Lionarons (at left, obviously) points out the open tourist attractions to a wayward visitor.
On this unseasonably hot October afternoon, John Lionarons was sweating under his knickers and tricorner hat as he pointed out those historical attractions that were not shutdown as part of the federal budget crisis, outside the shuttered Independence Visitors Center (IVC). Just a stone's throw from the equally inaccessible Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, Lionarons could barely finish explaining a visitor's map to one tourist when another perplexed group materialized and attempts, vainly, to enter the IVC.
"By now I'd say it's been a hundred," he says, when I ask him how many people he's helped since he arrived at 10 a.m.
Lionarons, a cheerful man with salt-and-pepper hair and speech laced with anachronisms, works as a historical interpreter for the IVC, playing period folk songs and relating colonial history to tourists. He's been laid off since the shutdown, but showed up anyway with his fiddle and a stack of maps snatched from the center before it closed its doors. He hand-annotated each map to highlight the museums and attractions that are still open. But why?
"I'm a folk musician, and I figured I could stay home and work on my folk pieces, or I could come out here and do some good," he says. "I really love this job."
But Lionarons also believes someone should be trying to mitigate the effects of the shutdown on Philadelphia's tourism economy, which he says have already been "very, very bad". With 9 percent of the city's jobs related to leisure tourism alone according to Pew studies, it's an important part of the local economy.
"People who planned to come here for months, or even a year, only to find the two biggest attractions are closed are obviously disappointed," he says.
Lionarons, who has been working as an interpreter for over a decade, is obviously a casualty of the shutdown himself. He made the point that there are many people like him who were not federal employees, but ended up out of work because their pay depends on federal funding in one way or another.
"I make a good salary here, and I'm not making it today. I'm not a federal employee, but I'm collateral damage," he says.
Of course, there's always a silver lining. Being off the clock and with nary a park ranger in sight, Lionarons was thinking of tossing down his hat, picking up his fiddle and busking, which is normally prohibited. He said he was considering bringing his dulcimer tomorrow, although he wanted to test the waters with a smaller instrument first. He glanced nervously at a Philadelphia Police van parked across the street.
"If I'm rousted, I plan to go to Christ Church with my dulcimer," he adds. "Street musicians have a saying: 'The police are the ultimate critics.' If they like me, they'll leave me alone."
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