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In a couple of weeks, Pope Francis will be visiting Philadelphia, and the associated security precautions are basically shutting down the city and the region around it.

Major area roads and bridges will be closed, and a "traffic box" will exclude all incoming vehicles in the central part of the city, with on-street parking banned for up to a week in advance. Most regional rail stations will be closed, and "ONLY customers traveling with either a Special One Day Regional Rail Pass or Special One Day Regional Rail Reduced Fare Pass, with the name of the station stamped on the back, will be eligible to travel" from those stations that are open. Many subway and trolley stations will be closed, and because these will include all of the stations in the central city area, transfer between the major east-west and north-south lines will be impossible.

The warnings have been so draconian that most of the special transit passes are still unsold, and a significant fraction of center-city hotel rooms are still unbooked.


I live on the southwestern edge of the "Dead Zone, Mostly Zombies" region, just inside the "Hot Lava Zone" boundary.

The linguistic angle? All the obvious blend recipes have been re-used. It's the Pope-pocalypse! Pope-mageddon! Pope-nado! Pope-zilla is coming! Hurricane Francis! Nightmare on Pope Street! This whole enterprise suggests to me that the Security Theatre era has reached the Grand Guignol stage.

My favorite Pope-visit spin-off is non-linguistic, though — the Pope Toaster. You can add this to the your collection of graphical toasting products, including the Selfie Toaster and the Grilled Cheesus Sandwich Press.


  1. Victor Mair said,

    September 13, 2015 @ 7:27 am

    The whole thing is so surreal.

    On August 6, I sent the note below to my family and friends, one of whom wrote back as follows:


    I read somewhere that pregnant women due around that time are worried about how they will get to the hospital, given the closed streets and bridges. Have the city FATHERS figured out a solution to that problem yet?


    I replied:


    POPE means "father". We need more women involved….


    The warnings are on all of my favorite radio stations. When I heard a few days ago that, not only were bridges leading into the city closed to vehicular traffic, but that people would not even be allowed to ride bicycles across the bridges (they will have to get off and walk them across), I decided then and there that I would stay completely out of the exclusion zone starting the day before and ending the day after the pope is in Philadelphia. I will simply hide out for three or four days in Swarthmore, thirteen miles west of the city.

    I have one question: does something similar happen in all cities where The Holy Father visits?

    Which leads me to a final, distinctly linguistic matter: how to refer to His Holiness.

    "What the President said to 'His Holy Father'" (6/9/07)



    For about a year now, the city of Philadelphia has been immersed in a rising crescendo of Popemania. The entire population of Philadelphia amounts to no more than 1.553 million (small by Chinese standards), but when Pope Francis comes to our city in the latter part of September, 2 million additional people are expected to flood in to see him.

    The city fathers have been trying to figure out how to deal with so many people on the streets. They are taking all sorts of extraordinary measures, including blocking off many streets and bridges, carefully controlling public transportation, preparing for public toilets and garbage removal, etc.

    You can see from the announcement below what sort of atmosphere has been gripping the city for the last few months, and it's getting more and more tense as his arrival approaches.


    A Message to the Penn Community
    Vincent Price, Provost
    Craig Carnaroli, Executive Vice President

    Penn To Suspend Normal Operations
    On Friday, September 25, 2015

    Due to anticipated logistical and transportation issues related to the historic visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia, the University will suspend normal operations on Friday, September 25. As a result, classes and University-sponsored events are cancelled on this date.

    Designated essential personnel — including offices such as but not limited to Public Safety, Dining Services, and Facilities that provide essential services, University emergency personnel, and those responsible for the health and safety of students and lab animals — will be required to report to work and should consult with their supervisors about accommodations and scheduling. Other staff members, faculty members, and students should treat the day under the same protocols as a weather-related suspension of operations. Penn Medicine staff should consult with their supervisors about work schedules.

    With as many as 2 million people expected to attend the weekend’s events in Philadelphia, faculty and staff could notice some transportation delays beginning earlier that week. Road closures around Center City and in the West Philadelphia area could begin as early as Thursday night after rush hour. We urge all faculty and staff to pay close attention to traffic and transportation plans that will soon be finalized by the City and SEPTA. The University will share the final plans as they become available.

    Our priority is to ensure that our students, faculty, and staff remain safe and that patients at our hospitals continue to receive world-class care. We know that the weekend of the Pope’s visit will create some inconveniences and challenges for members of the Penn community, and we appreciate everyone’s patience as the University works with the City in accommodating visitors during this very special event.


  2. Bathrobe said,

    September 13, 2015 @ 7:56 am

    And I thought China was crazy for all the precautions it takes to ensure that major events in Beijing come off successfully (shutting down factories, restricting traffic at least a week beforehand, etc.)!

    There is, of course, a linguistic angle. The Chinese came up with neologisms for the sudden appearance of blue skies at the time of major events. The recent military parade resulted in 阅兵蓝 yuèbīng lán or 'inspection blue'. Prior to that there was APEC蓝 'APEC lán' or 'APEC blue' in November 2014, and of course, 奥林匹克蓝 Aòlínpǐkè lán 'Olympic blue' back in 2008.

  3. Jacob said,

    September 13, 2015 @ 8:08 am

    "All the obvious blend recipes have been re-used."

    It's a Pope-ourri!

  4. Sili said,

    September 13, 2015 @ 8:58 am

    It's a Papa-palooza!

  5. D.O. said,

    September 13, 2015 @ 9:29 am

    Of course, there is a long and distinguished tradition to consider the popes (and any prominent figure at all) Antichrist. So if someone is planning to fight Francis during his visit to Philly you might have a real apocalypse.

  6. Jeffrey Kallberg said,

    September 13, 2015 @ 12:44 pm

    My local pizza place-of-choice, out in Wynnewood (not far from where the Pope will be sleeping during his Philadelphia stay) has, for the month of September, rebranded itself from "Poppi's" to "Pope Pies."

  7. Y said,

    September 13, 2015 @ 12:56 pm


  8. Rebecca said,

    September 13, 2015 @ 2:29 pm

    And he's been added to the mural of Dirty Franks:


    [(myl) Sweet. I lived right around the corner from Dirty Franks for a couple of years in the early 90's. Before the mural, though.]

  9. Rubrick said,

    September 13, 2015 @ 2:42 pm

    But isn't the pope supposed to be indestructible?

    No, wait, hang on, that's "infallible". Never mind.

  10. Elika said,

    September 13, 2015 @ 4:00 pm

    i think this is a good angle: playing in Philly's other religious obsession: the Phillies Baseball team (that's Phillies font used below):

  11. flow said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 12:12 pm

    A few years ago, when pope Benedict visited this city (Berlin), preparations included the welding of gully (manhole) covers in the streets, and an admonition to everyone living in the immediate vicinity of the papal accommodations to leave windows shut and, OMG, to refrain from standing next to their windows when the papal motorcade would be due. Of course, they had to show their IDs in order to reach their houses. This did remind some of the ways things used to be handled in East Germany.

  12. arthur said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 12:56 pm

    My Center City Philadelphia office is closing on Wednesday, September 23 for Yom Kippur, as we do every year, and again on Friday, September 25, for Pope-pocalypse. Unsurprisingly many people are taking a vacation day on Thursday, September 24. Suggestions to name the holiday falling between between the Jewish and the Catholic Days of Awe are welcome.

  13. J. W. Brewer said,

    September 14, 2015 @ 2:12 pm

    Aren't almost all of the obvious/classic/cliche places to take celebrity tourists for a really quote authentic cheesesteak outside the hot lava zone? How's that going to work?

    [(myl) Pedestrians will be allowed to cross the Hot Lava Zone in either direction. So if the weather's OK, and the celebrities don't mind walking, that would be a solution. Bicycles are also allowed, as I understand it. I'm not sure about wheelchairs, much less pedicabs and palanquins.]

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