Marathon day is a festive occasion around here. The marathon route happens to pass through the city I live in. For the first couple of years we lived here, we lived a stone's throw from the bottom of "Heartbreak Hill", a two-mile uphill stretch starting at about mile 19 of the 26.2-mile course. The marathon always happens during the April vacation period when schools are out here, and My Favorite Wife and the kids often would go to cheer the runners on and generally enjoy the part-like atmosphere.
This past Monday seemed like a pretty typical Marathon day, dry and moderately warm (at least by local standards). The Marathon coincides with the first tentative days of spring around here. Growing up in Northern California, springtime meant that three or four solid months of heavy rain would finally cease. Living in central Germany, springtime meant that the perpetual cold drizzle would finally stop. But here in greater Boston it means that three months of biting cold, shoveling snow, and suffocating in multiple layers of clothing will finally end. I have never appreciated spring the way I do here. The Marathon is just one more piece of evidence that the suffering is finally over, which I guess helps to explain the festive atmosphere that surrounds it. For greater Boston, the Marathon is more than just a footrace, it's a major rite of spring.
I first heard that there was something strange going on when I stepped out of my basement office to take a little break and experience a few minutes of fresh air before resuming work. One of my neighbors was standing outside, talking to MFW, and mentioned something about having heard that there was some sort of explosion along the Marathon route. I started checking my usual news web sites periodically and watched as the story around the explosion of two separate bombs near the finish line took shape. Later I saw all the footage of the bombs going off. In the following couple of days, we learned about the victims; a little boy and two young women killed, scores of people with lower legs blown off and other life-changing injuries. I was angered and saddened, hoping that the perpetrator(s) would be brought to justice, but fearing that we might never find out who they were or what they intended to achieve by this.
|Yes, I can see how this advances your cause.|
Like everyone else, I had to ask myself: who would do such a thing? Given the endless parade of presumed experts on various news outlets who characterized the bombs as comparatively unsophisticated devices, my guess was that it was either right-wing extremist types, or maybe homegrown Al Qaeda sympathizers. Given the symbolism of this happening on both Patriots Day (when Massachusetts commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord, the first shots of the American Revolution) and income tax filing day, I leaned strongly toward the first theory.
It was heartening yesterday when first pictures of the perpetrators were published. It was also somehow kind of shocking to see that the suspects looked so… average. I wondered if maybe they weren't just a couple of bored kids from somewhere around here who thought it would be cool to set off a couple of bombs and didn't really think too hard about the consequences. I had my own fascination with crude explosives as a teenager, although it would not ever have occurred to me to use one in a way that could potentially hurt anyone, so I could sort of imagine, though certainly not empathize with, that kind of mindset. But I did think that surely someone is going to see those pictures and say, hey, I know those guys.
I didn't expect it to come to a head so quickly, though. I was first alerted to this at about 2 AM this morning, when the cell phone lying next to my bed woke me with a Ding! to announce an incoming text message. Usually when this happens it's because one of my esteemed colleagues in India has forgotten that his mid-morning is the middle of my night. But in this case it was my daughter, who is away at college in Washington, DC, asking whether we were watching the news. Huh? Why would I be watching the news at 2 AM? I sent a message back asking whether this message was really meant for me (and what was she doing up at 2 AM?). She replied that the FBI is in Watertown (an adjoining city), and there was a shooting at MIT and a bomb threat in Watertown. I replied that it was 2 AM and I will now be going back to sleep, which I eventually did. I switched on the radio briefly; there was some discussion of the Marathon bombing, but that's pretty much all that's been on the radio for the last few days, so I figured that whatever was going on was, I would find out in the morning.
So when the radio came on at 6 AM, I was hearing about a wild car chase and shootout that had transpired overnight in Cambridge and Watertown. Moreover, residents of Watertown and all surrounding communities, including mine, were told to stay home and keep businesses closed. I called the office of my dentist, whom I was supposed to visit that morning, and got a recording saying all appointments were cancelled and would be rescheduled, which I suppose is not necessarily the worst news I could have gotten, since I'm not all that crazy about sitting in the chair while the nice lady scrapes my teeth with sharp instruments anyway. My urgently needed haircut is also going to have to wait; I just hope that the client I have to visit in Denver next week will not mistake me for the Wild Man of Borneo.
|So, tell me about your project.|
The day itself today pretty much consisted of trying to do my job while periodically looking for updates as to what exactly was going on with the developing manhunt for the fugitive who was still alive. I periodically flipped on the TV to see pictures of essentially every federal, state and local law enforcement organization with a presence in the Boston area parading around in all the cool vehicles and tactical gear that they probably otherwise never actually get a chance to use—it all looked so shiny and new. I hoped for a couple of things; one, that this would end soon and things could get back to normal; and two, that they would take this guy alive so we could hear just what exactly he and his brother were thinking, and then lock him up for the rest of his life.
One of the things reported about the suspect was that he was a wrestler. An interesting side note was that a number of members of my son's high school wrestling team had been in matches with the guy (and beaten him, as The Young Master would want you to know). His Facebook page had some shocked-sounding posts from various former teammates with whom he is still in touch along the lines of, "I… I know that guy!"
Looking at the pictures, I can't help but wonder what could have motivated this guy. In the course of today we heard from plenty of current and former acquaintances about how he was such a nice guy, we can't imagine him doing this, etc. I'm going to guess that he personally really had only the vaguest kind of ideological motivation for these outrageous acts; I will bet that he was mostly just being a stupid kid and following along in what the older brother he looked up told him was the just and heroic thing to do. Given the additional explosives that they carried with them and that were found in the brothers' apartment, and considering that that they seem to have had a plan to set off the bombs at the Marathon but no plan to disappear afterward, my guess is that the Marathon bombing was intended to be the first in a whole wave. I'm reminded very much of the Washington, DC sniper incidents a few years ago in which you also had a young kid following an older guy in spreading death and destruction just for the thrill of it.
|This is the face of evil?|
I should also mention that there was another thought that repeatedly occurred to me throughout this week. On the day of the Marathon bombing, that morning I was reading a story about a series of bombings and shootings in Iraq that killed 75 and injured hundreds. The day after that there were two bombings in Karachi that killed 21 people. The day after that, seven women and children were killed in Afghanistan when their vehicle drove over a bomb. Yesterday, as the first major break in the case came, a bomb had already exploded in a Baghdad cafe, killing at least 27 people and wounding scores more. For us, a bombing like the one at the Marathon is a singular outrage, and we throw massive resources into identifying, finding and killing or capturing the perpetrators. But there are other places in the world where such events are a common occurrence, with little expectation that the perpetrators will ever answer for their actions, or even be so much as identified. All this goes largely unnoticed by us. I don't know what to do about that, but I think about it nonetheless.
|We're thinking about you too. Well, not really.|
Anyway, that was my week. I hope yours was a little less exciting.