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

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