PHILADELPHIA – Fresh off our 10 p.m. "live" reports from the Pope's Mass at Madison Square Garden, I grabbed my overnight bag and descended the stairs into Penn Station.
The 11:05 p.m. Amtrak train to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. was on time and smooth riding.
The 30th Street Station in Philly was shiny and clean – and almost empty at 12:20 a.m.
This would be a primary destination point this weekend for nearly two million visitors and media streaming into the City of Brotherly Love – to feel and hear the message of Francis, often called the People's Pope. His much-anticipated speech Saturday will be made at Independence Hall, where our nation was born, and the Holy Father will be using a lectern utilized by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, when he delivered the Gettysburg Address.
My 82-year old, Irish-born mother, Mary, had joined me for the trip, planning to watch the papal coverage from the hotel. She had never been to Philadelphia. Like millions of others, she is intrigued and inspired by the 78-year old pontiff from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
We immediately knew we were in for a challenge. Two National Guardsmen stood at the top of the escalator and informed us the taxis had stopped running. We looked down Market Street and saw the beautiful facade of Philadelphia City Hall about a mile away.
A police officer said we'd have to walk to get there, and our hotel was even farther away. It's a good thing our bags had wheelies. I didn't mind the exercise, but I worried a little about my mother.
Mom was a trooper, and we marveled at all the concrete barricades and the streets devoid of cars or trucks or any traffic at all. We noticed state troopers and officers on every corner, along with blocks and blocks of metal barriers, with brown fencing behind them--similar to what we found on Fifth Avenue in New York.
But the evidence of intense security that seemed to exceed what I'd seen outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York came a block from Philadelphia City Hall.
A big contingent of Secret Service and TSA agents directed us to a large area of magnetometers with tables. Our bags were searched, and then we were screened and scanned. Even the heels of my sneakers were scanned! Concrete barriers were forming a huge protection zone in the City Hall district. It is a stunning area, visually, but I couldn't help but wonder how different our world is now.
One hour and ten minutes after our arrival at 30th Street Station, we found the hotel.
This morning, our PIX11 photographer, Eddie Lebron, and I met in the lobby, for the long process of getting our equipment screened by Secret Service. We got on a press bus at 1 p.m. and were sitting on Market Street for 30 minutes.
We can't move anytime the papal convoy moves. We are moving now, and we're hopeful we will get to our position at Independence Hall, long before the Holy Father arrives to make one of the defining speeches of his trip to the United States.