A day at the Boston Marathon

A day at the Boston Marathon
April 22, 2014, 12:00 pm
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Thought Marker 1: Confession: Before yesterday, it had been almost 10 years since I attended the Boston Marathon. I think. I’m not sure exactly how long it had been. I know I was there in 2004, because I remember that the Pats traded for Corey Dillon while I was hanging out on Boylston Street. I know I was there in 2005, because one of my best friends ran the race. But I’m pretty sure that was it. So let’s call it nine years. Despite the fact that I’ve lived within walking distance of the finish line the entire time.
Thought Marker 2: Why the long layoff? I’m not entirely sure. I think I was just sick of it. Sick of fighting through crowds. Sick of waiting in lines at bars. Sick of not being able to drive the streets I drove on every single day. Sick of thousands upon thousands of ‘outsiders’ invading the city and disrupting ‘normal’ life. Bostonians are like that. We can be assholes. We have a knack for being less than friendly to anyone who isn’t us. And every Marathon Monday, I most definitely fit that bill. I can remember walking around my neighborhood each year as the streets filled up with medals and jackets and big blankets of tin foil, and almost rolling my eyes. Thinking to myself, “Ugh. OK. We get it. You ran the marathon. Now please go home.” These aren’t thoughts I’m proud of. I’m just being honest. As a Bostonian — and one who grew up going to the Marathon every year, handing out water to runners in Newton and having a great time — I’d lost all connection to the race. Last year, I made a point to leave the city all together

Thought Marker 3: Yesterday, I was back. From the moment the bombs went off last year, I knew I would be. What I didn’t know is that, through a series of random events, I’d find myself subletting an apartment about three blocks from the finish line. But life is weird. That’s where I am. I woke up at about 7:30 to the sound of yelling and clanging outside my window. I looked out to see a police barricade set up on the corner of Gloucester and Newbury. As it turned out there was one on every block of Newbury. Security check points, they called them. With about five or six cops stationed at every check point. They were there to control the number of people who made it on to Boylston for the final leg of the race. They also checked every bag that went through the gates. This was new to the Boston Marathon. But also very necessary.
“Hey!” one cop screamed out to another, “You think we’ll make the cover of Sports Illustrated again?”
“Yeah,” the other one said, in a perfect Boston accent, the kind that gets butchered in every movie about the city, “but they’ll probably wait for the Swimsuit Edition.”
Thought Marker 4: It was such a beautiful day. So beautiful that I couldn’t help but mention it three or for times during breakfast. “Damn it, what a day.” Perfect for runners. Perfect for spectators. Perfect for Boston. During the winter, life in New England can drive you to the brink of insanity, but when the weather is right, there are few places that are better.
Looking around from a patio table on the corner of Gloucester and Newbury, I could see the crowd starting to build on Boylston, as the wheel chair participants and military personnel made their way down the home stretch. In the other direction, I could see the cherry blossoms in full bloom along Comm. Ave. Looking up, the sky was almost entirely blue, with just enough clouds to remind you that it was real. There was a parking ban on Newbury for the day, and the entire street was calmer and more peaceful than I’ve ever seen it.
Thought Marker 5: Calm and peaceful, aside from the hordes of police officers, feds and other authorities roaming around. Every once in a while, one of them would walk by my line of vision, equipped with big guns and batons and restraints. And every time, it snapped me out of whatever fantasy land I’d lost myself in. Blue skies and cherry blossoms gave way to uneasiness and anger. Anger at those two idiots for doing what they did. Anger at myself for letting a pretty picture take precedence over what really mattered. The only reason I’d come back to the Marathon to begin with.
Thought Marker 6: After breakfast, I hopped back onto the other side of the barricades to run back into my apartment and take my dog for quick walk. About 20 minutes later, I tried to walk back onto Newbury, only to be met by two cops, now screaming at the crowd of oncoming spectators: “Sorry, folks! This check point is closed! Boylston is reaching capacity! Your best bet is to walk down by Kenmore and watch the race over there!”
Every check point along Newbury was closed. People were angry and dejected. No one had seen this before. There was never such thing as Boylston Street capacity. Not to mention, it was early! They’d done the responsible thing by getting there when they did but still lost out.
It was like that all day at the check points. They’d periodically open in short bursts, but for the most part, after that initial closing, they were closed. As a result, I can’t imagine how many people missed seeing their friends and loved ones cross the finish. I can’t imagine how many of them traveled from far and wide only to spend the day walking around in crowded circles.
I felt their frustration, but how could you argue with the source?
Thought Marker 7: I’ve never had a rooting interesting the Marathon. I’ve had friends who’ve run the race, but only ever cheered for them to beat their personal goal — which most of the time was merely: Finish the race. The only reason to care about the elite runners was for the opportunity to make a joke about Kenyans.
But this year was different, with Shalane Flanagan, a local girl with dreams of winning the race the year after the tragedy, in the mix among the women’s favorites. I’d hoped to be there to see her cross the finish line. And to see her be the first one to get there. Man, what a story that would’ve been.
Unfortunately, she finished seventh. Unfortunately, I was still stuck on the other side of the barricade as she did. But around that time, there was a break in the lock out and I was able to sneak through. I made b-line down Gloucester, left on Boylston and headed straight for the finish line.
Thought Marker 8: As I did, it all started to feel real. The first cross street was Boylston and Fairfield — the site of that photo of smoke filling the street, people running for their lives, and the younger brother, with his white backwards hat, calmly taking the turn towards Newbury.
I could see him standing right there.
I could see his foot prints in the concrete.
Thought Marker 9: Next up, was Forum. The bar between Fairfield and Exeter — right where the first bomb went off. The second I saw it in the distance, my legs got a little shaky. Like I was walking on two sticks of jelly. I’d passed the bar so many times between then and now, but obviously never like this. It was so easy to put yourself right back in that moment, because the scene now was so similar to how it was back then —
Party goers out on the patio. A jam-packed sidewalk. At least three rows deep of spectators pressed up against the stanchions, with all their attention on the race. All their energy focused on screaming and supporting the runners.
Thought Marker 10: The only real differences were that the crowd out on Forum’s patio were all wearing blue “Return to Forum” t-shirts, with at least one being interviewed by a reporter seemingly at all times; and that the skinny tree in front of the patio was decorated with a yellow ribbon, a make shift memorial.
But in the moment, all that had sort of been engulfed and overshadowed by the spirit of the moment. Even at the site of such tragedy and so much pain and suffering, there was happiness. This felt like a victory. And it was.
Thought Marker 11: But there was still a sense of loss. Obviously. It was impossible to stand in the shadow of Forum, look down the row, see little kids line up along the way and not feel sick to your stomach. They all looked like Martin Richard. Boys, girls. Black, white, Asian. It didn’t matter. He was everywhere. At one point, I saw a little boy — couldn’t have been older than eight or nine — wearing a Red Sox hat and navigating through the crowd on top of his father’s shoulders. He didn’t see me, but for a second I looked right into his eyes before almost immediately having to look away.
It was painful.
Thought Marker 12: I stopped to take a picture of that little tree. Then stood there for a second to text it to a friend. Sometime in the middle of typing I felt a presence over my shoulder; a stranger’s chin right in my ear and eyes burning a hole through the screen of my phone.
I turned around and it was a police officer. He looked at me, looked at my phone again, stepped in front of me, lifted up a jacket (someone else’s) that was on the ground by my feet, looked at me again and then walked away without saying a word.
I decided it was time to move on.
Thought Marker 13: The Red Sox lost. Twitter just told me that they made another great comeback, but that this one fell short. And you know what? That’s OK. At this point, in the midst of this scene, it’s hard to care. This team has already done more than enough to inspire this city. They’ve already been there when we needed them most. Sure, it’d be nice to see them sitting a little better in the standings. Up above .500 at the very least. But perspective is a powerful thing, and right now it’s out in full force.
Thought Marker 14: The second bomb went off in front of Marathon Sports, between Exeter and Dartmouth — in plain view of the finish line. The sidewalk hasn’t been fixed yet either. It’s very easy to see where the damage was done.
There are no restaurant patios in that area, which makes for a lot more room. So I stood down there for a while, watching runners finish the race.
Thought Marker 15: There are few things in the world more inspiring than watching someone complete a marathon, and you can multiply that by a thousands and thousands while you’re standing at the finish line. It’s non-stop. Runner after runner after runner after runner, all rumbling down the home stretch, with the finish line in sight, on the verge of completing a mental and physical journey that most of us could never even dream of taking on. It’s emotional for you because you can see how emotional it is for them.
Thought Marker 16: Every runner is like a snow flake. Every single one is unique in their own way. Old, young. Fat, skinny. Short, tall. Some approach the finish line with tears of joy streaming down their face, while some approach with the widest smile you’ve ever seen. Some finish with their arms raised, motioning to the crowd, screaming triumphantly at the top of their lungs, while others look absolutely miserable like there’s nothing in the world they want to be doing less than running down the street in front of all these people. Some are taken over by adrenaline and approach the end in a near sprint, while others can barely walk and drag to the finish line like zombies. But they’re all finishing. It doesn’t matter how they got there. Just that they did.
Thought Marker 17: As the masses ran by, there were also numerous blind runners. Runners running on prosthetics. I saw one guy who didn’t even have a prosthetic. Just one leg and a pair of crutches hooked on his arms. I saw one woman who couldn’t have been more than two feet tall. You see stuff like that and you can’t help but smile. You can’t help but cry. You can’t help but feel like a horrible person for everything you’ve ever complained about. For constantly letting life’s insignificant BS affect you the way it does. It inspires you. It makes you want to be a better person.
Thought Marker 18: 2:49 pm.
Thought Marker 19: They were feeling the same thing. Right before the bombs went off. They were inspired. They were glowing. Amazed by how much one person can accomplish on the power of nothing but hard work and a positive attitude. And then their lives were changed forever. In some cases, their lives ended. This feeling I’m feeling right now was their last.
Thought Marker 20: 2:50 pm
Thought Marker 21: But so many of the people who made it out that day have taken that inspiration and become the inspiration themselves. While watching a marathoner gives you a greater appreciation for what human body and soul can accomplish, victims and survivors have spent the last year year taking that appreciation to another level. They bottled up 26.2 miles of will and determination, started running the moment those bombs went off and haven’t stopped since.
They are the real inspiration. They are the real heroes.
Thought Marker 22: “Holy #%$! I’m about to $%@&#% finish the $&#*#& Boston Marathon!”
That’s my buddy Russ and he’s about to finish the %&$^*# Boston Marathon. He’s currently jumping up and down in front of me, mere yards from the end, with spit flying out of his mouth and the soundtrack from Rudy blasting in his headphones. Everyone around me on Boylston loves it. They’re laughing and cheering and I’ve got chills just thinking about it.
Russ raised $8500 in the months leading up to the race, as part of a group from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center that raised more than $600,000 total.
He’s only one of thousands and thousands of runners who put themselves through physical and mental hell yesterday (and for months before that) in the name of charity.
Congrats and thank you to all of them.
Thought Marker 23: After seeing Russ, it was time to head back home. I escaped Boylston and crossed over to Newbury for a three block walk back to Gloucester. The crowd was still going strong. Upset spectators were still being told that Boylston was at capacity. It was still such a beautiful day. Behind me, the crowd was still roaring, as runner after runner achieved personal greatness and inspired so many others to do the same.
That feeling may have been magnified this year, but it’s nothing new. I remember that from attending the Marathon a decade ago. That’s what always has and always will make the event so special.
Thought Marker 24: Hey, it’s Mike Napoli and Jake Peavy! Hanging out on Newbury in front of Daisy’s.
I’ll tell you what: You can bean Napoli with a few fastballs to the knee. You can damn near snap one of his fingers off. But you’re not going to keep him from a party. He is Boston Strong.
Thought Marker 25: The Marathon will obviously never be the same after what happened last year. Boston will never be the same. Nothing will ever take away the hurt we all felt on that day. We’ll never forget the ones we lost or the heroes that we gained.
Personally, before last year, the event had become a source of frustration and almost annoyance. The routine had become stale. It was something I took for granted.
But yesterday, and every year that I’m still around to enjoy it, the marathon will be a source of strength. Inspiration beyond inspiration. Me and the marathon have connection that will never fade. I won’t let it. I can’t.
Thought Marker 26.2: It’s almost 5 pm. I’m still fighting my way through Newbury. The streets are packed. The sidewalks are packed. Medals. Jackets. Tin foil everywhere!
But I’m not rolling my eyes. I’m not wishing everyone would disappear. I’m not that annoyed and ornery Bostonian. I’m just a Bostonian. I’m proud of what I see. I’m thankful that I’m here to see it. I’m . . .
OK, now that’s enough.
Time to go home, everyone!
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