Having only visited Boston one other time in my life, I was really looking forward to refreshing my memory of the city’s layout. After checking into the Marriott Hotel Copley Place, my wife Karen and I wandered aimlessly down to Boylston Street. This street was world famous already, boasting the finish line of the 116th annual Boston Marathon. Now, it had gained additional notoriety, with the recent bombings during this year’s race.
We sat at a quaint outdoor table right across the street from Lord and Taylor and Sacks. We decided on a trendy little sidewalk café called Uno’s. Our server, Katie, was friendly, helpful, and properly entertained by the Southern Twang in our voices. After our meal and a diminished crowd, Katie shared with us some details of her experience in Boston. I just had to ask her the obvious. “Katie, I know you’ve been asked this a million times, but about how far are we from the Boston bombing site?” She looked at me suspiciously, as if the question was a set-up. When she was certain that I was serious, she pointed off her left shoulder. “The first bomb was fifty yards that way. Three storefronts down, to be exact.” She paused to shift the weight of her serving tray. “The other one was a hundred yards that way. You guys are sitting practically in between the two spots!”
Chills went up our spines as Katie explained where she was in the restaurant at that very moment. She had been back in the kitchen, waiting on two orders to be delivered to her customers. When she heard the first ‘pop’ she knew it was something more substantial than a car or motorcycle backfiring. The floor of the kitchen shook.
‘What was that?’ one of the cooks asked her. They both felt the floor shake from the tremors of the explosion. What it sounded like. What it felt like. She said it was like a DVD playing on a continual loop in her mind. She thought it would stay with her forever.
Karen and I looked at each other. We couldn’t be sure, but thought we knew exactly how she felt. We all remember things like that that happen during our lifetime. Like the assassination of President Kennedy, man’s first walk on the moon, and the terrorist attack of the World Trade Center. Where we were, what we were doing. No matter how many years go by, those memories will be forever burned in our brain, for us to share with children and future generations.
Katie, along with all her fellow workers were sent home from work after the explosion, their paychecks put on hold for the next 7-10 days. All businesses shut down, the city virtually paralyzed for several days while law enforcement hunted down the perpetrators. Never would anyone suspect that a city of such magnitude would be placed on curfew and lockdown.
With the late night snack complete, we walked up and down Boylston Street, witnessing each site of carnage. A simple, but powerful token of crudely constructed memorabilia saved from that fateful day lay on the sidewalk. You could see where Boston had already re-poured sections of the concrete destroyed by the explosion. There were flowers, some real and some artificial, tied together with string or rubber bands. A pair of running shoes, tied together with their shoelaces lay humbly beside other weather worn artifacts from that day.
Each store that had the fateful position to be located ten feet from the bomb, the window glass was still boarded up. Passersby told us they were hoping to open back up in the next few weeks.
It was hard to sleep that night. Thoughts raced through my mind that mirrored those thoughts in the Sheraton New York while we worked at Ground Zero. Your body gets exhausted, but your brain just will not shut down. You can count sheep, but the sheep turn into terrorist attackers. It is an uneasy feeling that words cannot describe. We have all been through sleepless times like this; very few have experienced it like the poor souls who lost their lives or limbs.
Saturday morning came our time to tour the city of Boston, and what a treat it really was. As our tour guide led us through the empty streets of downtown, we learned interesting trivia, history, and details that make Boston such a special place. A few joggers ran down Boylston, while others visited the two bombing sites some 150 yards apart.
The famous yellow line across Boylston, the actual start/finish line of the Boston Marathon was grander than my temptation could handle. Waiting for traffic to die down, I quickly positioned myself right as I took the first step across the finish line, right out in the middle of the street. Almost like a ‘Heisman trophy’ move! Or so I thought. I couldn’t stand it! I shouted, “Hey Sweetie. Hurry and take my picture. This is the first and only time you’ll see this fatso cross this finish line!” Karen politely obliged taking my picture, but didn’t quite see as much humor in the situation as did I.
Memorial park (NYC had one of those), was located another few hundred yards down the street. It had served as a staging area, where rescuers triaged the dead and wounded soon after the explosions. We were told by our tour guide that the city was removing the artifacts soon , and would be storing them in an archived area for later display.
Hundreds of running shoes had been donated, tied together, and lain down among cards, sentimental messages, flowers, stuffed animals and photos of the injured and dead. All turned into a special area dedicated to the memory of the tragedy. Boston was just like New York; they would never forget, but they would bounce back.
Our city tour continued around the world famous Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, complete with the ‘green monster’, the notorious fence in left field that challenged even the mightiest homerun sluggers. It seemed bigger than life to a guy who had dreamed of seeing something this phenomenal when he was just a kid.
The Boston Harbor was a treat, as we relived some U.S. history that I should have remembered from high school, but regretfully, did not.
Soon, our tour was complete, and our driver completed the tour with a stop at Boston’s Logan airport for our trip back home. A satisfying trip, filled with loads of emotion, was complete. Memories that will stay with us forever.