Notes from a Sunny Boston

Boston’s Mayor Tom Menino allowed free parking in the city center through today, Sunday. It’s part of a push to get people to not flinch, and come quickly back to the scarred downtown, and Boylston Street in particular, where two bombs blew apart the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and ruining many more lives. That shockwave continued through the manhunt and city-wide lockdown on Friday, April 19, and on into last week. This sunny and first truly warm spring weekend in Boston since then was, in a way, designed for healing. Or at least good weather to begin the healing process.

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Walking down Boylston Street, the scene opened with a surreal soundtrack. A man with an electric keyboard sat near the site of the second bomb, the Forum Restaurant. He played spacey and dirge-like synth music.  A sign on his cash-bucket said it was “smooth jazz.”

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A woman I met named Betty – from New York but a former Boston resident – was standing nearby. She was wearing her blue 2013 Adidas Marathon jacket. She had crossed the finish line about 45 minutes before the blasts, running on behalf of the Dana-Farber Challenge. A friend of hers on the team was stopped on the course after the bombs went off, and didn’t get to finish the race. So on Saturday this weekend, he ran it again, completing it this time to honor his pledges, with Betty as “road support.” She’s run 24 marathons. “It’s so surreal that any of this happened,” she said.

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In a crowd of people gathered in front of the other bombing site, the Boston running-gear store Marathon Sports, I found Francisco Barochas. He had just arrived in Boston yesterday from his home not far from Monterey in northern Mexico.

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The bombings really upset him. He was in Mexico, following the race on TV when they happened. He comes to the US a lot, and his family thought briefly he had already travelled to Boston on April 15, might even have been at the finish line. His first full day in Boston, he had to see the site. Francisco told me that not long ago, a cousin of his became one of the many victims of Mexico’s drug war. In order to process the violence he said, “we go to church and pray for them, and visit family.”

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In front of Marathon Sports, I also met Chrissie Hutchinson-Jones and Chris Hutchinson-Jones. She had just moved to downtown Boston as a graduate student in 2001 when 9/11 happened. An immediate evacuation of the tall buildings in Boston after the planes hit their New York targets that morning created a car-less quiet in downtown Boston, the memory of which returned for her during the April 19 “shelter in place” order.  “The trauma we experienced reminds me of 9/11, but also that very strong sense of community and care for one another that we’ve experienced as well,” she said.

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On the other side of the Charles River in Cambridge today, another community: people had gathered on the shared front lawn of the Cambridge Public Library and the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, the high school the Tsarnaev brothers graduated from. Some students had organized a group called CRLSstrong, and a couple hundred past and present students, teachers, and other Cantabrigians gathered “to reflect on the Boston Marathon attack and the subsequent tragic incidents that caused many deaths and injuries.” I arrived as things were beginning to wind down.

There had been a moment for comments from students, mostly embracing the cultural diversity of Cambridge, and how that has always seemed to make for a tolerant city.

I ran into a young woman I know from my Cambridgeport neighborhood who graduated from CRLS in 2006, the same class as Tamerlan Tsarnaev. She said she didn’t really know him. She was glad to see some old faces. “People are dealing with it in their own ways. But this is kind of like a class reunion!”

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Max, class of 2003, now works for a VH1 reality show in New York. He happened to be in town this weekend, so came to the school. He warned me he would be a cynical voice. Cambridge Rindge & Latin he explained “is an interesting, tolerant, accepting place. Yeah. But it’s not like a g**damn unicorn farm or anything. I mean people say, ‘There’s a Haitian club.’ Yeah, there’s a Haitian club. The Haitians mostly hung out with the Haitians, the black kids mostly hung out with the black kids, the white kids mostly hung out with the white kids. It’s just like any other high school,” he said. “These kids could have gone to any high school.”

I know of former CRLS students from Djhokhar Tsarnaev’s class who remain in shock and disbelief over the news of their classmate, and are in varying degrees of personal crises over the gap between the reality they have read and seen on live TV, and the person they thought they knew. But it seemed most people were grateful for the chance to connect – even with this horrible story as the glue – on this sunny afternoon.

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