As you know, on Monday, April 15, at approximately 2:50 PM, two bombs exploded on Boylston Street near Copley Square, during the running of the Boston Marathon. Kim and I happened to be listening to the radio soon after and learned fairly quickly about this terrible news. We turned on the TV and became engrossed in the coverage.
Later Monday afternoon, I checked in with Randi. We shared our thoughts about the tragedy and the human condition in general. Eventually our conversation turned to the practical issues. Although the theater seemed a relatively safe distance from the explosions, the hotel was only two blocks away from the Marathon finish line. It seemed unlikely that we would be able to stay there Tuesday night, as planned.
The four of us had been looking forward to our visit to Boston. Spending time with our dear friends and attending a Broadway show was very appealing. As it became clear that this was some sort of a terrorist attack of unknown origin (at least at the time of this writing), it became almost imperative that we follow through with our plans. Here’s why.
First, businesses in this section of Boston were suffering significant financial strain because their operations had been interrupted or suspended by the terrorist attack. We felt an obligation to honor our commitments to the theater and the hotel, as long as they would have us. Toward that end, I called the hotel on Monday night to ask if we would be able to stay there as planned on Tuesday night. I half expected no one to answer the phone. But to my surprise they indicated that their business was open and that we would be welcomed. I reconfirmed on Tuesday morning before we set out for Boston, and got the same answer. I also called the theater on Tuesday morning, and they gave me the good news – the show must go on!
Another reason that we were more motivated than ever to continue with our plans has to do with the nature of terrorism. Let’s face it, it’s not like Boston was under continual attack by a known enemy. If North Korea was firing missiles at Boston, then we would have canceled our plans. But terrorism isn’t about occupying or besieging a city. It’s about committing an act that is brutal enough to incite widespread fear in the citizenry. Its objective is not to capture territory or seize control, but rather to send some sort of convoluted, bloody message. It seemed that if we shied away from our plans to visit Boston, we would be doing exactly what the terrorists, whoever they are, wanted us to do. They would have won. Carrying through with our plans was our little way of saying, “Fuck You,” to the terrorists.
It’s important to note that we were not being particularly brave in this situation. Given the security presence after the explosions, there was probably no safer place on the planet than Boston, Massachusetts in the days following this attack.
So, on Tuesday morning, about 18 hours after the explosions, Kim and I loaded up the wheelchair van and headed south to Boston, a ride of less than two hours. The closer we got to our hotel, the more the city changed. At first we noticed only increased police presence. As we turned from Dartmouth Street east onto Stuart Street, however, we saw the satellite trucks, the cameras, and the security people. If we could have continued on Dartmouth Street we would’ve crossed St. James Avenue and then Boylston Street – Ground Zero. But of course we couldn’t continue on Dartmouth Street, because that part of the city was barricaded off. Serious men and women in police uniforms and fatigues watched over the city. The most impressive were the ones dressed completely in black carrying M16 or equivalent rifles. I don’t know who they were, but I felt safe having them around.
In the late afternoon, as we walked with Randi and Al from our hotel to a restaurant near the theater, we saw more and more satellite trucks and video crews. There was an unofficial pecking order. The major networks claimed rights to the prize locations for their backdrops. Every now and then we would cross a more obscure intersection and find a single camera operator and a lone reporter from some local station, either rehearsing their report or delivering their report live. It was a surreal walk, especially for Randi and Al, longtime residents of the city.
We had a nice dinner then walked the last couple of blocks to the show. There was a long line outside the theater, and we soon realized why. All bags were being searched in the lobby. As the backpack on my wheelchair was being politely rifled through, I asked the security people if this was standard procedure or something new since the terrorist attack. They indicated that this was a first time event for them.
Twenty-six hundred and seventy of us, give or take, sat down and enjoyed an elaborate, hilarious Broadway musical, forgetting for a while about the terror that had transpired so recently and so near. After the show we walked back to the hotel. The satellite trucks and news crews who had dominated the landscape on our walk over, prior to sunset, were still present. But now they illuminated the night with their brilliant production lights.
When we arrived home today, satisfied and exhausted from our trip, I watched a Boston city official being interviewed on the news. I’ll paraphrase him here. He said that Boston would have their “revenge”. I cringed. How could he say that? How could he know if we would ever find the murderer, and even if we did, how could we ever be satisfied with any amount of punishment? But then he continued, “Our revenge will be that this city will return to normal. We won’t let the terrorists change us.”
Although life will never be the same for those most closely affected by this senseless tragedy, in general I like this official’s sentiment. Boston may becoming a more careful city, but let’s not allow it to become a more fearful city.