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Around 4:45 yesterday afernoon on Mass Ave, at the blockade across the street from the Naval Observatory, the massive crowd is on the south side of the street, but there are five or six people on the north side who can’t go anywhere (says the police) until the Pope’s come and gone. Meanwhile, there is a cavalcade of motorcycles hanging around by the blockade, not going anywhere.
One woman, wearing a bright (bright!) yellow sweater, a green Lilly Pulitzer skirt, and black patent leather flats, is there with her son, who is carrying a Vatican flag. The woman holds a handwritten sign: Danti Auguri Papa. She says it means “Happy Birthday Pope.” She also says she and her son have been waiting, at thisgate, since 3 p.m. “My brother’s a priest,” she says. The blond teacher standing nearby says she just
turned up a few minutes ago because she felt like she should; she teaches at a Catholic school and lives just up the street, for Pete’s sake, plus she saw John Paul II in 1979, so she sort of has to come watch the Pope now.
A man in a brown shirt, with a tan woman carrying a Dooney & Burke purse, makes fun of the people across the street, since this side of the street is so clearly superior. “They’re not from Washington,” he says. “Are you from Washington?”
Around five more people start to turn up, blocked by the fence and the police. Most of these people have baby carriages or briefcases. They live nearby and somehow failed to properly time their commute, like the woman in the striped skirt with the black heels and the posh British accent, who, frustrated that she can’t get home, starts to shout at the police, “I have a plane to catch!”
The blond teacher smirks, says that everyone on this street’s been warned that the street would be closed. “I don’t feel sorry for her,” she says.
“Another reason this spot is good?” says the man in the brown shirt. “It’s the narrower point of the road.”
Someone suggests to the woman in the striped skirt that she hike past the barricade in the woods if she’s in such a hurry. “In these shoes?” she says.
At around a quarter past five, a helicopter flies overhead, then the procession starts, and the woman in the yellow sweater holds out her happy birthday sign and everyone else pulls out a camera. First come the motorcycles, then the police, then a limo—flying a Vatican flag. You can just catch a glimpse of a bald-ish man in a white robe through the back window. Then it’s the rest of the cars, the buses, the ambulance, and it’s done. Seconds later, the fence is down and everyone is gone. The woman in the yellow sweater, walking up toward Georgetown, seems happy. The pope, she thinks, saw her sign.