On Boston

What happened at the Boston Marathon is something I can’t even put up into words. The last thing anyone needs is another prognostication on the tactics or techniques or perpetrators. So I just have my thoughts.

I was born in Boston and lived there until my family moved out to Concord when I was six. Work and school called me away, but that siren song of Winthrop’s shining city on a hill has never diminished. I grew up attending the yearly reenactments of the Battles of Concord and Lexington, with local folk playing the roles of Redcoat and Patriot in full costume and with the one cannon still belonging to the Concord Battery firing away. One of my proudest days was getting to march as a flagbearer along with the Fenn School Marching Band in the annual parade. Patriots Day is the coming of Spring. It’s the earliest baseball game in all of MLB. It’s Marathon Monday, and despite the fact that records set there never seem to count for anything in the eyes of the IAAF, we all know that it’s the best and most important marathon in the world. Boston is the Hub of the Universe, and Patriots Day is our coming-out party every year. Growing up in that environment – steeped in history and patriotism and pride – means that to commit an act of terror on Patriots Day, of all days, is especially cruel. I fear it will never be the same.

I fear that Patriots Day, one of the brightest spots in the third week in April, a week otherwise marred by remembrances and anniversaries of Waco and Columbine and Virginia Tech and Oklahoma City and Hitler’s birthday and Tax Day, will join that long list as another sad anniversary.

So Monday hit me in a way 9/11 never did.

I don’t know if it’s just that I was too young or too geographically removed from New York and Washington to understand, but aside from a sort of numb feeling, it was like watching a disaster movie happen to someone else. Only the consequences were far too lasting. And in the years since, when has Boston been a target outside of Fringe episodes and the occasional police procedural? It’s unthinkable.

But at this point I think my generation is much more capable of realizing the impact of Monday’s terrorism, and is in more of a position to respond. I also think, and hope, that we’re better equipped to channel our emotions – our sadness and anger and need for vengeance and utter despair – into more productive avenues than we did in September of 2001. I understand the reaction we had then. I get how overwhelmed and powerless we must have felt then, because lord knows I feel it too. From removing trash cans from streets to invading unrelated countries, I hope that we’re ready to not repeat our mistakes. I think we’ve learned from them. I think we’ve spent the last ten years asking if there was anything we should have, or could have done differently. And I think that that, if anything, that could be the one silver lining in this cowardly act of terror.

There’s too much to say, too much to feel, even a couple days removed from the bombing. And really, there’s only so much I can say. For everything else you should read this piece by Caitlin Fitzgerald, a true Bostonian if ever there was one and who says all the things I can’t find the words for.

I’m not a praying man, but I pray for Boston just the same. And I’ve never been more glad to be going home for the weekend.

Patriot’s Day

The British route to Concord and the route of the Patriot riders.

I meant to post this yesterday, but dropped the ball on it. Today (yesterday) was Patriot’s Day, and for those of you not living in the Boston area (or Wisconsin, for some reason), that means a celebration (and Monday off in honor) of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Lexington was the first battle that saw colonial blood spilled. At Concord, we finally shot back.

It’s one of my favorite holidays, complete with reenactors all across the state, the Boston Marathon, and a Red Sox game played at 11 AM. So I figure this is as good a time as any to announce that my paper on the Battle of Concord, “Privates and Patriots,” has been accepted for presentation at the NEASA conference this November. It’s a comparison of British and American (or if you like, loyalist and rebel) perceptions of that day’s battle, and an attempt to discern fact from exaggeration. Here’s a little excerpt:

With Pole’s companies still at the South Bridge and Laurie’s detachment at the North Bridge, Colonel Smith’s troops still in the town square had set the courthouse aflame. Since 0900, Colonel Barrett’s forces had grown in size with companies from Acton, Bedford, Lincoln, and Carlisle joining those already mustered in Concord. Upon seeing plumes of smoke from the center of town (and mistaking those at the South Bridge for a larger conflagration), the young Lieutenant Joseph Hosmer turned to Barrett and asked, “Will you let them burn the town down?” The captain of the Acton company, Isaac Davis, declared to those who might question their willingness to fight for a town not their own that “I haven’t a man who isn’t afraid to go.” Barrett and the various company captains at Punkatasset held an impromptu war council. The verdict was simple and clear: “To march into the middle of the town for its defense, or die in the attempt.”

So on this day (yesterday), remember Lexington Green and the Old North Bridge. Remember the running battle fought all the way back to Boston, around the “Bloody Angle” and Parker’s Revenge; Fiske’s Hill and The Bluff. And remember that every side has its own story.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurl’d
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard ‘round the world

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Concord Hymn”


They came three thousand miles and died
To keep the past upon its throne
Unheard beyond the ocean tide
Their English Mother made her moan

– James Russell Lowell, inscribed on the grave of the British soldiers


On Chicago

The Chicago skyline, as viewed from Wrigley Field looking south, April 5, 2011. Photo by the author.

I meant this to be a stand-alone post on Chicago, but life circumstances will also turn this into a farewell to that most quintessentially American city. Things have necessitated a homecoming, but I see it as being for the best.

Yes, I have now departed Chicago and returned home to Boston for now. Career-wise this is almost certainly the right move; the kind of work I want to do is based pretty much entirely on the East Coast, and now I’m that much closer to potential employers, etc. But I got a pretty awesome trip out of it, somehow accidentally theming it around baseball. Did you know that for some games tickets to Wrigley Field are as little as $8?

And then our road trip route took us past Jacobs Field in Cleveland, past the sign for Cooperstown (sadly, summer hours had not yet begun), and home to Boston, where Sunday night I was able to watch at Fenway as the Red Sox won their first (and to-date, only) series of the year. Against the Yankees, no less. But I digress.

Much of my thinking on Chicago as a city is reflected perfectly in a post from my old professor, Fredric Smoler:

It was thus a hyper-modern and ultra-American city, more modern and in a sense more American than New York, which predated the Republic. The quintessential American architectural form, the skyscraper, was invented here, and approaching the city from its airport the spires rise above the plain like Oz. L. Frank Baum had lived in Chicago, and I think it shows…

A fantasy of Chicago made a vast impression on people like Bertholt Brecht, for whom it symbolized immensely violent capitalist energies. Chicago no longer seems to evoke that intense energy in the minds of foreigners, or for that matter for too many Americans, and we seem to have also lost the once more varied sense of its history as well… Continue reading

Shameless Plug

A brief commentary of mine is up at the BBC talking about the East Coast snow versus London’s paralysis. I’m also doing an interview for The World Tonight which should be available sometime this evening.

Basically, London needs to prepare for worst-case scenarios. And BAA probably isn’t going to miraculously be ready of its own accord. The Port Authority and Massport airports were all up and running within 24 hours of the storm beginning. Coincidence? I think not. It might not even make financial sense for BAA to be ready for serious snow (even if it turns out anything over .8″ was considered a “blizzard”), which is why they can’t be trusted.

As for the BBC’s fascination with my story about the coincidences of seeing snow in both London and Boston, it’s like I’m this guy. Only much, much less scarred-for-life.