I moved to the Boston area in 2011, and that year I watched the marathon on TV from my apartment in Cambridge. Patriots' Day, "Marathon Monday," is a state holiday in Massachusetts which commemorates the Revolutionary War, specifically the battles of Lexington and Concord. It also is the traditional day to run the Boston Marathon. Plus, an 11 a.m. Boston Red Sox baseball game has occurred on this day since 1959 (the idea being that the game will let out in time for the fans to cheer on the last of the marathon runners). In 2011 I couldn't get my bum out of bed in time to get over to the marathon route, and I wanted to watch the Red Sox game as they were playing the Blue Jays and, having recently moved from Toronto, I was still rooting for the Blue Jays to win.
I didn't "get" the marathon until 2012, after I had moved to Brookline. I lived at 1440 Beacon St, near Coolidge Corner, right on the marathon route, just west of mile 24. April 16, 2012, was an unseasonably hot day, with the temperature reaching a high of 88F/31C. Because of the heat, the organizers let athletes defer their entry until 2013. The elite runners were some 5 to 10 minutes off of their best times. The winning men's time in 2011 was 2:03.02, while in 2012 it was 2:12.40. The section where I was watching was staffed with extra medical personnel, extra water, and a misting tent where the athletes could cool off.
|2012: Misting tent near Coolidge Corner so the runners could cool off in|
the 88F degree heat.
What you can't appreciate from watching the marathon on TV is the amount of cheering on the course. It is loud! Some 500,000 people line the 26.2 mile route. Everyone is cheering for everyone else. And the cheering isn't just for the elite runners. In fact, spectators cheer more loudly for the everyday people out running. Athletes will have their name or their home country flag on the front of their jersey, and people will cheer, "Go John from England!" I specifically remember one athlete from South Korea smiling as people were yelling "Go Korea!" And remember, this is between miles 23 and 24. The athletes are suffering. They have about 2 miles left to go and they are unhappy. I saw several spectators jump out into the race to help jog and encourage the last 2 to 2.5 miles with their friends or family.
|2012: Fun people on the marathon course near mile 24|
Lots of other things are going on too. Military members ruck march the entire marathon route, starting at 5:00 a.m. the day of the race (Apparently this isn't happening this year. Lame!). A Revolutionary War reenacter dressed as William Dawes comes by on a horse to warn us that the British are coming. Dawes trots onward down Harvard St. on his way to meet Paul Revere in Lexington. The local Rotary International Club sells grilled hot dogs and hamburgers as a fundraiser (I had a hamburger). A local community band plays out-of-tune Sousa marches. People decked out in Red Sox gear are waiting for the T or walking the 1.5 miles to the stadium. Some people bring coolers and snacks and literally tailgate as the athletes run by. The day is way more about community than about who wins the race.
|2012: Syracuse University ROTC ruck marches the marathon route. They are|
carrying 40 pounds of equipment and it is 88F outside. Bad. Ass.
|2012: William Dawes warns the residents of Brookline that the lousy|
Redcoats are coming before meeting up with Paul Revere in Lexington.
|2012: A community band plays Sousa marches. Everyone else claps along.|
|2012: The Brookline Rotary Club serves hamburgers and hot dogs.|
My father is very active in his Rotary Club in Oshkosh, Wisconsin,
so this photo is for him.
My 2013 experience at the marathon was largely the same except that the temperature was reasonable (upper 40s to lower 50s). I wore a fleece jacket to stay warm. I was tweeting images and my impressions of the race. I probably tweeted something flippant about throwing donuts at the runners. I watched the wheelchair racers FLY by. A guy I knew from high school was part of the elite runners group. I tried to watch for him but he was so fast that I completely missed him (he ran it in 2:23:06 and finished 34th overall - at age 42!). I chatted with a nice retired couple who live in Cambridge, but come out to Brookline to watch the marathon every year. I bought a cheeseburger and a Diet Coke from the Rotary International cookout.
|2013: Waiting for the elite runners to come through. Look at how the|
spectators are bundled up compared to 2012.
|2013: I teased the runners with strawberry frosted donuts.|
|2013: The elite runners came through so quickly that I almost didn't catch|
them on my slow camera. The second man from the right in the blue tank
top is Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa who won the men's race. He returned to
Boston a few months later and gave his winning medal to the city.
Good article on him from the April 17 New York Times.
I had some things to do, so I went home around 1:30 or 2, I can't remember exactly. I had been out watching and cheering since about 10 a.m. I was working on a job application around 3:00pm or so when my friend Chuck in Kentucky tweeted at me, "Are you OK?" What the hell? Of course I'm OK, why do you ask? I could still hear all of the people outside cheering the runners on. A few seconds after that my friend Adam in Wisconsin tweeted the same thing to me. I finally looked at my twitter feed to see what the hell they were talking about. Holy crap! A bomb or something had gone off at the marathon finish line. There may be more bombs. It was only minutes after the bombs went off and reports were still confusing. And for the most part the people lined up on Beacon St in front of my apartment between miles 23 and 24 had no clue what was going on. I went downstairs to look and people were still jogging by. I decided that the best thing that I could do was get out of the way, so I went back up to my apartment and stared at the TV and twitter. I had been tweeting about the marathon earlier that day so several of my friends, not knowing where I was tweeting from, where concerned that I was near the bomb site. I thought of my friend Patrick who always watches the marathon downtown, but he had fortunately been away visiting his mother that weekend.
The second photo that took my breath away was of all of the athletes stopped near Fenway, about 1 mile from the finish. Some 5,700 runners were still on the course when the bombs went off. These runners were the ones who had raised money for certain charities to be eligible to run without having to meet a qualifying time. In other words, most of these runners were average people who had raised thousands of dollars for charity and who had trained for months and months to finish the race. Most expected a finishing time of over 4 hours. Now they were corralled between Massachusetts Avenue and Kenmore Square or further down the course at Boston College, unaware of why they were stopped. I read of a Frenchman who didn't speak English trying to finish the race, running down Newbury St in confusion until someone who spoke French stopped him and told him what was happening. I read of people who lived in the area taking in confused runners and giving them blankets and food so their muscles wouldn't seize up, and a place to stay or a phone to use while the chaos played out. People were opening up their homes to strangers who had no where to stay that night, or offering rides to stranded runners, or translating for the thousands of foreigners in town for the marathon.
|2013 (from CNN): Runners stopped at Mass. Ave. about a half|
mile before the finish line.
Finally, I will never forget watching a press conference on CNN with the attending trauma surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Peter Fagenholz. I worked at MGH for my first job in Boston, and I go there once a month for my kidney transplant medications. I can only describe Dr. Fagenholz as being the calmest, coolest person in all of Boston. Seriously, as a trauma surgeon you must have balls of steel to begin with, but then to deal with mass casualties and the press asking moronic questions. Nothing fazed this guy. How he didn't slap a reporter silly I will never know.
0:35 Was there anything unusual or anything in particular [about the injuries]? "No...a lot of small metal debris..." 0:54 Do you think the people in critical condition at this point...(hard to hear)...will things be OK for them? "Well, they're not looking OK. That's not what 'critical condition' means." 2:44 Have you ever seen anything like this? "The injuries are not otherworldly, but I can't say that I have seen this volume of patients come this quickly with this type of injury." 2:58 What do you mean by 'not otherworldly?' "Any traumatic amputation is a gruesome injury but it's something that we do see from time to time in the course of daily life even outside of this event... This is work. When this happens we just go to work." This statement was true for all of the hospitals that took in trauma patients. In fact, the first responders and medical personnel were amazing. Read this excellent article about how Boston was prepared for large scale casualties by surgeon Atual Gawande from The New Yorker.
The week only got more surreal as it went on. I had a scheduled appointment at MGH the next morning, Tuesday, April 16. I took the T from Coolidge Corner to Government Center. A family of four boarded the T at the St. Paul stop. The mom and dad had two boys: a four-year-old and a two-year-old. They were visiting from Ottawa. The four-year-old and his mom sat next to me while the two-year-old stayed in the stroller and his dad stood along the side of the subway car. Both of the boys were wearing Red Sox caps that were just a little too big for them. The four-year-old was a chatterbox: he told me everything about their trip, and especially about the sting rays at the aquarium. Both boys waved at the military personnel on the T platforms, and the military guys waved back. I exited at Government Center and my new friend asked me, "Where are you going?" like he was sad that I had to leave. I told him that I had to go to work, which wasn't true, but it was a better line that a doctor's appointment. I said goodbye to my new friends, and was grateful to be distracted by an innocent child, reminding me of what's good in the world.
Government Center had about one third of the number of pedestrians of a normal day. There where military and police officers with large guns everywhere, and bomb sniffing German Sheppards patrolling every nook and cranny of the plaza. The appointment took about three hours longer than usual, and it was unnerving watching the press conference from the waiting room of a hospital where 20+ people were clinging to life who less than 24 hours ago had been enjoying a race.
On Thursday, April 18, at 5:00pm, the FBI released a photo of the two scumbags that they believed planted the marathon bombs. At 11:00pm those scumbags had murdered an MIT police officer and were on the run. My friend Isabel had been at a movie in Kendal Square near MIT and texted me asking me what was going on. She jokingly said, "Maybe I won't have to go to work tomorrow."
I stayed up for the next 8 hours watching everything unfold on twitter and on TV. I was completely riveted. The shootout in Watertown happened a few miles from where I lived in an area where I frequently go shopping. For the record, Boston was not "on lockdown" as described by the press. The neighborhood in Watertown where the shootout took place was on lockdown, but the rest of the area was under a voluntary stay home order. Officially it was called a shelter-in-place, but I saw people jogging, people walking their dogs, people taking the trash out, etc. The 7-11 across the street from me was open, and I bet that the Dunkin Donuts down the road was open too (if Dunkin Donuts closes, the terrorists win). Most people had the attitude of, "Wooo-hooo! Three day weekend!" The best essay I read about this "lockdown" was published in Esquire and described a one-night-stand gone awry.
But seriously, there are about 250,000 students in Boston, and the 19-year-old scumbag bomber could have easily blended in with the crowd. He was within a few miles of large schools like Harvard, MIT, BU and BC. During the night I kept looking out my window wondering if the doe-eyed creep would pop out of my bushes and bomb my apartment building. Public transportation in Boston is really good (relative to some places where I have lived), and these jerks could have easily hopped on a train and been half way to Canada in a few hours. Or taken over and blown up a large office building. Fortunately these dipshits where not criminal masterminds. Some a-hole on Facebook said, "I can't believe that Boston is under martial law." Give me a fucking break. And someone else said, "the government is taking away Boston resident's civil liberties." Please. Isabel, who once lived in Houston, said, "No one complains when you prepare for a huge hurricane, and at the last minute it dissipates and you only get a rain storm." Boston prepared for a Category 4 hurricane, but fortunately only got a small thunderstorm.
So tomorrow I will head out to cheer on the marathon runners. Over a million people are expected to line the marathon route. Although I no longer live in Brookline, I will still head over to Coolidge Corner and take my place along Beacon Street. The elite runners start in Hopkinton at 9:30 a.m. when the temperature will be about 40F. The less elite runners will start around 11:30, and will start crossing the finish line when it has warmed up to the mid 60s. The elite field is predicted to be extra fast and competitive this year as many elite runners are joining the race in solidarity with those who were injured by the bombers in 2013. I'll take lots of photos. I'll tweet something obnoxious about throwing Munchkins at the runners (though I'll still call them Timbits). I'll go to a bar and drink Sam Adams 26.2. It will be a great day.
The Hold Steady - For Boston.mp3
From: Boys and Girls in American (Australia Bonus Track) (2007)