Friday morning I got up really early in anticipation of going to Central Park that afternoon to see Pope Francis. To those who knew me a lifetime ago, it would have been laughable for me to say I was excited about seeing any member of the Catholic clergy, much less the Pope. But those were different times.
I always do my laundry on Friday, because that’s the day my local Laundromat is least busy and I don’t have to fight anyone for the folding table. This Friday was no different, and after having my morning coffee, checking emails and Facebook I got the laundry together.
Before leaving I put a bunch of garbanzo beans I’d soaked overnight into a big pot and set them to boil. I went to the laundry, but the clothes in the machines (darks and lights separate) and came back to check on the beans. Lowered them to a simmer and back to the laundry to put clothes in the dryer. I always put them all in the same dryer and put an hour on it, and come back when they’ve dried.
I used to sit at the Laundromat and use as many dryers as possible and put only seven minutes at a time on each machine and fold as hey dried, and it ended up taking just as long and involved a lot of fighting for dryers with all sorts of crazy housewives. I like the way I do it now better.
Laundry and beans done I got my shopping cart and headed to Fairway on 133rd Street for our weekly supply of mineral water and other necessities. I was lucky with the buses and made it there and back in a little over an hour.
By now it was almost 11, and Danusia headed to work for a few hours after we agreed to meet at the West 4th street station after my driving class so we could make it to Central park before the cut off time of 3:30PM. If you got there after 3:30 you weren’t getting in. My class was from 1:30 to 2:15, and I knew we could be at Central Park well before 3.
Before leaving for my class I took a shower and made the best hummus in the world in Danusia’s magic bullet food processor. Recipe to follow in a future blog.
I went to the driving school office, where for the first time I found out that my teacher, whom I’ve been calling Mr. No all of this time is called Mr. Li.
Friday even Mr. No/Li was chill and didn’t grab the wheel once and let me practice parallel parking for the first time.
Once we were done I hopped on the D train at Grand Street and met Danusia on the platform, she was waiting and I didn’t even have to get off the train. I’m sure this is a New York couple thing to do, “Meet me on the first car…”
When we got off the train at Columbus Circle there were already people in NYC T-Shirts directing the crowd.
“If you are going to see the Pope stay to your right.”
We followed the crowd up Columbus to 63rd Street, where we went past the first checkpoint. At the end of 63rd we waited in the swelling crowd for a while till we were channeled down CPW. The crowd was huge, thousands and thousands of people shuffling forward step by step at the direction of the police. It was like a line from The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot.
It took us hours to shuffle to the entrance to the park on 66th Street, first down CPW to almost 59th Street, and then back up to 67th Street, it was like a maze for cattle going to the slaughter.
Except we weren’t going to get slaughtered, all of us wanted to bask in the glow of a really wonderful human being, Pope Francis. I knew the closest we were going to get at this point was a few hundred feet, but at least we would be able to lay eyes on him, and that was enough for me. And the possibility of getting a picture, of course. It’s all about that pic.
After going through the security where Danusia had to give up her favorite water bottle we ended up on a bridle path, and let me tell you, the dry summer and horse’s feet have made the clay of the path into a very fine irritating dust, especially with several thousand feet shuffling through it.
We found a spot near the Port-O-potties (badly needed at this point) just after five. It had taken two and a half hours to walk less than a half a mile through people selling Pope T-shirts, flags, and other memorabilia. I didn’t buy any of that, because for me the Pope is about the human spirit and I don’t need anything tangible to make my spirit good, just the spirit of a person like Pope Francis.
We joined the crowd and I was able to make out the road where the cars would pass. Somewhere around 5:20 some motorcycles came down the road slowly and the crowd went wild. But it was only the advance guard.
Then a police car. A black SUV that drew some cheers, more motorcycles, then nothing for a while. By this point I could see where the vehicles were approaching from and got my Canon Powershot ready and focused.
Finally, there, off to my right at 300 meters I saw the white frame of the Pope mobile. I hate that name, but that’s what it’s called.
A second later most of the crowd saw him too, and wild cheering erupted. It’s official; pope Francis is bigger than the Beatles.
I got my camera up and ready, as did everyone else in the crowd. I didn’t even look, I held the camera up as far as I could and pointed and shot. In Vietnam they would have called that pray and spray, when you held up an M-16 and fired without looking. I was praying, but at a certain point I thought, I’ll never see the Pope if I just concentrate on trying to get a picture. So I put my camera down long enough to get a glimpse of this amazing man who has touched so many lives with his words and generous smile. I got my glimpse and he was gone around a bend. The crowd immediately started to dissipate. We headed for the nearest exit, and soon found ourselves on a strangely deserted 69th Street, where we ran into my friend Sharyn who was walking her dog. We said hi and I promised to email her a picture of the Pope if I got any decent ones.
We were both hungry and we found a nice Chinese restaurant on Columbus where the whole staff were standing in front of the empty restaurant staring at the empty street. We sat outside and in minutes the street was filled with thousands of people from the event. A lot were from out of town and they wandered around looking for the subway. There were more t-shirt guys who’d suddenly dropped the price of the shirts to $10 from $20.
We ordered soups and watched the crowd, and my heart felt full, like I’d done something special. And I had done something special, I proved to myself that I can change and hope for change in the world, rather than just say, “fuck it.”
Pope Francis, I will pray for you, because you made me smile.