Column: How I almost saw the pope in New York City


A couple weeks ago I was on vacation, and like most vacations I didn’t really go into it with a game plan. Several years back I even stopped scheduling my own vacations and now just ask my executive editor to do it for me. It’s very stress-free.
So when the Thursday of my recent vacation week came and I hadn’t done much with the Monday, the Tuesday or the Wednesday, I decided to make better use of my time off.

I took a train into the city, rented a bicycle and rode it around Central Park. A few years ago, I threw my own bike in my car and tried to pedal across the Brooklyn Bridge but couldn’t find anywhere to park. So I just went home without ever taking it out of the car.

The bike-rental strategy was looking much better, since there are several companies to rent from in the city.

I took the subway to 42nd Street and walked to Central Park, where two guys who I couldn’t understand were waiting to rent me a bicycle.

The actual bikes were a few blocks away, nowhere near Central Park, but I needed the exercise.

And just like that, I had a bike.

Riding a bike in New York City traffic is actually fun. Bikes move just as fast as cars, and there’s always the chance you might die, so it’s exciting, too.

I still don’t know how, but I ended up on something called the 65th Street Transverse, which is an actual street that goes through the middle of the park, with bridges overhead that are long and dark, and cars and buses that go past at full speed while you’re under those bridges.

I emerged on Fifth Avenue, where there were a bunch of barricades and a lot of cops. I asked one of them if it was OK to ride my bike down there.

“Until it closes,” he said.

“Why is it closing?” I asked.

The pope,” he said.

“I thought that was tomorrow,” I responded.

I’m supposed to be a well-informed reporter, but it was my week off and I can only really stay informed about Riverhead stuff anyway. Plus, I had just seen Pope Francis on television that morning and he was in Washington, D.C. How fast does this guy move?

So I biked down Fifth Avenue and found my way into Central Park, which I rode around in its entirety.

All the while, I saw fences stacked along the side of the road and signs mentioning a “ticketed event” in the park.

Clearly the pope was up to something and I was the only one who didn’t know about it. So when I finished riding around the park, I decided to try to figure out what that was.

A cop near Fifth Avenue told me the pope would be coming through that way, but that’s all he said.

I tried to see if I could find the pope’s schedule online but the Internet wasn’t working on my cellphone. So I texted my brother to see if he could look it up and then text me back the information.

I then noticed the text hadn’t sent yet. But as I began typing a second one, the pope quickly passed me.

I tried to put my cellphone’s video camera on when I heard people cheering, but the pope was already gone.

I never saw him. And he isn’t scheduled to come back for a long time.

The moral of the story? Make actual plans for vacation.

The author covers government and politics for Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected]

Photo credit: flickr, Michael Swan