If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that clusters of tourists are terrible. They get in the way when you want to take a photo, they block your thoroughfare through the streets and sidewalks, and all too often they seem obsessed with capturing the moment on a phone, camera or iPad instead of actually experiencing the moment for themselves. Every now and then I see something that epitomises this horror, and on this trip it happened in Philadelphia.
I had made my way down Benjamin Franklin Parkway taking in the beautiful views of the trees in the park and the Greek Revival architecture of the nearby buildings. The walk took me finally to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which you may know for its stone steps that featured in the Rocky films. Sitting at the west end of the Parkway, it was a majestic sight to behold. I felt instantly drawn to it, and evidently I wasn’t the only one: it was the first place I’d been since New York that was surrounded by a quagmire of tourists. The place was, as some of my European friends might say, very “touristic”.
As I approached the building I surveyed the scene. I noticed immediately that something wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t that I didn’t see a single person actually go into the art museum, though that was disheartening. It wasn’t that everyone was hyper-focused on the steps to the point that hardly any of them bothered to take photos of the surrounds, with the great views of the city skyline and the park. No, I think you can guess where this is going…
Yes, everyone was far too busy to do anything but get photos of themselves doing the Rocky pose.
But here’s where it gets sad. A disturbing number of people were doing the pose at the bottom of the stairs. Not halfway up. Not a few steps up. The bottom. These were people whose only interest in seeing the building was because of an iconic movie scene. All they cared about was getting a photo of themselves doing the pose, and they couldn’t even be bothered going up to the top of the stairs to do it.
To think of everything that scene in the film stands for, for the ordinary guy to push his physical limits and achieve his goals, contrasted with bloated middle-aged tourists posing at the foot of stairs they would never climb; the irony was too much for me.
But perhaps I’m being too harsh. A handful of tourists actually did bother to walk up the stairs. I watched them lumbering up the steps, their brows sweaty despite the cold, their breathing laboured. The effort proved too much for some, who decided to get their photo at the halfway point. But a few managed to make it all the way, and I watched them get down on their haunches struggling to breathe before they could recover for their “triumphant” pose.
Look, I know most of these tourists weren’t young people, and a fair number of them were overweight. But you know, we’re only talking about 72 steps here. You can walk it. If you really care about recreating that iconic shot, I figure the least you can do is do it in the right place.
I should admit that I actually haven’t seen any of the Rocky films. Even if I had, I don’t go in for those photo-posing shenanigans, but I felt I had to do something. I had to bring some decency and decorum back into the world.
So I honoured the occasion by doing what no-one else there was prepared to do: actually running up the damn steps.
Who’d a thunk?