Reflecting on the Tragedy at Boston
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Memories of watching the marathon from the “best seat in the house”
Boylson Street, 2008 Boston Marathon. Photo by BigStock.
They called it the Best Seat in the House party. I used to work in an office at the corner of Boylston Street and Exeter, site of one of the explosions that tore the Boston Marathon apart on Monday. Number 711 Boylston was our address, and we had a perfect view of the finish line. The bleachers. Our office, a publisher, had a party, and we all watched and yelled from the windows. Of course, we also went out and strolled around.
So the images from the Boston Marathon were very haunting but also very familiar. Raben Publishing was located on the north side of the street, across from the library maybe a block away, where we would sometimes go for research (no internet then). Half a block away, also on the south side, was Lord and Taylor’s, where my friend Tracey Minkin dragged me to make me spend part of the $400 check I had just gotten from the old mountain compendium Ascent, two years after I wrote the story in it.
We were on the second floor, at the corner that I keep seeing on the news, where the bleachers were. We still laugh about the time an article—an assignment about Patagonia—arrived from a laconic writer named Joe. It was a beautiful day and my boss Chris Bergonzi, a marathoner, had opened the windows to his corner office. The wind on that pretty spring day picked up the article pages and blew them out the window.
I don’t even remember who won the Boston Marathon that year. Was it Grete Waitz? I do remember tearing up to see the wheelchair guys arrive first, as they always do (though I hadn’t realized it until then) and a legless man on a low skateboard-like vehicle. The only other thing I remember really well is seeing the middle- or maybe back-of-the-packers. The ones whose friends and families were joining them for the last few blocks, perhaps walking. We cheered for every one, and teared up for them, too, for the magnitude of their effort and for the support they were enjoying.
Raben Publishing was comprised of UltraSport, Bicycle Guide and Walking magazines, all under the one roof. Most of those who worked there participated in something, from running to triathlons to skiing. I was a climber, though that year I entered my one and only running race, of five miles in Central Park on New Year’s Eve, our start designated by fireworks, with champagne on offer at aid stations. I just thought it sounded fun, and traveled down to New York, stayed with my sister there, and invited two old friends from Journalism School who were still working in the city. Jeff Parker was one, a UPI reporter who rode his bike all over the city. What I hadn’t possibly expected was to feel like a hero—for a minute there, I was in the Olympics—when I finished amid long rows of smiling, cheering spectators on both sides.
Big Stone Publishing, where I am sitting as I write this, the day after the Boston Marathon disaster, is also a melting pot of participants, runners and climbers, skiers and hikers, some solely dedicated but most some sort of hybrid. We publish Rock and Ice, Trail Runner and, once a year, the reconstituted Ascent.
I am unable to concentrate on my other work, though it is piled sky-high. Those hurt in Boston are our people. Participants of all different ability, out for health and focus and the love of endeavor. Those waiting to cheer for friends or a father or daughter. All who support them, and love sporting endeavor and spirit.
Tracey was in Chris’s office, on that corner, the day Joe’s article blew out the window. Did Joe have a copy? we all wondered, agape. Not everyone had computers yet. Just this year on Facebook, a few of us former coworkers had another laugh at how Chris just had to brace himself, and immediately call Joe.
“Joe, hi … Your article blew out the window.”
Tracey could only imagine the disbelief on the other end. Chris was obviously asked to repeat himself.
“It,” said Chris, “just blew … away.”
Joe did have a copy, an earlier draft, marked-up but existent, on a shelf.
I was just a hack runner, but I loved the Boston Marathon, the hard-working runners and the milling, smiling populace of the multitudes who appreciated what they were doing. I feel like I can never again laugh about those papers blowing down the street. By the time this even appears, many will be starting to move on, to think less about this event, though we will all always remember where we were when we heard it, like my mother from when Kennedy was shot, the way I remember John Lennon and the Challenger and 9/11. But human lives changed forever yesterday.
Their precious lives as they were blew away down that street, and they won’t get them back. I only hope they can somehow proceed, and grow around this event, as we all go on.
Alison Osius is the columns editor for Trail Runner.
To read more impressions on Monday in Boston, see The Runners’ Web.