I was on a bus bound for New York to go to a rehearsal of a play I wrote when I got a call from my daughter, Allison, who was at work in Manhattan: Call Kathryn; there were explosions at the Boston Marathon. So began an intense few hours when I tried with limited internet access to figure out what was going on, and if my loved ones were safe.
I knew Sue and Allison were safe. Sue had the day off and was home in Wollaston, and of course Al was in New York. But Kathryn, our youngest? A student in Boston raised on the Marathon by her runner father, it was very likely she was on Boylston Street with her friends. As a little one, she and her sister would be so excited every time a passing runner would grab a slice of orange out of their hands as they stood and cheered along the course. The problem was her phone kept kicking over to voice mail, a problem we later learned came from overloaded circuits, and not from the cell companies shutting the network down to prevent more bomb detonations. Just one of the many rumors we, as a scattered little family, would deal with.
As it turns out, she was in the library, but not the Boston Public Library, where the explosion took place, but in her school library. I had to smile. Good old, Kathryn. Always studious, Montessori, the Honor student. Safe.
The next couple of hours I spent trying to deal with very limited wifi on a Peter Pan bus. Life goes from good to bad back to good again, and I've learned to deal. Sue said when I learned the play I was working on in New York was being done there, she couldn't tell the difference between my reaction from when a play gets rejected. In the past decade, I've tried to behave according to Kipling's poem, If:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same
While it did go through my head that Peter Pan advertises wifi so they should provide reliable wifi, I knew that getting upset at that particular moment over the bus company's failure to provide a steady signal wasn't going to help one bit. I just forced myself to stay calm, and think and focus.
The overriding feeling I had for the rest of the trip was that something even bigger was going to happen in Boston or across the country, and we--Sue, Allison, Kathryn, and I--were going to be separated and out of communication. I tried to convince Kathryn to take a cab and spend the night with Sue, just to get her out of the city. She lives in a touristy section of Boston, and I was worried that section of the city may have been targeted, too. In the end, she took a cab to her apartment.
So I'd succeed in logging on to Facebook for maybe fifteen or twenty seconds, and quickly scroll through the posts of people saying they were fine. That helped calm me down a lot. There were posts from people who I didn't know were in Boston, who were visiting for the Marathon. Again, it was nice to learn this, and that they were okay.
Through all the status updates one stood out: Realize that what Boston is experiencing is what some people experience every day, sometimes because of the actions of my government. Yes, U.S. drones fall out of the sky. Roadside bombs explode because of unstable governments caused by U.S. military invasion. Yes, correct. But the timing was all wrong. That's a discussion for another day. Two days later, though, the Guardian, a news outlet that I replaced NPR with long ago as a source of what I consider mildly progressive news and thought, ran what I felt was a pretty spot-on article
. Maybe now we know what lives are like around the world, and think about the role our government--and therefore all of us--play. Empathy is a powerful emotion.
I was in Manhattan--two hours later--before I could log on long enough to tell people that all of us were fine. And now I'll say it: Peter Pan/Greyhound: get your shit together when it comes to your wifi. I don't know if your on-board server only allows for two or three users or what, but it should allow every passenger to log on.
Sometimes the wifi hung in there long enough for me to skim a local news report, but the reports were sketchy and contradictory. Was the fire at the JFK museum related to the Marathon bombing? How many unexploded devices were found, if any?
When I got off the bus at Port Authority, I went upstairs and saw police conducting random searches. Here we go, I thought. Knee-jerk response to a crisis. I never understood random searches in the subway. I mean, wouldn't a terrorist--or anyone with something to hide--see the search station and just turn around and go the other way? Or dump what they had and come back for it later, when the search station is taken down? Once again, idiotic responses by our government, intended to simply assuage people's fears and that only limit freedom, and has nothing to do with catching criminals and terrorists.
Rehearsal was hard. I was working with four truly enthusiastic, dedicated theater artists who weren't connected with Boston or the bombing. To them, it was something that happened far away. And funny, I felt guilty about being upset, since these people had experienced 9/11 and everything that changed in New York. I didn't feel that this disaster matched up to what they experienced so I had no right to feel the way I did. Weird, huh? Still, I had to give it my best. Again, we should never allow acts of terrorism to stop our lives, and there's the adage in theater that the show must go on.
That night, on Al's couch in Brooklyn, I was able to sort out the events, send some messages, see the grisly pictures of victims with their legs blown off, bones exposed. I think we need to see that. I think we need to see more of it: the real effects of these events on people. I just wanted to get home, where I belonged.
If you're up for it, here are some images and video. Close-hand video near the blast
. And very graphic images here.
And crazy thought number two, but I remembered I had some overdue library books, and wondered when Copley Square would be open again so I could return them.
In New York, everything was normal. I wanted people to know I was from Boston. There was a part of me that wanted sympathy. I wondered what they'd say? Should I have been wearing a Sox cap? A Boston t-shirt. Then again, no. I hate calling attention to myself, and worse, I hate American jingoism in all its forms. Flag waving. Nationalism in all the hideous forms it takes in the United States. From traveling abroad, I know if you can't tell I'm from the United States just by looking at me, you're blind. And I wanted to be around my family and friends. Not people who couldn't relate.
Yesterday, I was so glad to be back in Boston. On the bus ride up (again, crappy wifi) I didn't know what to expect. I wondered if I'd see squads of cami-wearing National Guardsmen in South Station. No, I didn't. I saw two, though I did see two stationed outside Port Authority in New York, one carrying an assault rifle.
Boston is a tough town, and there were a lot of posts on Facebook talking about how the terrorists (do we even know if the bomber(s) was/were actually terrorist(s), which in my mind brings up a real political agenda, or was this the work of some whack job with a good working knowledge of demolitions?) picked on the wrong city. I saw an image of all the Boston sports teams' logos together, looking tough. I think that's all brave posturing. If it helps you get through this, fine. Just like I don't understand the posts on Facebook like, "hugs." And "sending good thoughts." Again, anything that helps a person get through this is fine by me. I try post news reports and what I consider intelligent analysis. And always humor. Good intelligent humor is what I need. Like this from Stephen Colbert
When I got to the gate at Port Authority there were two middle-aged women standing in front of me, waiting in line. Besides the fact that the bus was leaving for Boston, you could just tell they were Bostonians. The accents. White, tough-looking, overweight old broads who looked like they'd as soon spit on you as say hello. Two more showed up, and never said excuse me or explained why they were pushing ahead in line to meet with their friends. They just did it. When we boarded the bus, again, two pushed ahead and when I let the other two ahead of me, neither one said excuse me or thank you. That, as much as anything, is Boston.
And I know some readers are thinking: He's going to segue into saying, but they're my fellow Bostonians and I love them anyway. No. That's not it at all. What I'm saying is, after 32 years of living in that city, whether I like it or not, wishing it was one way but accepting it for what it really is, it's my home. When something like this happens, it's where I want to be.
Labels: Boston, Boston Marathon, Boston Marathon bombing, Greyhound bus, Peter Pan bus