Boston 2013

bombs away!

Disregarding his cerebrovascular incident in Budapest the previous year, Craig runs the 2013 Boston marathon. He had already qualified and missed a year so this was his last chance without a new qualifying time. So there was no way we weren’t going to Boston.

We book an inexpensive hotel on the edge of downtown, within walking distance of the marathon activities. At 3 stars, the Midtown Hotel is perfect.

The weather in the days leading up to the race are wet and cold. It snows the day prior. Not conducive to sight-seeing. But we do the recommended tour of the historic sites, go to Cambridge on the metro, take in the Art Museum. Have a drink at Cheers.

The morning of the marathon Craig is gone long before I am awake. I have an app that lets me follow his progress on my iPad and I can see he is making good time. So I go to the finish line a half hour before I expect him to cross. I end up on the shady side of the street, across from the Starbucks. The same one that ends up in all the news footage, where the second bomb goes off. I try to cross to get a coffee and some sun, but the street is barricaded. In hindsight, that’s a stroke of luck.

I chat with the other spectators, see Craig coming, snap a few photos and watch him cross the finish line. I stay and talk with a couple who are watching for their daughter. I think of them now. She would have been just behind Craig and may have ended up in the midst of the melee.

I walk through the crowds to where I can see Craig, downing a juice and a bagel. He is emotional, a mix of elation and relief, his nerves and tears a natural response to the ordeal he has just endured. I take a photo of him wrapped in his race “blanket” and we walk away from the area toward our hotel.

The first blast is so loud and out of place, we wonder: was that a propane tank? The second blast and the smell of explosives instinctively make us suspicious. A woman yells “there’s a shooter” and people in the street start to panic and flee in different directions. I look back, over my shoulder, and see a wall of people running toward us, away from the race area.

Craig is oddly calm, walking slowly. Maybe expecting him to run is unrealistic, after having just completed 40 some kms? Maybe his runners’ high is protecting his brain from fear? I, on the other hand, am freaked out, unsure if I should run down the lane, away from the tall buildings, or hunker down behind a large trash bin close by.

Our hotel is only a few blocks away and we get there via the lane, out of the way of the panicked crowd on the street. The lobby is eerily quiet. The TV is off. A few people are on their phones. Probably talking to their families. Not reading the news. We tell the desk clerk there’s been an explosion at the marathon finish line and he turns on the TV.

We do the same in our room. The scene unfolding on the screen is shocking. We are shaken. Outside our first floor window is the main street heading to the race area. We hear and then see emergency vehicles, sirens blaring. An army tank with machine gunners hanging off the side races by.

The TV tells us we are in lockdown and no one is to go out so we hang around the room for a few hours, riveted by the news.

But Craig is hungry and I need a drink. Our hotel has no bar or restaurant. I make a mad dash down the lane to a nearby 7-11. Get some energy drinks and carbohydrates. We can’t stop watching the news coverage, but soon get restless and hungry. I still need a drink.

Out the back door of the hotel and away from the downtown core, we find a little neighbourhood Thai place with a decent wine list. I ask them to turn the TV off.

The next day the city is still in lockdown. The rental car agency we had reserved with is not open. We get a car from somewhere. Maybe the hotel concierge arranges it? I don’t remember. I am a bit numb with shock. It is so soon after Budapest. I can’t shake the feeling of being stalked by a dark star intent on ruining my travels.

A few months ago, while cross-country skiing with friends, I fall hard and fast on my right side. My head bounces on the ice. Because I’m not wearing a helmet, I develop a concussion, in addition to whiplash. Headaches, vertigo, nausea and neck stiffness will dog me for a year and on this trip the stress of what’s happened at the marathon adds insult to injury. I have trouble relaxing. My shoulders feel like they are attached to the bottom of my ears. Sitting in the rental car for hours is uncomfortable.

We drive down the coast to Plymouth, have lunch, take some photos, learn more about the early New Englanders, the Pilgrims.

Our destination is Provincetown on the northern tip of Cape Cod. It is colourful and artistic. A haven for gay men, apparently. The beach is gorgeous. The Anchor Inn a perfect accommodation. We eat fresh seafood. I try to forget about Boston. But it’s hard.

An unpredicted high pressure system blows the clouds away the day we arrive and we get warm sunny weather and clear blue skies. It’s cleansing.

We head back to the mainland and carry on south to Rhode Island, to Providence, the capitol. The famed Rhode Island Institute of Art and Brown College are both in the city and there are lots of students around. There is also a bit of a hippy vibe. Lots of old brick buildings. Very genteel.

Our hotel, the Providence Biltmore, a gorgeous historic building in the centre of the city, is a bit of a splurge. We don’t talk about it, but I have the feeling we both feel the need for some pampering. As though a 4 star room with a soaker tub and sink-into king bed could somehow compensate for what happened at the marathon.

Our first night here, out walking and in search of a bathroom, we go into a shopping mall. While Craig is in the mens’ room, a siren sounds and an announcement over the PA system instructs us to evacuate the mall. I have no idea why but, after the marathon bombing, am fearful of another blast. And as Craig is nowhere to be seen, am beginning to wonder if he is somehow connected to the incidents? I have to go into the washroom to roust him out and we are the last ones to leave the mall. We never do find out what the fuss was about.

While we are in Providence the police capture the younger Tzarnev brother. It’s a sad story: the older brother dead, the younger one found cowering in a boat in a back yard.

A day trip to Newport is an education in late nineteenth century upper class life. The wealthy of Manhattan had their summer cottages here. The Vanderbilts, Roosevelts, JP Morgans and their ilk. We take a tour of one, the Breakers, build by Cornelius Vanderbilt II. It’s a 70 room Italian Renaissance style palazzo. Mind boggling.


The trip to Boston and beyond will always be overshadowed by the bombs. I’d like to go back, to Cape Cod especially. To create new memories and possibly erase some of the old ones.

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