I'm back! It was Pope-mania this weekend as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims descended upon the city. As planned, Tink and I volunteered for the festivities and to assist with the World Meeting of Families that met throughout the week.
Not knowing what the future held, I worked out, bought new sneakers with tread and arch support, new expensive runner's socks, and planned to meet and greet the Pontiff.
With all due humility, I assumed that my volunteer position would be driving the Pope or opening the Fiat's door.....OK, not really. I figured that I would be collecting tickets somewhere. Actually, I could not have been more wrong.
On Monday, Tink and I drove to the city, parked, and registered participants from all over the planet. It was fascinating meeting people from all walks of life who saved for a trip to Philly! Really? Philly?
Yes, Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love who has the reputation for throwing snowballs at Santa at an Eagles game in the '60s. Can't live that one down, right Jim Gaffigan? He actually told a joke about the snow ball fiasco at a gathering on the Parkway in front of hundreds of thousands of people. He was booed....and showed shock on his face when it happened. Dude, old news...move on to another Philly blunder.....more recent...let's say in the last 30 years.
Anyway, Tink and I stood at our kiosk for 6+ hours testing my new sneakers and socks....they failed miserably, to which I added Dr Scholls gel pads (to be discussed later.).
On Thursday, since I am a newbie with public transportation, Tink and I hit the railroad and almost missed the train as I mentioned in the last post. Not to make the mistake again, I scoured the online rail schedule and memorized stupid trivia while not really figuring out what to do.
Finally, Saturday comes and dad drops us off at the station. Prepared for the worse, there were more cops and national guard members than train riders. In fact, we have to serpentine our way through a maze to get to the train only to have the doors close as we started to board.
Really? Is this how it is going to go?
Finally, before the train left, the doors magically opened and we entered to our choice of seats. Uh, where are the people?
As the train left, we sat back and expected to be taken right into Philly, when the train stopped at Penn. Hmmm.....Mr. Conductor? We are not in center city, what gives?
Huh? Yep, we had to leave the train and take another train to our destination. Good grief! Is this seamless?
After waiting 30 minutes for the center city train, I had the opportunity to speak to one of the "SEPTA ambassadors" who suggested that I take the airport train into the city since there were no stops and it ran all day. My proposed itinerary was problematic since the departing trains from the city did not begin to leave until 6p. I would be stuck there for hours on end waiting to get home. Keep in mind, roads were closed. We were trapped until 6p until I discovered the airport train.
Anyway, once in the city, Tink and I walked to our assignment. Was it having lunch with the Pope? Hanging out with Mark Wahlberg? Joe Biden?
None of the above.
We were positioned at the bottom of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge from New Jersey which was closed (the bridge to traffic, not New Jersey), but people were allowed to walk over it. We were to greet people as we wore orange tee shirts with Volunteer plastered on the front. The toughest question a person had for me was where was Independence Hall. I pointed to a large green sign that said "Independence Hall" and that was basically it. We were on the outskirts of the city. No where near the action....feeling a bit sad.
After a few hours of pointing at the sign, Tink and I moved on to the activities. Not being able to get through the check points, we hung out, ate lunch, and went home.
Before we left, we were walking past an intersection that had a large presence of police men and women from all over the country. A couple was sitting in a chair waiting. I asked them what was going on? They replied: "The Pope should be coming through here soon."
Are you sure? They would not tell the volunteers what the route was for security purposes. How do you know this?
"We think that he is coming through because of all of the cops standing around."
Hmmm.....through process of elimination or deduction, this couple seemed to have figured it out. So, Tink and I stood next to them. After waiting for an hour, a kindly cop walked up to me and said: "I hate to see you stand here, but this is not the Pope's route".
"He is going to be on 7th street coming off the expressway."
Guess what? This is where Tink and I had been stationed earlier. You know, the place where nothing was going on.
Off we went almost running through the streets and knocking down anyone or thing in our way.....limping in my new sneakers and runners' socks realizing that the gel foam pads were virtually ineffective.
As we got to the street corner, there was already a crowd. Rats. We were in the second row.....then we look.....there are people in the orange volunteer shirts who were standing in the street. That's right...in the street, next to the cops and national guardsmen.
I am wearing an orange shirt....perhaps they need two more orange shirt volunteers to help them to manage the crowd as we slipped into the street. Yeah, this works.
And we waited and waited and waited....finally, the moment comes. We were ready with our cell phone cameras. The moment......Then it happened......
The police moved us. Everyone behind the barriers.
I am a volunteer! I wear an orange shirt! I passed a criminal background screening that said I was 'not a felon.' Behind the barriers??
Slowly we moved toward the barriers when a police officer said to the entire crowd. "Get back and let the volunteers in to the front."
Ok, officer, you are my hero. And there we were....front row...waiting for the Fiat.....then the procession begins. Camera ready.......suddenly I get a phone call and my camera goes dead.
Dang! Now! Really? I clicked on delete.
Phone call......Why can't I have a moment to take the Pope's picture? Delete.
Phone call....I answer it. "Stop calling! I am waiting for the Pope! Dang!"
The crowd roars. The Fiat is in view. No phone calls......here he is...I click photos. I got a photo of his arm and the nice police officer.....2 seconds. Obviously, the Pope was in a hurry.
It's over....time to go since we did not have tickets for the event. Off to the train....limping slowly, we got on the air port train being grateful for the 2 second glimpse of the man who is changing the way the world views the poor, marginalized, and most vulnerable. May his tenure as Pope continue for a long time. I know that I have been impacted by his words and will try to live a better life.
Next post: Sunday....a day to forget.......
Off to work....