I returned from California only to find that Philadelphia had lost. it's. mind.
Pope frenzy everywhere. The amount of work that had been done in August was astounding. Streets that had been cracked and pot-holed for years, were suddenly paved and wonderfully smooth. I actually couldn't drive them anymore because I didn't have potholes and manhole covers to avoid!
Perfectly, beautifully, smooth, paved Market St. at 21st:
I know this bit of road very well since Trader Joe's is on the next block. Under the bus is a manhole cover that used to be a good 4 inches below street level. Not anymore!
And while the smooth streets certainly are nice, there are plenty of other things that make you want to roll your eyeballs. Can you can spot what's wrong with this picture:
That would be the white F-1 ticket location sign strapped right in front of the traffic signal which in this photo happens to be red - not off. But drivers can't see that! I took the photo while in my car. Who is doing quality control here?
As September progressed there were other things that just made you wonder how this was all going to work out. All of the hype and talk about security started to sound like a real nightmare. Everything in Center City is going to be closed except all of the food businesses. Then there are traffic boxes where only emergency vehicles can be and if you drive out you will not be let back in until after the weekend. And finally over the weekend the traffic box will be expanded to a 38 block swatch. From the Delaware River to 38th St. in West Philadelphia. At some point almost all of I-76 will be closed from Conshohoken to the Walt Whitman Bridge. This is a good 30 miles of highway and a main artery to Philadelphia. We are expecting millions of people to come - how in the heck are they going to GET here? After all of the hype and crazy planning I do hope the millions of people come, but on the other hand I wouldn't be surprised if they'd been scared away. My good friend Melanie called me the minute she found out the Pope was coming to reserve a bed with me - back in January. She decided to come last weekend instead. It wasn't clear that she'd be able to get to me on the Friday before with all the road closures so she didn't want to risk it.
While it sounds like all of this would be the ultimate nightmare for any resident of Philadelphia, I have actually been enjoying it. Yes, some people are heading for the hills. But I for one am glad to be staying here and I want to go in and see the festivities. We spent the morning listening to NPR in the lab and there was a nice discussion about what the Pope's philosophy on the environment is. I am really starting to like this guy! I'm not Catholic - but after listening to the radio shows and hearing his humble message to Congress, I want to hear him speak! Now I'm sad I don't have tickets to any of the events on the Parkway. I'd even go to the mass on Sunday - just to see it. Tomorrow I'm going to look and see if I can find tickets somewhere.
As the date comes ever closer, I have been watching the developments with amused interest. I want see how everything works out. I also think someone in charge started realizing they were scaring people away and they needed to change tack. In the last few weeks signs have popped up all over:
There are smaller posters appearing in shop and restaurant windows and I think people are genuinely excited for the Pope to visit. Here are a few of the favorite things I've seen:
I'm not sure what this is exactly.
These banners went up around City Hall and on Broad St. some time last week.
On Monday we started seeing people with clear backpacks and bright green name tags walking around everywhere. They were here for the beginning of the week-long festivities the World Meeting of Families. I started to get this wonderful happy feeling. All of these people coming to Philadelphia. You could see they were happy to be here and the natives were being nice to them! So many people kindly redirecting tourists to where they wanted or needed to go. I had to take the bus to teach on Tuesday. But because of all the closures the bus had to go a very strange round-about route. But there were several groups of tourists on the bus and it was heartwarming to see all the locals helping them and reassuring them that they would get where they needed to go. (My designated tourists wanted to get to the Rocky Statue at the Art Museum.)
Yesterday is when I think it really hit us - this is happening. I was walking down Broad St, past a block of port-a-potties. And I wasn't the only one taking pictures!
When I got to work I bumped into our facilities guys and we talked a bit about the visit. Tyrone pulled out his phone and showed me a picture - a "selfie" with himself and the Pope!! It looked SO real, but it was actually a cardboard cut out of the Pope. And I think that's when I knew, this is really going to be amazing.
We've been given tomorrow and Monday off for all of the festivities. So today was my last chance to know I could walk around freely. I took advantage to walk around the restricted areas a bit. Everyone is on the Pope bandwagon. My favorite coffee shop, Cake and the Beanstalk is serving the Pope-kin Spice Latte:
A Chinese Noodle Bar, Cheu, is obviously Pope-approved:
The new Wawa (like a 7-11) got the construction finished extra early to be open for the Papal visit. Also, more portapotties and one of our favorite Philadelphia locals. The gentleman standing on the far right of the image on the subway vents can be seen in a few locations around Philadelphia. He wears very loose silk shirts and stands on the grates and lets the air make his shirts billow around him. He always looks so serene.
There are mobile showers called "No Sweat" parked in front of one of the Jefferson Medical school buildings:
and exactly who are these for?
I decided I better go to Trader Joe's before I went home for the weekend. I wasn't sure if it would be accessible the rest of the weekend! On my way I walked over to the Knotted Grotto art installation at the Cathedral.
And after reading the article I realize I didn't do it correctly! So I have to go back and untie two prayers and move them.
But look -
Look at all of those strips of white. Everyone one of them has a prayer written on them by someone who has visited the grotto.
Then it was time to head to Trader Joe's before it got too late. On the way I passed more preparations for all of the people coming to the mass.
I also passed a truck and crew from the US Postal Service who were removing the blue mailboxes for the weekend. All to be put back by Monday.
I think the Pope has brought out the best in us. We (Philadelphia residents) have all been talking about this with each other. Everywhere you go - someone starts: are you going to see the Pope? And either they are staying - oh heck yeah! Or, oh no - they are gettin' out of town! Either way the conversation is good. Perfect strangers are bonding over our wonder at all of the preparations for this event.
I stopped to take this picture on the corner of 20th and JFK Blvd. A second later a woman on a bicycle skidded to a stop next to me and said, "Oh yeah, I totally need a picture of that!"
Ha! We shall see.