I spent the better part of yesterday with my family wandering about Philadelphia observing how the Papal visit was effecting our fair city. In no particular order here are a series of observations:
Ospreys flying in formation are simultaneously beautiful and spooky.
Not this kind -
This kind -
We got as far West as Love Park and went no further. Too many people. Way too many people.
There are more porta-johns in this city than I've ever seen collected in one place at one time. Better to have them than not.
Outside of the Parkway area where the Pope gave Mass, the streets were eerily empty. No moving cars, no parked cars, no buses, few people, limited foot traffic. Empty streets, shuttered storefronts. Empty restaurants. The vacuum of activity was somewhat reminiscent of Lower Manhattan after the 9/11 attacks. Say, Friday morning, September 14, 2001.
With blocked streets and no traffic we let my son run freely amok up and down the middle of Center City Streets. He loved it.
The vibe all around town was VERY calm. Around the crowds, away from the crowds, around the police, the PA National Guard, around the Chester County paramilitary army surplus "police" vehicle, the black attired security personnel outside the Ritz, calm.
There have been many sounds of sirens.
This weekend, the Pope is here, Mercury is in retrograde, there is a blood moon rising and a full lunar eclipse will occur. What's up with that?
If I were to hazard a guess, I would say about 1/3 of the locals vacated the city for a five day weekend. I have no hard statistics to back this up and am likely full of it but that's what it seems like.
The PA National Guard soldiers siting vigil at the perimeter edge of the lock-down zone were unarmed, kind gentlemen and bored to death. I spoke with a few of them as we passed in and out of The Zone. As we made our way back home, two citizen soldiers at the corner of 4th and Callowhill said that we were the 1st people on foot to pass them in over an hour. I'm glad they were there. What is it about these guys and how they know exactly how to speak to my 5 year old?
There were a smattering of individual cyclists and families of cyclists taking full advantage of the car free streets. To be on a bicycle was to be free, unafraid of becoming an accident statistic, an opportunity to not be soon experienced again, and a singular life experience. If we were a biking family we would have joined in.
This morning prior to entering the Papal Zone I read this piece on philly.com. So for lunch we endeavored to assist Mr. Starr in his difficulties and ate at El Vez. Alas, the joint was nearly empty. Terrible. We were one of 5 or 6 tables of patrons. By the time we finished and paid our check we were the ONLY table there, around 3:30ish. We conjectured that the lack of eaters may have had something to do with traditional Catholic views on sexuality confronting the Gayborhood? Not likely. Every restaurant in and out of the lock-down zone experienced a significant lack of patronage.
To wit, on Saturday I had brunch at one of my local haunts in Norther Liberties and it was uncharacteristically unpatronized. I sat at the empty bar with my son where we ate eggs and on a muted TV watched the Pope transit from the narthex of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul up the nave to the alter while listening to Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly" on the restaurant's sound system. The juxtaposition was delightful. Superfly Pope.
So... Has the Papal visit been good or bad for Philadelphia? I have no idea. The global attention showered upon us has to have some sort of an upside. Yet I imagine the recriminations surrounding lost income for local businesses due to the massive security apparatus laid over the city will be intense. Regardless, this entire event illuminates why I believe living in a city is the only way to exist. Live outside of a city or in the country you don't get the opportunity to avail yourself of these experiences. You miss out.
In a city one gets to interact with humanity in a flawed, sometimes difficult, sometimes joyous and oftentimes meaningful way. THE Pope was here. In my back yard. I'm not Catholic but I benefited from the enormity of this event. I spent an amazing day wandering the streets experiencing the city in a completely new way. I'm hopeful that the ultimate outcome if the Papal event ends up being a positive one.