Away from pageantry of pope's visit, everyday life goes on

Dozens of yoga practitioners gather at the Race Street Pier in Philadelphia, Pa., on Sept. 26, 2015. The Saturday morning meeting has been seasonally active for four years. (ED NEWTON/ For the Inquirer) <br /><br />
Dozens of yoga practitioners gather at the Race Street Pier in Philadelphia, Pa., on Sept. 26, 2015. The Saturday morning meeting has been seasonally active for four years. (ED NEWTON/ For the Inquirer)

Carol Smythe and the Friends of Fishtown at Palmer Park have been cleaning the park every Saturday morning for the past 20 years. Smythe, heaving an armful of bottles into a recycling bin, said she wasn't about to shake up her routine just because the pope's in town.

For her, it's a normal weekend.

Except, she said, "The neighborhood is quiet - creepy quiet."

That was the case across much of Philadelphia beyond the secure perimeter established for Pope Francis' visit. With the exception of large groups of pilgrims passing through, the city was calm. Businesses opened, though customers were scarce. And people found ways to entertain themselves, taking advantage of open streets and unprecedented downtime.

On Race Street Pier, yogis still started their day with sun salutations, though Malik Wilson found himself teaching about 20 students instead of his normal 200.

At Spruce Street Harbor Park, people still lingered in hammocks, though crowds were thin for the last weekend of the summer.

In the Italian Market, vendors still stacked their fruit and vegetables for sale, though many tables were empty and others were given over to vendors selling t-shirts and Vatican flags.

Wearing an apron, Sonny D'Angelo, 66, stood outside his butcher shop, D'Angelo Brothers, waiting for customers. Business was slow, he said, though earlier in the week he'd sold lots of salami and prosciutto to tourists from places like Kansas and Oklahoma.

He'd won tickets to the Mass, but donated them to his church.

"I don't like being in crowds. And I have a better view from my store," he said, gesturing across the street to a large screen set up to show footage of the pope's appearance.

Center City streets, closed to cars by way of Jersey barriers, were filled with pedestrians and cyclists - plus the occasional ice cream truck - all gleefully ignoring traffic lights, stop signs and one-way streets, despite a heavy police and National Guard presence.

Into that chaos, by mid-morning, poured hundreds of cyclists for a "Pope Ride" organized on Facebook.

As well, about 50 families showed up for a 4-mile Kidical Mass family bike ride.

"We wanted to enjoy the lack of traffic and distracted drivers," said Marni Duffy, 32, of Kensington, who was biking with three children.

Businesses opened, for better or worse.

At Ontario Street Comics in Port Richmond, the annual Batman Day drew dozens of fans like Marilyn Velez, 43 of Juniata Park, and daughter Alicia, whose sweet 16 party this year featured a three-tier, Batman-themed cake.

They posed with costumed characters, both professional and amateur, like Erika Sweeney, 33, of Bridesburg, a regular at the store who was dressed up as "Penny Guin, the Penguin's long-lost sister."

Bill Fink, who owns the store, said it was his best turnout yet.

But promotions were of little help to restaurants, which faced low turnout in many corners of the city.

Green Eggs Cafe, a popular brunch spot in Northern Liberties, was about two-thirds full Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

"We would normally have an hour-and-a-half wait by now," manager Gabrielle Alberto said.

Near Rittenhouse Square, crowds were thick in the streets but restaurants were quiet.

Charlotte Calmels, co-owner of Le Cheri at the Art Alliance, was outside by a table selling sandwiches to passersby - mostly journalists and locals.

"It's been a disaster for business. We should get a pope tax break!" she said. "I'm not even at 20 percent of my revenue for the week. That's why we're out here. if we can get $50, we'll take it. I have to process payroll next week."

Just then, a World Meeting of Families attendee walked by wearing a clear backpack - she pointed out that it was full of snacks.

Still, those who had the day off were enjoying the singular nature of the weekend - and getting creative with it.

A knitting group asked the Delaware River Port Authority if it could knit on the Ben Franklin Bridge since it was closed to cars.

They were told they could not.

Instead, they met on the waterfront nearby. Vicki Hirsch, 53, a nanny from South Philadelphia, yarn-bombed a railing on the Race Street Pier - though she emphasized, given the security presence, that it was all yarn and no bomb.

Many others stayed as far from the crowds as they could.

Susan Gish, 55 and her husband Sam, 67, of Northern Liberties used the time stuck at home to clean house and hold a sidewalk sale, offering a grill, a bicycle and a set of china labeled "Made in Occupied Japan."

Instead of metal barricades, a moonbounce blocked Durham Street in West Mount Airy, part of the annual fall block party.

Julie Horwitz, 41, an art teacher, made the invitation, which this year featured a photo of the pope. She figured with the rest of the city paralyzed, it was a good weekend to catch up with her neighbors.

"We're all stuck," she said. "And most people who said they were going to flee town ended up not fleeing, so we're all here."

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