It isn't that Philadelphia does not know how to have one hellova party! Yo! This summer alone, we partied constantly at family friendly, exciting events at Penn's Landing, Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Longwood Gardens, the steps of our Art Museum (right next to the statue of Rocky) and much, much more. Over Labor Day weekend Beyonce and a phenomenal lineup were here for the fourth annual Budweiser Made in America. If you have not joined us during the summer months (or any months for that matter), doing so is a must. .
But despite these truths, our prep for the most important celebration imaginable, the arrival of Pope Francis, is bringing up very unpleasant memories re a horribly botched Philly Party, our country's 1976 Bicentennial celebration. Because of the 1876 Bicentennial, we were picked to host the party of all parties to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. To say that things did not go at all well is an understatement.
I was in the process of divorce with two very young kids at this time, and everywhere I went, people were asking if my daughters and I and would be leaving Philly before events began. Our threesome counted nickels, dimes and pennies weekly to see if we could afford a weekend movie. So, of course, we were not going anywhere. But, in truth, we did not want to leave town. We each were looking forward to wonderful family events scheduled that young children could enjoy in celebration of our historical roots and achievements.
But, from minute one, there was discord. Plans of the visionary architect, Ed Bacon (yep, Kevin's dad) were opposed by a younger group, including the heralded architect with Philly roots, Richard Saul Wurman. There was also racial strife, for African Americans were left out of initial planning. Other states began to compete for celebratory tourists, and Frank Rizzo, Mayor at the time, terrified residents about the number of guests expected and the giant safety issues that had to be faced. As a result, panic reigned as residents and perspective attendees lost faith in the quality of protection offered; crowds were anemic; and thousands viewed television's rendition of every hostess's nightmare -- a carefully planned party where invitees stayed home. Adding insult to injury, a flare-up of legionnaire disease in our historic Bellevue Stratford hotel led to both citywide terror and embarrassment.
Fast forward to now. As you most likely know, Pope Francis will be in Philadelphia (along with an expected 1.5 million people) from September 22 to September 25, where he is scheduled to attend the World Meeting of Families. Once again, official reports and warnings began to scare all about enormous crowds on the streets, nut cases in the crowds, pregnant women not being able to get to hospitals to give birth, and restaurants having inadequate food deliveries and trash pickup. There was also both frustration and confusion about getting tickets for the planned events and areas where those present would be able to see the Pope. Many who live in downtown Philadelphia feared that due to crowds we would have no place to walk, and if ill would have a very tough time getting to a hospital.
As a result, for months there was a repeat of the same 1976 sense of dread: Smaller than expected crowds were signing up for events, and a favorite sentence of those who live here was: "So where are you heading and when are you leaving?"
However, I am over the moon to report that these dreadful doom and gloom reports have stopped. New routes to see the Pope have opened up and have been shared, and new tickets, though at a premium, have been made available. Up to date information about the Pope's visit can be found at http://www.popefrancisvisit.com/schedule-category/pope-francis-visit-philadelphia-schedule/. Available hotel rooms remain, but they are pricey. Unfortunately, even the newly added camping grounds in our Fairmount Park are expensive. But the good news is those in charge have stopped scaring those coming, and once again many are signing up for truly historic events.
My husband and I are staying put in Philly, have no tickets to anything, but plan to join the thousands who will be cheering the extraordinary and compassionate Pope Francis on -- as close to him as possible, which, of course, will be very far away. Still, being there is being there - very different than "couch potatoing" it. We hope the Pope will use the platform of the World Meeting of Families to continue to comfort, inspire and ease suffering all over the world
If you are attending the same way we are, our restaurants will all be doing their best to serve you. However, you can also picnic in your hotel room or campsite. The Philly legendary diner, Little Pete's, at 17th and Locust Streets, which only closes on Christmas, delivers quality full course meals to downtown areas at very reasonable prices. Better yet, pop in the diner at mid-night for full Philadelphia flavor (food and patrons). Of course, you know about our South Philly cheese steaks. I will not get into the rivalry between Gino's and Pat's, but want to assure you that in Philly, it is impossible for any visitor to stay hungry for long.
In addition, a tip: When Beyonce and Company were here, the crowds were heavy, but not as heavy as we are expecting for the Pope. There was some reported mild pushing as attendees jockeyed for space, and it was sometimes hard to purchase water. So, bring your own water. There will be ample toilets on the routes, but using one may cause you to lose a treasured viewing spot, so maybe you will want to take a hint from those in government who filibuster: You know what they do!
Plus, here's a promise: As a Philly transplant from Baltimore, I can tell you that our poor manners are just shtick for our professional games. Everyone you meet will be welcoming. Do not be surprised if you ask a Philadelphian directions and he or she offers to walk with you. In addition, our hotel doormen are a treasure. My all time favorite is Steve Hornstein at the center city Radisson Blue. No one knows Philly better than Steve; he will make sure you know precisely where you are going and how best to get there, as will his entire staff. Ours is a terrific city. It's just that sometimes our elected officials want to assure all of the good job they are doing by scaring us to death.