Just about anyone who can drive from their home to Fenway Park in an hour or less will represent themselves to outsiders as being from Boston. It is a hat tip to geography, history and a way of life. To each other, we’ll identify with our actual hometowns or neighborhoods. While Bostonians understand each other, many people in this country are not sure how to deal with us. We are the ones who talk with that crazy accent, make up funny names for common fish, drive in ways that scare outsiders and root for our local sports teams with an uncommon passion and loyalty. If someone tells you they are “downtown” they could be anywhere. In the summer, we may go “up Maine” or “down the Cape”. It’s how we roll. You can leave Boston as I did, but Boston never leaves you.
Boston is an enigma. “Wicked” is a positive term in Boston. The same city that has never been able to fully shake a reputation for racism helped elect the first African-American Attorney General and U.S. Senator in the United States, and effectively led the integration of the NBA. The ancestors of the folks who tossed the British tea into the harbor now just shrug and mutter about living in Taxachusetts. Boston’s place in history, its political legends, incredible schools, hospitals and culture drive a tremendous amount of pride that others often perceive as arrogance. We are comfortable with the nuance, even if you aren’t. Despite our differences, we share that pride.
We go big in Boston, for better or for worse. From Concord and Lexington to Bunker Hill. The Great Fire of 1872 and the Boston Molasses Disaster. The Boston Strangler and the Great Brinks Heist. The rejuvenation of Boston Harbor and The Big Dig. And we run the oldest and best marathon in the country. Always have, always will.
There are rites of passage for Boston area youngsters. Your first time walking up the ancient ramps of Fenway Park with your father and seeing that perfect emerald field and the Green Monster. Your first ride on “the T”. Candlepin bowling. Your first taste of clams, be they fried Ipswich or wonderful steamers (drink the broth!). Your first mouthful of lobster dipped in drawn butter. Trips to Harvard Square, Chinatown and the North End. Shoveling snow. Finding a beach. Getting your drivers license and learning the Boston method: never make eye contact. Watching the human spectacle that is the Boston Marathon.
I grew up 2 blocks from the marathon route where it passes through Newton on Rt. 16, also known as Washington Street. In fact, Beacon Street starts right there at Rt. 16 in Newton and runs all the way into Boston, where it is a bit more famous. As kids, we would set up folding tables along the side of Washington Street, and offer the runners Dixie cups of water or orange wedges as they came by. You learned to run with them, make the handoff, and wish them good luck, as Heartbreak Hill was only a couple of miles ahead. People have always lined the streets along the entire route, cheering for strangers as they test their endurance. The Red Sox still play an 11 AM matinee on Patriots Day, the day of the marathon. From Kenmore to Copley, it is wall-to-wall people, a celebration of spring, sport and spirit. It is the essence of Boston.
So it was this year until shortly before 3:00. An 8-year old boy from Dorchester named Martin Richard was enjoying a day off from school and the wonder of the marathon right at the finish line with his mother. The chances are good that Martin had ticked off many of the Boston rites of passage, including one that day. He was a big Bruins fan. He had a huge smile, and personified the potential of youth. He was Boston. And then he was taken, a bright candle, snuffed out by evil. The heartless piece of sub-human garbage that placed his bomb inches from Martin knew what was next for that wonderful child and the scores of people nearby. What he didn’t know is that Boston doesn’t cower. Heroic first responders ran into the smoke and fire and saved lives in a chillingly gruesome scene. Fires were extinguished with bare hands. Shirts and belts became tourniquets. A city under siege for days came together as never before, because nothing else mattered. And the killers were tracked down. Ultimately, four innocent lives were lost and hundreds more damaged forever. May those who were lost rest in peace, and their families find comfort in their memories. Some have called for a traditional Boston Duckboat parade for the victims, the first responders, the medical teams and law enforcement, heroes all. I’m all for that.