Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Day Philadelphia Stood Still

With a month before the Papal Visit, Philadelphia and the Secret Service have finally released their strategies for dealing with the impending ass ache, or so it seems. And to the surprise of no one, it's going to be a royal nightmare. 

Is it going to be a zombie apocalypse? No. Will visitors have a bad time? Probably not. Is Philadelphia going to be dragged through the mud by the mainstream media? We're used to it.

This is a unique event. Upwards of two million pilgrims are expected to descend upon Philadelphia over the last weekend in September, and that's exactly why it's not going to be as bad as some expect. If this were the world's largest software expo or just ordinary tourism, yes, it would be an epic disaster. 

But those shelling out $500 a night for a chance to see Pope Francis aren't coming here for Beyonce or Madonna, they're coming here as devout Christians, the most devout. Yes, the mainstream media is going to cherry pick those most vocally frustrated by the city's stifled services and spin a few expected - and isolated - incidents into catastrophes. But overwhelmingly, what we can expect is the world's biggest, and dullest, Comic-Con. 

In that regard, the city did one thing right. Hats off to City Hall and the Secret Service for securely pinning in a bunch of docile puppy dogs. 

Unfortunately, neither organization was charged with the job of solely protecting two million peaceful parishioners. Their task was to secure a massive event within a working city of 1.5 million people, within a metropolitan area of more than five million. But they've treated it like the Catholic equivalent of Burning Man, one that equates Philadelphia with a desert that happens to have subways. 

Closing schools and office towers is one thing. We're simply getting a free holiday. We'll work from home and make up class time. We'll be fine. What has been ignored and perplexingly continues to go unmentioned are the thousands of service employees that will be expected to work overtime over the course of the weekend, and expected to find a way here.  

Many hotel and service employees rely on minimum wage, and thusly don't live within walking distance of their Center City employers. They live in North, South, and West Philadelphia, in Fishtown and the suburbs, in New Jersey. Many more work in the suburbs and rely on the Schuylkill Expressway and regional rail, and until recently, didn't know the extent to which major suburban corridors would be affected by Pope Francis's Center City visit. 

Those tasked with servicing the Pope's two million visitors should have been given dibs on SEPTA's limited trans-passes, but they're expected to play the same game as those visiting. And if they don't land a pass, they're not quite sure how they're getting to work. 

It's not surprising that Philadelphia's City Hall has managed to neglect its own citizens. Since the visit was first announced, City Hall has been focused on two things, and neither are its own citizens: securing the tourists and how the city will look on CNN. Why should we expect more from a City Hall that has addressed the Parkway's homeless problem with a plan to put a few tokens in the front row during Pope Francis's mass while booting the rest to, well, no one knows. 

I'm certainly not religious, but I was baptized Catholic. In my limited understanding of Catholicism, I know that charity plays a big role, and barring underpaid service employees from jobs they need to perform and hand picking a few of our city's thousands of homeless residents as tokenism seems to be about the most un-Catholic thing you can do. 

On September 28th, the trifecta of the mainstream media - CNN, Fox, and MSNBC - will probably do an in depth analysis of a catastrophe that didn't happen, and our own bozos at and Philadelphia Magazine will troll the blogosphere. But Philadelphia will return to business-as-usual and within a week, the world will forget about The Day Philadelphia Stood Still.

But over the course of one weekend, underpaid employees will be camping out in broom closets with no way home and even more will fear losing their jobs with no conceivable way to get to work. One of the nation's biggest events, one allegedly rooted in charity, has proven itself to be nothing but a spectacle, and Pope Francis and his cohorts no more noble than a Kardashian. 

Maybe I'll be proven wrong. Maybe the Pope will bypass tokenism and delve into the city's very real homeless problem and expose it for what it is. Maybe he'll hop an El train to Kensington and the Vatican will reimburse the city's minimum wage employees for their lost earnings. Prince Charles wasn't above greeting locals in Mantua in 2007. 

People keep talking about how different Pope Francis is. Philadelphia could be his chance to prove it. Will he come here and do what's dryly expected, or will he color outside the lines? 

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