A trying week in Boston as a city stands strong
With Boston in lockdown last Friday, I drove as slowly as the law allows to that city on edge, assigned to cover the Red Sox-Royals game, which hadn't yet been postponed but almost certainly would be, to judge by the line of state troopers parked at the Connecticut border, and the frantic APBs being issued on the radio for a marathon bombing suspect still at large: "Look out for a gray Honda C-RV" was quickly followed by a green sedan of some now-forgotten make and model.
In one news report, a high school classmate said of the surviving suspect: "He just loved soccer -- he was a soccer fanatic" and seldom had those last two words seemed so incompatible.
A witness said of the shootout the night before: "I was so nervous and scared. I was leaning out my front door recording it." There was a temptation to bemoan the modern age of endless smartphone documentation, but as my colleague Steve Cannella pointed out, all these cameras -- and our 21st century urge to upload everything on them -- are how the suspects were discovered in the first place.
It was Cannella who called from the office on Friday to say turn around, go home, as the western suburbs of Boston approached with their "shelter in place" orders from the police. The streets around Fenway were already deserted. And so I made a U-turn on Friday afternoon, turning around on West Main Street in Hopkinton, 26.2 miles from the marathon finish line on Boylston Street.
It was in Hopkinton, where the Boston Marathon begins, on the gazeboed Town Common, that I first met Jack Leduc. He's the handyman who paints the start line a few days before the race every year, and watches over it on race day with a rag and a bottle of Greased Lightning, because the road is open to automotive traffic even on the morning of the race and the locals like to lay a patch of rubber on it, literally leaving their mark on the marathon. (One year Leduc stenciled tire marks on the line in black paint to try to throw the motorists off, but it didn't deter anybody.)
Leduc also serves as the race announcer and deejay, playing songs as the runners mass in the starting chute, everyone singing along to "Dirty Water" by the Standells, a band from Los Angeles that became best known for the lyric "Boston you're my home."
While I was driving back to Connecticut from Hopkinton on Friday, Neil Diamond was evidently flying into Boston from L.A., where he famously isn't from. ("L.A.'s fine but it ain't home/New York's home but it ain't mine no more.") Diamond would sing "Sweet Caroline" at Saturday's Red Sox game, for Boston had become -- for a week, and maybe a little longer -- everybody's home.
By the time Sox slugger David Ortiz told the Fenway crowd and those watching at home that "This is our f------ city" -- a line that instantly joined "One if by land, two if by sea" in the city's pantheon of classic quotations -- he seemed to be speaking for the whole country and, it seemed, to much of the world.
But the line had special resonance around here, where parents name their children for the ballpark that turned 101 on Saturday. The next day, at Six Flags New England in Agawam, Mass., I saw a father playfully call to his two-year-old son: "Fenway! Fenway! I'm coming to get you, Fen!"
If there isn't already a boy named Boylston, there will be soon.
Let's not forget: The Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street is, in ordinary years, the site of 30,000 happy endings.
It has been kissed, crawled across, danced on and barfed on, not to mention knelt on prior to countless marriage proposals. It remains on the pavement year-round. Late one night in 1971, Bill Rodgers, in street clothes, came out of a bar and ran, beer-buzzed, across the finish line in mock triumph. (He would win the race for real four times in the next 10 years.) In 1996, on the 100th running of the marathon, a man terminally ill with cancer asked the Boston Athletic Association for permission to drop dead on the finish line, as Pheidippides did in the first marathon that began in Marathon, Greece.
The Boston Athletic Association didn't grant the man his wish. It has always been about affirming life, persevering, carrying on. It is an insult to the bombing victims and their families to suggest that this is what everyone will now do, but the race itself will carry on while forever retaining in its institutional DNA the memories of Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu, Sean Collier and 8-year-old Martin Richard. The marathon is an endurance sport and will thus endure.
When Joan Benoit was in the homestretch of the marathon in 1979, a spectator ran onto the course and handed her a Red Sox cap, which she wore -- backwards -- to cross the finish line as the women's winner.
It was important that someone in a Sox cap had finally won something, following the team's one-game playoff loss to the Yankees the previous fall at the hands of Bucky F------ Dent, until Saturday the most famous F-bomb associated with Fenway Park.
I thought of Benoit's cap while driving home on Friday, when the radio kept referring to the bombing suspects by the names given to them by police: Black Hat and White Hat. When White Hat was caught under that boat in Watertown on Friday night, it set off a citywide catharsis, and a Boston Globe reporter on the scene tweeted that an "adorable" little boy in the Watertown crowd was throwing his Sox hat into the air, in old-timey celebration.
After last week's Point After in SI, about the Special Day I'd spent with my daughter in Boston last summer, more than few readers asked, in essence: What happens between age 8, when a child is wearing a Love & Peace sweatshirt at the marathon finish line, and 11 years down the line, when a 19-year-old can be alleged to murder an 8-year-old at the same place?
As the Sox and Royals wrapped up their delayed series last weekend, I thought of the Sox-Royals game my daughter and I attended last Aug. 27, after first visiting the marathon finish line.
During the game, she couldn't believe that all 25 men on both rosters didn't get a turn at bat. "It isn't fair," she said a few times. "It isn't fair."
I'm still thinking of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old Little Leaguer who lost his life at the finish line, and those three words of my own 8-year-old: It isn't fair. It isn't fair.