Undaunted

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Figuring out what I was going to write for last week’s post was hard enough, given what transpired on Marathon Monday. I certainly wasn’t going to submit my usual lighthearted bar review. Then all hell broke loose in the wee hours of Friday, and like most of you, I spent the day glued to the TV. Oh, and I live in Watertown, so…suffice to say, military helicopters overhead and gunshots in the distance contributed another layer of anxiety to an already tense day. What follows is an updated version of the piece I’d prepared for last Friday. I’ll have a more Watertown-centric post to share later this week. After that, it’s back to business – which, thanks to the actions of law enforcement and the bravery of so many ordinary citizens, I’ll be able to do.

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Boston40

I’ve never had a job that’s given me Patriots’ Day off. And since I haven’t had many close friends or relatives participate in the Boston Marathon, I’ve never spent the day on the marathon route, watching the runners. Certainly, it’s a fun thing to do; there’s a festive air about the city, and we’re often blessed with a beautiful spring day, which is such a relief after a long winter. But usually I just go to work, listen to the 11 a.m. Red Sox game, and occasionally check Boston.com for any marathon news (which typically isn’t that exciting unless you know someone from, say, Kenya).

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That’s where I was and what I was doing this past Monday. I went for a walk at lunch, as I always do, and like everyone else, remarked on how ideal the weather was for the runners. Later that afternoon, I was thrilled by the Sox’ walk-off win over the Rays. That evening, I was planning on having a drink with a friend.

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Boston5

All in all, it was a fairly routine day. Work was busy, so I wasn’t paying much attention to anything outside my office. Nor was I particularly aware of the ambulance sirens; when you work on the same street as Mass General, that’s a sound you become mostly immune to.

I can’t even say any alarm bells went off when I got a text from my friend Christine, who’d heard a report of explosions near the Lenox Hotel and wanted to be sure I was OK. Yes, I was fine. And my initial reaction, like that of many people, was that it was probably an electrical issue or something involving a gas main. An accident. Hopefully nobody was hurt. Plus, Christine is afraid of thunderstorms; her telling me about a loud noise in the city hardly seemed like a cause for panic.

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boston3 005

Of course, it was much more than just a loud noise. As details began trickling in, it gradually became apparent that something was wrong. That’s when I realized I’d been hearing sirens for a solid 20 minutes. Boston.com was maddeningly offline, overloaded by a surge of unexpected web traffic. I scrolled through my Twitter feed instead, desperate for scraps of news.

And the news was devastating. The explosions were not accidents – they were bombs. This was deliberate. Observers uploaded pictures taken with their camera phones, and the images were shocking. It was startling to see a place we’re so familiar with, so profoundly transformed. Back Bay buildings we walk past every day were obscured by smoke and dust. People were lying on the ground along Boylston Street. The sidewalks were stained with blood.

Each grim revelation brought with it a heightened sense of anxiety and uncertainty. Suddenly there were reports of suspicious packages all over the city – on footbridges, at Harvard Square, at the JFK library. Should we stay in our buildings? Was it safe to take the subway? Were there more bombs waiting to detonate? There were questions, conflicting reports, and confusion; and in the center of it all, one ugly, disturbing, and unavoidable truth: Boston was under attack.

If you’re a regular visitor to this website, you know to expect a weekly article chronicling my ongoing adventures in Boston-area bars. I hope you’re not disappointed to find something a little different today. I realize there would be some justification for writing my typical entry; there may be no better display of defiance to the perpetrators of terror than to continue going about our daily lives. Truly, though, I couldn’t fathom publishing another post about sitting in a bar and having fun while there are so many people sitting by the hospital bedsides of their husbands, wives, parents, or children, praying for them to wake up.

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Boston6

But since reporting on the bar scene is my raison d’être, I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the important role that so many Boston bars and restaurants played in the aftermath of this horror. Within minutes, they took to their Twitter and Facebook pages and reached out to a reeling community. “Anyone wanting to get out of the Back Bay, come over; plenty of tables and calm here, and don’t worry – you don’t have to buy a thing,” tweeted El Pelon Taqueria; they also offered people cold drinks, bathrooms, and a place to charge their phones. Tasty Burger, Mass Ave Tavern, and many others offered free or discounted food to runners and emergency responders.  Sweet Cheeks brought food to the Park Plaza Castle, where runners were trying to reunite with their families.

These are but a few examples, and such generosity didn’t end on Monday or Tuesday. In the days that followed, countless bars and restaurants donated portions of their food sales to victims’ funds. Some began fundraising campaigns or passed on word of other charitable endeavors. Nearly all showed some form of support for a community badly in need of it, even if it was just an encouraging message written in 140 characters or fewer.

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Such gestures, great or small, serve to remind us how deeply any local business, a bar in particular, can be woven into the fabric of a community. Such establishments offer more than just beer and cocktails. They give us a place to gather and be together. A place to celebrate the best times, to embrace each other during our darkest hours. In that respect, even the newest, trendiest bars are part of a very old tradition.

As for the bars and restaurants on Boylston Street, they’re gradually beginning to reopen as the scope of the crime scene diminishes. They could use your support, and not just in the form of a good tip. I’m sure they’d be happy just to see a few faces on the opposite side of their bars, given all that’s happened.

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Boston10

Unfortunately, one Back Bay bar that won’t be reopening for some time is Forum. Given its proximity to the finish line, Forum was a popular destination for spectators. That also made it a target – Forum’s outdoor patio was ground zero for the second bomb. Guests and employees alike were seriously hurt in the blast. And now one of the area’s most beautiful bars, open only a year, faces the prospect of rebuilding. I’ve only been to Forum on a couple of occasions, but I count it among my favorites. The people who work there are so friendly and down to earth.

As it turns out, they’re also courageous. Although some of the staff were badly injured, those who were not incapacitated rushed to help guests and people on the street, pulling them inside and tending to them as best they could.

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Boston1

They certainly weren’t alone; bravery and heroism were in abundance on Monday. Boston’s police and firefighters rose to the occasion, as they so often do. Doctors, nurses, EMTs, and other medical personnel worked tirelessly. And there are innumerable stories of ordinary people running toward the danger to pull people out of it. In the face of catastrophe and despair, this may have been Boston’s finest hour.

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I know some cynical people who think that when disaster strikes, it’ll be every man for himself. I don’t believe it. All I’ve seen since last Monday is kindness and compassion. From restaurants offering free food, to people on Twitter offering complete strangers a place to stay, it seems like everyone wants to help in any way possible.

That’s what I’ll remember most about these past few days – the love and the sense of closeness. I’ll remember the messages I got from people I’ve not spoken with in years, expressing relief that I was OK. I’ll remember “Sweet Caroline” being played at Yankee Stadium and other MLB parks. I’ll remember the feeling that the whole country and people around the world had our backs.

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I’ll also remember the lives we lost: the young woman who used to work at Summer Shack and liked hanging out at Bukowski’s. The graduate student who came to Boston from China to continue her education. The 8-year-old boy who still had his whole life ahead of him. And more recently, a 26-year-old police officer at MIT who died while protecting the rest of us.

As I write this, there’s a sense of relief in the Boston area. One of the terrorists is dead, the other is in police custody. But there are victims still clinging to life. Some are coping with the loss of limbs. Others are recovering from head wounds and any number of life-changing injuries.

All of us, though, are moving forward. We have no other choice.

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Without a doubt, the road ahead is more difficult for some of us today. But if the events of the past few days have shown us anything, it’s that there are plenty of people willing to help us along the way. We were attacked, yes; but we were not defeated. And the signs of our collective strength can be found everywhere. Our compassion can be seen in the makeshift memorials along Boylston Street.

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Boston23

Our endurance was on display in that stirring, emotional national anthem sung by 17,000+ people before the Bruins game last Wednesday. Our patriotism will be celebrated on the Esplanade on the 4th of July, when the Boston Pops strike up the opening notes in front of a crowd that will top 500,000.

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boston2 026

And our determination, and that of free people everywhere, will be unquestioned next April, when the 118th running of the Boston Marathon will have the highest attendance in history.

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Next year, I promise not to be stuck in my office. I won’t be running in the race; I can barely run 26.2 minutes, let alone 26.2 miles. But the least I can do is take the day off and support those who spent months training, raised thousands of dollars to run for a charity, and refused to be intimidated by the cowardly acts of two deranged lunatics.

Finally, the images emerging from Boston this past week have been disheartening. We’ve seen smoke, fire, destruction, blood, military vehicles, and eerily empty streets. I thought we could use a break, so most of the photos in this week’s post are of the city in the best of times. Some I took this past week, others I’ve accumulated over the years. I hope they lifted your spirits a bit. Our city is beautiful; but as we’ve learned over the past week, it’s the people who truly make it strong.

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