My trip to Boston did not go as expected.

Flying in was completely uneventful, but nothing else was.  Boston traffic is murder on marathon days, and my cabby from the airport grumbled about it the whole ride.  Incredible amounts of people everywhere.  I checked into my hotel around 1:00, and my coworker and I decided to take a walk and find some lunch.  Right away we got caught up in the marathon crowd, so we walked along with that a little bit, but quickly realized it was too packed to really get anywhere.  We hopped in a cab instead and went to Mr. Dooley’s Irish pub.

We were far enough away that we didn’t hear the bombs go off, which was more or less at the time we were leaving the restaurant.  As the cab made its way back to our hotel (the Boston Sheraton, about four blocks from the explosions), traffic somehow got even worse.  We started seeing runners heading towards us, all looking stunned, but calm.  Then a chorus of sirens began, and emergency vehicles appeared from nowhere.  Police cars shot through spaces I didn’t think you could even squeeze a car.  More and more runners poured past us, many of them trying to hail our cab.  Our cabby started to get nervous.

Then I got a text from Sam, saying she had just heard about what happened at the marathon, and was I okay?  I tried to respond, which was when all of the cell service cut out.  (At first CNN was saying the cell companies cut service because they were afraid of cell-activated bombs, but later the cell companies said they did no such thing: it was just that all of the towers were overloaded.)  We had no idea what had happened, but we figured there must have been a bad accident of some sort.

We finally reached the corner of Dalton (the street my hotel was on) and Boylston (the street with the finish line), and we looked to the right and saw the site of the explosions, swarming with ambulances and police cars.  Some guy outside the cab said there were two suicide bombers.  At that point the cabby pulled over and told us, “Get out now.  I’m not going any farther.”  Several people came up to the taxi as I tried to pay so that they could take the cab, but apparently the credit swiper ran on the same towers as the cell phones, because cards weren’t working.  My coworker and I scraped together what cash we had and tossed it to the cabbie.  Some guy was already climbing in before I was even out all of the way. We walked the rest of the way to the hotel, avoiding as much of the crowd as possible, since we had no idea what had happened or if there was still any danger.

We made it to the hotel, and the lobby was chaos…police, sobbing runners who weren’t hurt but just didn’t know where else to go, and a crowd of people huddled around the tvs watching the news and trying to figure out what was going on.  I watched long enough to get the facts that were known so far (which wasn’t a whole lot, since this was about 30 minutes after the explosions), then headed to my room to get in touch with my family.  Not even the hotel landline was working for a while—too many people trying to call in/out, I suppose.  I still had internet, so I went down my list of Facebook friends currently online until I found one available to call my parents and let them know I was okay.

From my hotel room I could just see the fringes of all of the emergency activity (some people on the 20th floor said they could pretty much see the whole thing), so I was keeping an eye on things when the sirens kicked up again.  At first the news said there was another bomb at the library, which was where I had initially planned to go that night.  Another herd of emergency vehicles went by, but eventually the news reported that it was only a fire, possibly unrelated.

I was finally able to call out, so I checked with my family to make sure everyone was okay.  My mom has a cousin in Boston, and another extended relation of ours was running in the marathon.  Everyone was all right, so I checked in with my boss to see whether the meeting was going ahead as planned.  It was, which I thought was stupid; a lot of people didn’t feel safe flying in, the streets were mostly closed and were full of police and soldiers, and there was still a mob of people outside.   I had some setup work to do, but I felt like such a jerk running around the lobby with a binder asking where the meeting room was, while there were still runners sitting there crying, and there was a SWAT team with rifles on patrol.  I had to talk to at least three security guys before I could even get to the meeting room, and even then I had a personal escort.  That night most of the restaurants in the area were closed, so there was a 2-3 hour wait at those who were open.  I walked in the opposite direction from the chaos until I found an open Wendy’s that wasn’t too busy.

I facilitated at the all-day board meeting on Tuesday, and everything went smoothly…even though everyone jumped every time we heard a siren.  American Airlines’ entire fleet was grounded the whole day due to a system crash, which delayed a lot of our people who were coming in for the big 100-person meeting on Wednesday.  After working all day, I thought, forget this craziness, I’m going exploring.  My coworker Amanda and I went to a fantastic little Italian place on the North End called Al Dente, and then we went to the famous Mike’s Pastry for cannoli before wandering around the city for hours.  We went by Old North Church and Quincy’s Market and came upon Boston Common at the tail end of the candlelight vigil. We paid our respects at a little makeshift memorial where people had left candles and some guy was softly playing his guitar.

By Wednesday, the SWAT team had left the lobby, but there were still soldiers on every corner, with humvees everywhere.  Boston Common was turned into a barracks for the troops, with tents pitched on the green.  Throughout the whole trip, I knew when I was getting close to the bomb site because I first heard the roar of the generators on all of the news trucks.  There were at least 50 of them the first couple days, though it settled down a bit after a while.  The meeting itself went mostly well, though there were a series of minor catastrophes.  Our keynote speaker’s flight was delayed and he never did make it, so we pulled some random guy in to speak instead.  The giant screen we were supposed to have couldn’t be trucked in because of all the closed streets, so we had to redo the setup of the room.  We spent the whole day running back and forth putting out brush fires, and by the end of the 11-hour workday, I was beat.

I still wanted to see more of the city, however, so Amanda and I took a cab up to Warren’s Tavern, which was Paul Revere’s favorite pub and probably the oldest restaurant in Boston: lots of heavy, dark wood, low ceilings, and great food.  The tavern is very close to the Bunker Hill Monument, which is also the start of the Freedom Trail.  I walked the whole trail (Amanda took a cab back after a while), which took me back to Boston Common.  I ended up taking the scenic route back to the hotel from there (got a bit turned around after the streets I intended to take were blocked off), so between 11 hours in heels and 4-5 miles of walking, my feet were very unhappy with me.  I still had a marvelous time, just wandering the city by myself.

I flew out on Thursday, which was the day the President came to Boston, so security ramped back up again.  It took me an hour and a half to get through security at the airport, but I did get to see Air Force One.  TSA patted me down both on my way into Boston and on my way out, and both times they said my braid was the problem.  My hair blocks x-rays, apparently?  On my flight out of Boston, I sat next to two guys who had been on site for the explosions.  One was there to see his son run, and he was standing right between the two bombs when they went off.  The other was running a huge party at one of the restaurants across from the bombs, and all of their windows blew out and a chandelier fell (fortunately with no one underneath it).  They rounded up as many people as they could from the sidewalks and got them out through the back kitchen entrance of the restaurant so that they’d be on another street, away from everything.  Everyone had a story to tell.

As difficult and tragic as the situation was, the sense of community was really encouraging.  Everyone was being so nice to each other.  The hotel dropped half of the long-distance charges I had racked up, without my even asking.  The cashier at a cafe at the airport didn’t charge me for my drink.  The cabbies took it as a personal challenge to get folks as close to their destination as they could with so many streets closed.  One of the gentlemen I talked to was from NYC, and he said the situation reminded him of how everyone came together after 9-11: not nearly as large in scale (thankfully), but similar in feeling.

I got back to Raleigh around 7 on Thursday, and I was so glad I did; I wouldn’t have been able to get out on Friday, with the lockdown.  The joint meeting (that encompassed our 100-person meeting) was still going on, and I received emails from a few of them on Friday, saying that they couldn’t leave the hotel, all of the restaurants were closed, and they were getting worried about food.  There are so many huge hotels in that area that feeding people becomes problematic.  From what I hear, though, the lockdown was lifted quickly enough that everyone was all right.

And now, to end this on a lighthearted note, I have to say that one of the best parts of the trip was eavesdropping on two little kids sitting behind me on the plane out of Boston.  The little girl was about 7, and her little brother was about 4, and his name was Wolfie.  I know because she was teaching him how to spell his name, and they were chanting it together.  I desperately hope Wolfie is short for Wolfgang.  At one point the (extremely precocious) little girl said, “I’m going to have to take my jacket off, or I’ll literally be sweating.”  *rustling sounds as she tries to take her jacket off while buckled in, then a heartfelt sigh*  Then she said in a tiny, mature voice, “I hate struggling like this.”  Everyone who heard her just lost it, and it was really nice to laugh together with a group of strangers.

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