were there? Or just that you watched it on TV?