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TERROR: THEN AND NOW

boston-marathon-faraone

Photo: Chris Faraone

BOSTON
APRIL 15, 2013. AROUND 3PM.

I’m bumping a medley of classic Biggie and some underground funk, strolling down Newbury Street with an obnoxious bop in my step and a noggin full of hip-hop. It’s almost 3 p.m., and I’m headed to a pair of Patriot’s Day parties—one in a friend’s office that’s right above the Boston Marathon finish line, and another in a nearby restaurant on Boylston Street across from the Public Library. I’m a broke local reporter, but there are fringe benefits to being in the media around here, the sexiest of which involve smorgasbords on occasions like Marathon Monday.

Those who know the annual routine suggest that anyone who hopes to get a barstool arrives downtown before noon. I’m hours late to the festivities though, and just hoping to squeeze past the insanity to where complimentary foodstuffs could be found. I strategically exit the Red Line train at Park Street—even though friends told me to roll the Green to the Arlington stop, closer to where the runners bring it home and spread their arms wide as volunteers wrap them in foil. I know a better way to walk to Copley Square—through Boston Common—and so I take a detour.

The so-called elite runners and many others have already finished, and lots of them are strolling through the Public Garden. I’m thinking about how they’re less out of breath from hoofing 26-plus miles than I am from walking swiftly for a few minutes. I can’t believe how easy this scrum is to navigate. Despite the commotion, I’m making good time. And then a teenage girl walks by, bawling, with an older woman guarding her closely. She’s not the only one sobbing.

Photo: Chris Faraone

Photo: Derek Kouyoumjian

My music is interrupted by an incoming call beeping away. It’s my roommate in Jamaica Plain:

“What the fuck is going on? Are you down there?”

NEW YORK
SEPTEMBER 11, 2001. AROUND 8AM.

I’m a fifth year college senior, down in New York City for a few days to finish working on a city council campaign that I rallied behind all summer. My candidate is a print shop owner and man-about-town named Paul Bader who’s married to US Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. I like Paul. I dig his platform. That’s why I drove all the way from the Rochester area to help on Primary Day. Only a rotten hypocrite would sit this one out; over the past few months, I’ve literally told thousands of people to save the date:

“Don’t forget to come out and vote on September 11. Bader for city council!”

My nerves are shot. One of our opponents in this nine-way Democratic primary is a honcho in the carpenter’s union, and his goons have been threatening me all morning. I’m stationed by a middle school in Kensington, and every time I bring my campaign sign to one corner, this rhinoceros with a non-ironic Mohawk hovers until I wimp across the street. I move to call for backup. Though I don’t plan to scrap, I’ll at least need extra muscle if they want me to hold down this post. My flip phone isn’t working though. Neither is my co-campaigner’s. We get in line to use a payphone in the back of a coffee shop.

BOSTON
APRIL 15, 2013. AROUND 3:15PM.

My earbuds are unplugged. What’s my roommate taking about? Why are people crying? Did I hear a boom? Two booms? A bang?

If something is out of whack, then why are the folks over there having a good time? Maybe they’re looking for a bar. I am too. Why the hell is my phone all jammed up? Fuck! Maybe if I can get to where my friends are, they’ll have some clue about what’s unfolding. Or perhaps a horn that I can use. Screw you T-Mobile!

Is something serious going on? It can’t be. Why won’t the cops let me off of Newbury Street, and to where the free beverages are? I’m starving. One more block and I’m home free—this could be a world record for bypassing marathon foot traffic. So close that I can taste the IPA.

Whoa. Whoa! Whoa!?! Is that a person? A man? A woman? What’s happening at Stephanie’s?

Photo: Chris Faraone

Blood-soaked linens everywhere.

Photo: Gustav Hoiland

Photo: Gustav Hoiland

That individual is all kinds of injured—their stringy mop looks like it’s soaked in mud. Medics rush a stretcher in. A female cop hollers to disperse the crowd. I smell the coffee, snap out of it, exit the fog.

NEW YORK
SEPTEMBER 11, 2001. AROUND 9AM.

I finally get through to my father in Long Island, and he doesn’t know what’s happening either. All I know is that white smoke is billowing from right across the river, and that mobile phones are useless. Dad tells me to hit an ATM and withdraw the maximum, then to find a gas station and fill up. I jump in my beaten Ford Explorer with the high school kid who’s working with me. He’s completely freaked, but I promise to get him back to our office safely. A call finally connects to headquarters, and a campaign organizer says that the gang is gathering there. “Forget about the election. Hurry up!”

My brakes have been busted for months. I’m driving like Bruce Willis in that Die Hard flick where he crashes a taxicab through Central Park. Traffic is completely stopped on Ocean Parkway, so I rip up on the sidewalk and creep for a block. Once in Park Slope, I dip back onto the street, and floor it all the way to Carroll Gardens, where I park on the curb and jump out. My buddy Greg is there. So is his brother Steve. They’re okay. I’m relieved. But what the hell is going on? Congresswoman Velazquez asks if I’m okay. Then her phone rings. It’s a matter of national security.

BOSTON
APRIL 15, 2013. AROUND 3:30PM.

Photo: Derek Kouyoumjian

I’m firing off tweets because I don’t know what else to do. I could use a drink, but I’m not about to fetch one. Maybe later, but for now the guy standing next to me in a black and gold marathon jacket says that he smelled gun powder. GUN POWDER! He was right there, as were the high school girls who are screaming at a young photographer:

“THEY BOMBED OUR FRIEND—AND YOU’RE DOING WHAT? ERASE IT!”

I’m shaking. Someone says the marathon is cancelled. Police begin to clear the area. One cop explains why we have to leave: ‘There are secondary devices that have been found!’

Boston being Boston, I run into more than half-a-dozen friends and fellow reporters within minutes of shit smacking the fan. There’s a former intern of mine who is live-streaming. Then comes another media friend, followed by a national blogger, and a Herald cat. All reporters on the scene—just a block from the explosions—are pooling info. It’s clear that this is some sort of terrorist attack, and we all start asking questions, checking for the bad guys around corners. Emergency responders are on ladders in the alley behind Boylston Street, helping people evacuate restaurants through second-story windows.

Photo: Chris Faraone

Photo: Derek Kouyoumjian

NEW YORK
SEPTEMBER 12, 2001. AROUND 2PM.

I’m driving back upstate in my old SUV with busted brakes. My friend Sean, better known as The Horse, is riding shotgun, and annoying me with questions I can’t possibly answer:

“Who did it? Why would someone do that? What exactly happened, anyway?”

I crank Mobb Deep to the max, pull hard on the first of many blunts, and consider the surreal experience of the past 24 hours. Though I haven’t contributed to my school newspaper once in nearly four years of college, it feels like a good time to pitch. “I should write about what happened yesterday. Someone has to.” The Horse agrees.

BOSTON
APRIL 15, 2013. AROUND 5PM.

I’m the only one among my friends with juice left in their smart phone. An alphabet soup of authorities—ATF, FBI, you name it—is forcing everybody back to Commonwealth Ave. anyway, so we retreat into a tapas joint named Lola for some beer and electricity. There’s already a small posse at the bar, so my crew grabs a table in the rear and plugs in. Governor Deval Patrick is on television; he’s just blocks away at some hotel, but strict police barriers made it seemingly impossible to get there. That’s fine. The story is right here. And why is that woman still wearing a chicken hat? Take that shit off.

One asshole is particularly hammered; “It’s gonna be like 9/11 all over again,” she belches, her North Shore brogue oozing stupidity. “They’re gonna tell us to just sit in our apartments and not do shit about it.” I ignore her for a few minutes, and instead pay attention to a large man in a tight, bright yellow track jacket who I’m certain is an undercover cop. He’s offering to help people return to their hotels. That’s when a radio producer from New Zealand rings my cell phone and asks for an interview. I oblige:

“I guess that I can talk to you. But to be honest, I don’t really know what the hell happened.”

Photo: Chris Faraone


EPILOGUE

I’m still confused about what happened in New York. That may be because subsequent military efforts failed to line up with informed analysis. Or perhaps my uncertainty comes from never speaking much about it. Everybody has their 9/11 story, and I respect that, but that doesn’t make mine easier to share. Even on the 10-year anniversary, I decided against watching the footage that I shot that day in Brooklyn, where debris covered the streets for miles.

After all these years, we remain at war, and it’s still a strange feeling.

To be honest, I don’t really know what the hell happened.

Photo: Derek Kouyoumjian

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