Boston. I was there.

2 May

Boston. Marathon Monday. I was there. Picked up Maria’s (fiancé) father Sunday from Schenectady and delivered him to Maria in Waltham (about 10 miles west of Boston). They would be leaving for Italy on Wednesday. I’ve been helping a woman (let’s call her Emily) with her running program and she was to treat the marathon as a workout. I met her at the Riverside MBTA stop Sunday afternoon and we drove to her uncle’s home in Westwood to watch the Masters and have dinner.

After dinner I returned to Waltham. Emily’s uncle would drop her at the start in Hopkinton Monday morning.

Maria went to work on Monday, her company is German-owned and international in scope so Patriots Day is a workday. I watched the Marathon on TV, believe it was WBZ. The coverage was thorough and professional. The analysis was provided by Tony Reavis, who had the first radio show dedicated to running. He was a voice of the running boom in the 70’s and 80’s and he found a way to make a career of it.

Emily was scheduled to start with the first wave at 9:40 but she elected to run with a friend leaving with the third wave at 10:20. There are so many runners (25,000) and the such narrow streets that the marathon has a number of starting groups designated as “waves”.

At 12:30 I drove into Boston. Authorities scare everyone that with the marathon cutting through the city it will cause terrible traffic issues. Hence no one drives and it’s probably the easiest day to use your car. I exited off the Mass Pike at #22 for the Prudential Center. This exit spits you out behind the Pru and I grabbed a spot in the Pru parking garage 50 yards from the exit ramp, only $19 for the first two hours.

I walked through the Prudential shopping mall and then proceeded down Boylston Street toward the finish line. I travelled within feet of where Bomb # 2 would detonate 75 minutes later. As I passed the site of Bomb # 1 at Marathon Sports I thought what a great view the co-eds were enjoying in the apartments above.

Emily had been on 3:15 pace, but her friend labored and Em slowed with her. Technology was giving me splits and projected finish times every five kilometers. Emily was on 3:30 pace. She needed to run under 3:35 to qualify for next year’s race.

I was now past the finish line by about 100 yards. I grabbed some lunch in a cafe and argued hoops with a Celtics fan. When I emerged Emily was crossing the finish line (3:32) and it was 1:50 pm. When she saw me she immediately told me that she felt awful for leaving her friend at the 19 mile mark. She picked up her backpack which had been bussed from start and we headed towards the “Friends and Family” area. This is three street blocks where alphabet designations dictate where to meet. Emily’s crew was to meet at the letter H. Within 20 minutes all were accounted for except Em’s friend. We knew she had finished and we knew she hadn’t picked up her back pack.

Before someone could visit the medical area to see if she was being treated, Bomb #1 went off. It was not in our sight line, about 400 yards away. It was loud, louder than a cannon or an M-80. As someone said, “That can’t be good,” Bomb #2 went off, not nearly as loud as #1, about 600 yards from where we were standing. There was no panic. Our street was crowded with people waiting for others. Almost no one left, though many seemed more hurried in their actions.

There was also no evidence that a bomb had gone off. No police with bull horns. No one fleeing down our street, probably due to the four barriers that had been put up to separate the runners, wheelchair competitors, medical row, and spectators. There was a sense of calmness for about two minutes, looking back maybe we were in a collective shock because we knew what had happened but our minds were still in process. Then the phones went nuts. As unconfirmed reports hit the Internet, friends and relatives were calling; smartphones (I’m sure I’ll break down and get one someday) had photos. Yet since people were waiting for someone, they seemed more determined to wait.

Then phones stopped working. Some could send texts, but others mostly lost service and would receive batches of texts as service reappeared briefly. Sirens and alarms were everywhere. Emergency vehicles arrived about ten minutes after the explosions. That prompted us to make a plan to get out of Dodge. Em and I started to trek towards my car, unaware that the Pru and its garage had been locked down. We had not gotten two blocks when we received word her friend had been located and the group was to re-assemble at Boston Common which is three blocks past the finish line.

On our way to Boston Common we saw agents from just about every federal agency arriving in full military gear in an endless parade of black suburban vehicles – ATF, Secret Service, Treasury, Homeland Security, FBI, EPA (yes EPA has people with guns). Mass State Police piled into the city for an hour, coming from all points in the state. All off-duty Boston police were called in. Meanwhile, tourists in Boston Common were taking pictures of statues.

We met up the with the crew, now complete. Hugs, tears, and stories were shared. We were all to go to Emily’s uncle’s condo (different uncle) on the wharf but the girls pulled an audible and headed off to a Columbus Ave. where they had a vehicle. Em and I began the 1.5 mile hike to the condo. Em politely resisted my invites to stop in at the many watering holes we passed.

We arrived at the condo about 4:45, less than two hours since the bombing. The condo had a land line which was put to immediate use. Em’s aunt and uncle were generous in their hospitality (think scotch). Em took a shower and we settled into the local news coverage. This was our first touch with normalcy. Watching the events on TV made it seem like it happened somewhere else. Isn’t that the case with the news? It’s always somewhere else.

Looking back, national news (CNN, Fox, ABC) had more accurate reporting than the four local news stations. That seems weird considering how many resources the local stations had in place.

Eventually Maria would drive into the city (without issue) and pick me up. My car would be available after 9 PM. By then the police had dogs sniff the garage, taken a photo of each car, and run all the plates. We chose to go to dinner and would get my car in the morning. As we exited Boston and headed to Waltham we noticed there were at least four informed police officers at every intersection, and most were from suburban police departments. It was now five hours since the blast, sirens still in the air, along with police and news helicopters, Coast Guard with a heavy presence in the water.

I didn’t sleep much and Maria is an early riser so at 4:15 AM on Tuesday we were on our way to the Pru garage to get my car. Since I had planned to exit after getting Emily to her uncle, all my stuff was in my car. So I arrive at the garage at 4:45 in a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses. Two of the nine hundred officers at the Pru listened to my story, made me tell it to someone else, then allowed me to get my car. After paying $39 (the 24 hour rate, and a new record eclipsing the $30 rate I paid at the Boston Westin) I only had to re-tell my story to a group of Boston, Mass State, and National Guard officers before being guided to Mass Ave. I quickly was on the Turnpike and heading west, breathing my first sigh of relief at 5:05 AM.

Emily got to the airport and flew back to Baltimore a few hours later. She got a lot more than a 26 mile workout in her two day visit to Boston.

By now, you now how the rest of the story played out. If you’ve gotten this far, thank you for reading. It was more important for my own sanity that I write this rather than you read it.

Joe Notar

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