I left work early today to go down to the finish line well after the elites had come in. I wanted to see Vihann and a few other people finish, and had rough ideas about when they would be coming by. A work friend was having a party on Commonwealth between Exeter & Dartmouth street so my plan was to watch the finishes then stop by to visit with them a bit. Vihann had given me a VIP pass for the finish area, valid after 2pm, but I had screwed up and left it at home this morning. I was thinking how I didn’t want to have to confess this after the effort he made to get it to me.
My backup plan was to watch the race from the Commonwealth Mall a few blocks down from the party, between Mass Ave & Hereford Street. Last year YJP & I watched from here once our volunteer gig was over. We met up with the North Enders here as well – it’s a good spot for the boys to run in the grass and there are fences to keep them out of traffic. This year I was alone, but texting with Christine & YJP as I waited for the runners. I like this location – I like that it’s a part of the course shared by the 5K that Christine & I ran yesterday, and the 10K in the summer. Vihann came through, gave me a high five and headed around the corner to the finish. I saw someone who I’m almost 100% sure was Steve Yee, one of the founders of Marathon Maniacs roll by – sweet! My semi-celebrity sighting of the day. I figured Marc would be along soon.
I’m assuming you know what happened next. We heard the first blast quite clearly – it was not far away. My first inclination was to think someone was shooting a cannon that had been brought in, like the one they shoot off of the Constitution. But really, it was too loud. My brain couldn’t process it from the sound alone. The second blast was just as loud, if not louder. The news said they were 17 seconds apart, I couldn’t have told you that.
A few moments later the police rushed into the road coming up the hill from under Mass Ave to block the runners from going further. Some of them turned and chased the runners who were past them to get them to stop. It’s very hard to stop a wave of many hundreds of people, particularly after they’ve been running for four hours and are within a few hundred yards of the finish line. But they did it. They drug a gate across the road. At this point we all pretty much realized what had happened around the corner was something real.
Tons of cops, on bikes, SUVs, trucks, flying around the corner towards the finish. The police told the runners the race was over, but they didn’t really have anywhere to go, so they stood en masse on the course. I and the other fans stood as well, watching them, watching the cops, watching each other, trying to figure out what was happening.
Soon after came the waves of ambulances. Dozens of them. Then helicopters. A couple of cops on foot came back from the site of the blast to tell people on the far side of the street to go into the buildings, that the sidewalk was evacuated. Those of us in the mall didn’t really have anywhere to go. I tried to figure out how long before the explosions had Vihann gone by – I hadn’t looked at my watch and didn’t really know. But surely he had cleared the area by then? (Fortunately, he had.) I stopped to talk to a number of people, to listen in on conversations – some people who had been closer, some people who had seen blood on the sidewalks. Eventually I decided there was nothing else I could do so started walking west.
And so I walked home. It’s not far about 2 1/2 miles, up to Kenmore, past BU, into Allston. The last text I got before my service died said not to get on the green line, so I didn’t. I tried to find Marc along the way but couldn’t manage that either. As I came into Kenmore, runners who hadn’t heard were still running into a stream of people walking in the course in the other direction, spawning upstream into the emergency. My phone was completely nonfunctional (I’ve since heard cellular service was turned off to stop other blasts from potentially being triggered). I picked up snippets of specifics from other people who were closer to the blast or somehow had a wifi signal. One BU freshman walking near me started spouting some nihilistic bullshit about how he didn’t feel bad for the people involved, and about the inevitability of death – I very much wanted to hit him in the face.
Then I got home. I’ve been sitting here since, listening to sirens outside.
The Boston Marathon is honestly one of my favorite things about Boston. I love marathons, I love this city, and you can’t beat springtime – it’s a perfect combination. Moreover, the goal of running this specific marathon has been the guiding structure of my life for the past few years. I intend to qualify, and I likewise intend to run it, someday. What happened today, whoever it turns out was responsible, it feels like a very personal blow. I do not like it, do not appreciate it, not at all. I don’t understand the whys of this yet, but almost don’t care – I don’t want us to be altered by this, to be afraid of our city, to be hesitant to join together in positive affirmations of strangers like the thousands of fans around me were doing for passing runners. I don’t want that taken away from us.