Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Shaken, Not Stirred, but Boston Strong

It's now just over a week since the Marathon bombings rocked Copley Square and shook our world.  It's a very different place we live in just seven some odd days later.

In the aftermath of the explosions, the City of Boston, its residents and the local community banded together like never before. We came together in support of our city, our way of life, our family, our friends, our first responders, our emergency services, our doctors and those directly and indirectly affected by this tragedy.

And out of it emerged the concept of Boston Strong.

It wasn't a exactly a new ethos, it was always there.

Sure, we have a well deserved reputation of keeping to ourselves. We don't look at people in the eye when we pass by them on the street. We don't come off as the friendliest of people to strangers. We drive like jerks. We get vengeful for perceived slights against us. You want nice? Go somewhere else.

But we are fiercely loyal to our friends. We can give them crap and they can give it right back. But if you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us. We've got your back. We rally around a cause like no other.

And last Monday, someone messed with us. Big time.

They hit us in one of our softest spots - on the one day that we hold nearest and dearest to our hearts around here, a day that we consider so special because no one else has anything that comes close to it.  It's ours and only ours, yet we are more than willing to let so many others, people from all walks of life in fact, take part in and enjoy as we open our city to the world.

The Boston Marathon is the oldest and preeminent Marathon in the world. The best runners on the planet take part of it.  It is the mecca for long distance running.  But for the enormity of the event, it is still particularly a local undertaking.

It is a day full of tradition - the reenactment on Lexington Green in the early hours of the morning, the only morning game in Major League Baseball, the hordes of people crowding the 26.2 mile course cheering on friends, family and complete strangers, the runners raising inordinate amounts of money for charity, Rick and Dick Hoyt showing the perseverance of the human spirit, exhausted runners being cheered on to continue by the support of spectators, Heartbreak Hill, the screaming masses at Wellesley College. And sometimes, if we're lucky, we even get a Bruins game as a nightcap.

It's a scene that has been repeated for 116 times previously, in various permutations.  But the traditions have remained the same pretty much throughout the years.

Until Monday, April 15, 2013.

We all know what happened around 2:50 on that fateful day. I, along with a group of dear friends witnessed it nearly firsthand, being just over a block away from where it all took place.

My first reaction was to get away from the area as fast as possible, thinking about my four year old son.

My friend Brian (on the left), a Boston EMT, in action
(Getty Images)
But so many others, including EMTs, police, firemen, doctors, spectators and even runners sprinted into the fray and helped save countless numbers of injured people. I am amazed at the bravery of all of these people. I wonder what I would have done had I been on Boylston Street at the time of the attacks. I wonder if I saw the aftermath firsthand and whether or not I would have run into the action or away from it.  And I'm not sure.  But what I know is that I am eternally grateful for the people who helped out in any way.

I salute you all.

In the following days, we were glued to our TVs as we learned what truly happened. But we knew that this was a task best handled by our officials - the Mayor, the State Police, Boston Police, the FBI and assorted other authorities.

We give our authorities crap all the time - the nepotism, the bureaucratic red tape, the cops and donuts jokes. But we all know full well that in a time of need they will have our support and we know they are capable of protecting us while ensuring justice is served.

So we waited as they did their job. They asked people to send in any information that we might have - photos of the crime scene, tips, you name it. And we did. They identified the possible suspects and asked us to help name them. And we tried.

The Bruins played a game on Wednesday and it was our chance to publicly display our solidarity.  That we were Boston Strong. That we had each others' backs.We rocked the house with the Star Spangled Banner. It was a big middle finger to those who wished to scare us, to shatter our way of life, to bully us.

We would have none of it. We got knocked down.  But we dusted ourselves off and got back up.  We were ready to punch back.

Now, to be completely honest, I was scared.  I didn't want to show it outwardly because I didn't want the terrorists to know it. I felt completely safe going to the game at the Garden that night even though the suspects hadn't been caught because the Tip O'Neill Federal Building was right next door and was under complete lockdown.  And with the Garden just feet away with a major transportation hub on the ground floor, I knew that the building was going to be secure.

But parking in the Government Center Garage and walking down Canal Street I felt exposed.  Unlike that parking garage under the Garden, there were no security sweeps when I parked. There were covered recycling bins and bags of trash laid out on the sidewalks that didn't look safe.  There weren't cops and national guardsmen patrolling the street. I literally walked down the center of Canal Street and not on the sidewalks. I'm fairly neurotic to begin with, but this just made me straight out paranoid. But all the while, I didn't think I was without cause.

I was glued to the the TV. I felt a direct connection to what was going on, between being near the scene on Monday and the fact that this was the city I love so much.  From the time when I was in elementary school and made field trips to the museums and Columbus Park, to the times I was in summer camp and saved my money just to spend it at the candy store in Quincy Market, to my first Red Sox game at Fenway in 1985, my first Celtics game at the Garden in 1986, birthday dinners at Joe Tecce's and cannoli at Mike's in the North End, weddings at the Hampshire House above Cheers, god knows how many Bruins games, ransacking the old Garden in its final days after driving home overnight from college, taking the T here, there and everywhere, and proposing to my wife on the bridge overlooking the swan boats in the public garden.

I may live in the suburbs, but Boston is my city.

And I love it like no other.

When the manhunt was scaled down on Friday night, I initially felt sad.  I had stayed up through the night on Thursday into the wee hours of Friday morning following the action on TV while exchanging tweets with my friends and listening to the police scanner.  I knew the areas where the events were taking place - at MIT next to the Stata Center, a building around the corner from my wife's old workplace where I used to park on my way into Fenway. The gas stations on Memorial Drive where I've been stuck in traffic so many times on my way to Lechmere. Places all over Watertown including the Arsenal Mall where I've gone solely to see the old Boston Garden scoreboard, Arsenal Court where I've had many CAD training classes and Arsenal Square where I've had some great Greek meals. And I had a friend who lived about a half mile away from the action, concerned for her safety.

What I watched shocked and frightened me. So many people, officers and civilians were in harms way. Word of bombs being tossed and firefights ensuing. This could not be happening. We got word that an MIT policeman had been shot and killed (RIP, officer Collier) and that an MBTA policeman had been struck but was alive (get well soon, office Donahue). It was surreal. And we heard that one of the two suspects had been taken into custody, which buoyed our spirits somewhat, even though he died at the hospital.  One less threat was out there now.  But there was still one more guy on the loose.

The "Shelter in Place" order, 495 North, Friday afternoon
I had passed out around 4:00 Friday morning, my iPad in my lap.  When I woke up around 6:30, I had slept through my alarm. I threw on the TV immediately to find out what had transpired in the time I was away and my jaw dropped.  The city was shut down. We learned what a "Shelter in Place"  order meant. So many of my friends in the affected areas were stuck in their houses and couldn't move. The T wasn't running. No cabs. It was unlike anything we've ever seen.

The cops had cordoned off an area in Watertown where they believed the suspect was hiding. But there was no new news coming out. Everything was static. And then we had the news conference in the evening.  The cops were pulling back a bit. Things were secure, but the manhunt was being scaled back.

Initially, it was not a good feeling. It felt like we were losing.

But I thought to myself - wait, are they trying to make it look like they are letting their guard down and see if he makes a move?

A toast in memory of the fallen
and in honor of all those who helped out
And an hour later, we found out. He was cornered in a boat in a yard on a street just outside the secured perimeter. At this point, my spirits rose.  I sensed a conclusion to this ordeal and that the cops were on top of this.  We were safe. I was tweeting with a bunch of friends and we all felt the same way.  We started letting off some steam. It was the toughest week of our lives and we started to let go of all our pent up frustration, stress and anger. We made jokes. We used bad puns about the boat. We might have even laughed.

And then it was over.  The suspect was in police custody. And he was alive.  Sure, the legal fallout was to follow, but the worst of it was over.

And it was time to celebrate.  I popped open a bottle of champagne, offering up a toast in memory of the four we lost and the many who were injured and honored all those who fought courageously and selflessly helped out in our greatest time of need.  The TV broadcasts showed the cops smiling, exhausted but satisfied with their work.  The press conference with all the officials who helped bring a conclusion to this madness. The swarms of students and young people on the common waving flags and celebrating.

We made it through our collective strength and resolve.

We were Boston Strong. We are Boston Strong.

Saturday morning on the Southeast Expressway

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Get Right Back to Where We Belong

"Ooo and it's alright and it's comin' 'long
We got to get right back to where we started from
Love is good, love can be strong
We got to get right back to where we started from"

--Maxine Nightingale

I woke up yesterday morning and literally the first thing I did was grab my phone and post the following tweet: 

The first sporting event to be held in Boston after the Patriot's Day bombing tragedy was being played at the TD Bank Garden later that night and I was hellbent on being there.  The terrorist(s) thought they might break our collective soul, but I for one was not going to let that happen.  No local team epitomizes our region's "knock us down, get back up" spirit moreso than the Boston Bruins. I wanted to play my part in it. It wasn't defiance, it was solidarity.  It was a compulsion to positively deny the bombers any sense of accomplishment or satisfaction.

You want to change us? Not going to happen.

I was close enough to the bombings on Monday that I was physically and mentally shaken by them.  This was my way of dusting myself up and getting back in the ring.

All throughout the day it kept occurring to me that this was not a national tragedy as much as it was a local one. Whereas the attacks on 9/11 were meant as an assault on the United States, its citizens and what it and we stood for, the events on Monday seemed to be a direct attack on what we, as Bostonians, treasure.  It was a day borne out the literal founding of our nation on our home turf and developed into a celebration of our city, its traditions, its institutions and it just so happened that we also invited the world to town to enjoy it with us.

This is the one day of the year that is unique to us.  When you live here, whether you are native or not, you just get it.

And the cowards who set off the bombs on Boylston Street tried to take it from us.

Not going to happen.

At the same time, I felt a strange juxtaposition. In 2001, I was in attendance at the first major international sporting event held in the US post 9/11, a World Cup qualifier between the US Men's National Soccer Team and their counterparts from Jamaica at the old Foxboro Stadium.  I remember vividly the sense of nervousness that hovered over all of us that day.  Yet we showed up en masse with a purpose, a bold sense of defiance in the face of terrorism as we rooted for the team representing our country and with it our ideals and way of life.  There were many highlights to be had that day, but one of the most notable was the way that the entire stadium, a crowd of 40,000 plus, stood together and belted out the loudest rendition of the Star Spangled Banner that I had ever heard.  It wasn't just loud though, it was the collective will of the crowd, our solidarity to the cause that made it so special.

And so I made my way into town after work as I've done hundreds and hundreds of times before. The long crawl on the Pike eastbound. The sun in my eyes as I exited the Tip O'Neill tunnel at Government Center. The T busses creating a bottleneck outside of Haymarket Station. The winding ascension to the upper levels of the Government Center Parking Garage.  The pregame meal and beverages with friends at the Fours.

It was all routine. But in a way, it wasn't at all.

There was the lane closure at the Pru tunnel due in part to the crime scene in Copley Square.  A heightened security presence on Causeway Street. The Garden opening its doors 30 minutes early to expedite the process of getting patrons into the building with security screenings. Guards with automatic weapons in front of the O'Neill federal building. Bag searches in the North Station concourses.

Like it or not, it was a new world we were living in.

Despite my fears, getting into the Garden and past security was very easy, seemingly faster than the last time the Garden had similar security measures in place post 9/11.  There was a definite buzz in the arena, but it was not a crazed excitement like the one I see before playoff games. It was a bit more subdued.

And so the seats filled up and we were treated to a fantastic video montage and tribute to those we lost, those who were injured and all those who helped respond in some fashion to the tragic events on Monday.  It was simple and poignant, in keeping with the high standards we've been accustomed to from the Bruins.

And then it was time for the national anthem.

It was known that longtime local legend Rene Rancourt would perform the Star Spangled Banner with the Boston Fire Department serving as the color guard next to him.  But no one could possibly ever imagine the awesomeness of what happened next :

It was completely and utterly organic. 17,565 people singing in unison.  United in the cause.

As amazing as it was to be part of it, I actually think the video does it more justice.

But at the same time, I did not feel the wave of nationalistic pride like I did back on October 7, 2001.  Rather, I think the anthem was a more of a conduit, a way of channeling our collective togetherness for our localized cause.  We were here for Boston, but the Star Spangled Banner was our way of showing it.

Sure, there were American flags all over the arena, but no more so that you would expect to see at a game against the Montreal Canadiens.

And then then it was time to drop the puck. Garden organist Ron Poster played his rendition of "For Boston", the Boston College fight song, for obvious reasons.  But his next selection was "The Spirit of Radio" by Rush, something he plays on a regular basis. And then it occurred to me:

We were back to normal.

Sure, there was the crowd doing a "We are Boston!" chant a number of times, a number of "Boston Strong signs dotting the seats, One Fund Boston ads on the corner boards, an incredible 8-Spoked Salute featuring 80 first responders from a number of different police, fire, EMS and military units, a celebration of all the marathon runners and spectators in the crowd and a stick salute by both teams at the end of the game, but as I said to my friend Garrett, if you walked in to the game 10 minutes late, you'd have a hard time knowing that Monday ever happened.

And I mean that in nothing but the most positive way.

After all, this game, this team and this crowd were all tasked with the job of getting the city and its people back on their feet and moving forward in the aftermath of the marathon tragedy. And to their credit, they wasted little time in doing so.  

Hell, the Bruins' power play was 0 for 2 and they blew a third period lead.  If that wasn't a sign that things weren't back to where they were before Monday, nothing was.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Sprint from A Marathon

Obviously, my blog is my attempt at a comedic look at my hockey adventures and uniform geekery.

But today I must veer away from that.

Based on the events of yesterday, I wanted to record what I, my wife and some of  my dear friends experienced firsthand as we made our way across town after the Red Sox game ended. I have no idea why I want a permanent record of it, I just feel compelled to do it for some reason. Maybe it's cathartic. Maybe it's therapeutic. I just don't know.

So after the Sox game our group made our way out of the bleachers (section 39) and out gate C onto Lansdowne Street. Obviously, it was a sea of humanity, with the street full of people and lines queued up with throngs of people trying to get into the adjacent bars for postgame festivities. There was a huge pack of people on motorcycles trying to make their way through the crowds, revving their engines as if it might get people to move out of the way (it didn't).

We made it down Ipswich Street, past the Muddy River and took a right up the embankment to the Charlesgate overpass. We crossed over the Pike and Newbury Street and down the ramp to Comm. Ave where we were able to watch a bit of the marathon as the runners approached the final mile to the finish line.

At this point, life was good. The sun was out. It was warm. The Sox won on a walkoff double by Mike Napoli to win 3-2 and sweep a 3 game series with the Rays. We were taking in the Marathon. And we were making our way back to Canal Street to get to the Fours to pregame before the Bruins-Senators game. In short, it was what Patriot's Day is all about and what it Patriot's Day should be.

We continued down Comm. Ave., along the marathon route, to Mass. Ave. This is the one location where we would be able to cross over the marathon (the route follows an underpass here) and get to the other side of Comm. Ave., allowing us to get to the other side of the city. We were walking up Comm. Ave., getting spread out a bit when we crossed Dartmouth Street. A Boston Fire Department ladder truck was coming down the street when it drove by us.


At first, I thought the fire truck hit a pothole. But it seemed too loud for that.


A second loud blast.

It wasn't the fire truck.  I turned back and saw a small plume of white smoke emanating from somewhere near Copley Square.  Then I saw my wife and Pete running towards Heather and me. Jen said a bomb just went off. I shook my head in disbelief. No fucking way.

Maybe it was a manhole explosion (those tend to happen in Boston, sadly). Maybe it was an electrical transformer explosion (those happen too, sadly).

Whatever the reason, people were running out of Copley Square. My friend Mike had just come from there to meet up with us for the rest of the afternoon. He was safe, thankfully, and now with us.

We all went to our phones.  Cell signals were gone. Too many people jamming the antennas. But my Twitter feed worked. Because so much of the Boston TV and print media were stationed in Copley for the marathon, they were able to provide a continuous stream of information (and a lot of speculation as well).  Reports of two explosions with mass chaos. The marathon was being stopped short of the finish line. A triage center was being set up at the medical tent.

All the while, the sound of sirens permeated the air. Ambulances, police cars, fire trucks. Flashing lights everywhere. It was surreal. And it was real.

I read a tweet saying to watch out for mailboxes as the bombs may have been stashed in some. Knowing our route back to the Garden area involved passing by the State House, City Hall and a couple of Federal buildings, I insisted that we cut through the back of Beacon Hill instead and avoid possible targets.  Internally, I was freaking out. It's hard not to think of 9/11 at a time like that. And there were so many unsecured areas.

Sarah was trying to get in touch with her friend who was running and couldn't get through. Jen was trying to get in touch with her brother who was working across from Fenway. Amy was trying to get in touch with her daughter who left the game early to pick up her in-laws from Logan. Nothing. No signals.

And it was weird.  We had people walking with us who were doing the same thing as us - getting updates via social media. But there were plenty of tourists milling about the Common who had no clue of what just transpired. Marathon runners in their insulated wraps walking back to Copley presumably to pick up their belongings and meet up with friends and family who had no phones on them so they were out of the loop.

It was so very weird.

We got down to Cambridge Street and crossed over by Mass. General Hospital.  Given the number of ambulances out and about helping with the trauma, the area was eerily quiet. The ambulances hadn't arrived yet and people were still milling about.

We crossed through the West End apartment complex and out by the Tip O'Neill Federal Building on Causeway Street where the building was on complete lockdown with guards stationed around the perimeter of the building and security vehicles parked out front.

We made it over to the Fours, still in total shock.  I saw one of the doormen at the Fours and told him something to the effect of  "normally I'd get in here and start pregaming, but right now I'm getting the fuck out of Dodge".  People in Bruins gear were starting to make their way into the bars, but I had a hard time believing the Bruins would have a game that night.  How could they secure the building? And more importantly, how could they ever justify diverting public emergency services and resources away from Copley Square at a time like this. No way was that game getting played.  Just then, Tyler Seguin drove by in his Maserati, presumably on his way to the Garden parking lot.

Mike and Sarah were headed back west of the city, but with the Green line shut down, they had nowhere to go. So they bunkered down at the Fours for a while.  Stacie needed to get back to Woburn (she had come into town on the commuter rail), so Jen and I offered her a ride.  Amy needed to get back to Quincy, so Heather and Pete gave her a ride.  And so we all made our separate ways.

In the car, I put on 98.5, my local sports station of choice, knowing full well they'd be offering up news coverage instead.  I was surprised to hear not a simulcast of their AM news station counterpart, but a stream of their TV coverage with Jack Williams.

In one last bit of safety/security/overthinking I decided to avoid the Zakim Bridge and took the Washington Street bridge to Charlestown instead. I just didn't want to put myslef in harms way, as preposterous as that sounds.  Along 93 north we kept seeing state police cars, both marked and unmarked racing south towards the city.

We dropped Stacie off and made our way home.  I climbed into bed with my iPad and iPhone and flipped on the TV to WBZ for continuing coverage.  Jen eventually went out to pick up Dana at daycare.  Thankfully, all of my friends in the city were safe and accounted for. I put up posts of Facebook and Twitter letting everyone know we we safe and sound as well. Well, physically, at least.  Mentally I was all over the place.