The Finish Line

In the opening pages of The Town, my Charlestown-bred bank robbers choose Marathon Monday to break in to a bank, partly because the cheering of the spectators in nearby Kenmore Square drowns out the drill noise.

I have never lived more than twenty miles away from Fenway Park. Until this Spring, that is, as for a few short months I have relocated to Los Angeles to contribute to the creation of a television show.

My family came out west for a much-needed visit over school vacation. This temporary geographical separation has been difficult on all of us, my wife especially—but our children definitely enjoy the perks of visiting Dad in California.

Saturday was Legoland. Sunday was Sea World.

Monday, the last day, was the city of San Diego itself. The Seaport Village on the waterfront. For lunch, we headed into Buster’s Beach House and Longboard Bar. Surfboard-shaped tables and a VW bus built into the wall. Seafood. Beer. Fun.

The first shock was the images of chaos on the televisions over the bar. Hundreds of people running away from the finish line, not toward it. A legend across the bottom of the screen: “Explosions Disrupt Boston Marathon.”

Our kids immediately started asking questions we could not answer. We took a table away from the screens and tried to get news from our phones, but somehow this act made our children even more anxious. So my wife and I tucked them away and ate quickly, rushing to make our two o’clock harbor tour.

The SEAL Tour is San Diego’s version of Boston’s amphibious vehicle Duck Tours. As we boarded, another passenger asked the tour guide if he’d heard about the explosions in Boston, and the guide’s eyes widened in disbelief. But he had a tour to give, so he launched into his patter.

“Where are you folks from?”

We are from another beautiful coastal city on the other side of the country. In fact, we are about as far away from home as one can travel and still be in the same contiguous forty-eight states.

We are three thousand miles away from home, and right there at the same time.

Back ashore, ninety minutes later, the headlines now read, “Boston Bombings.” A huge semantic leap, from “explosions” and “bombings.”

On the drive back up the coast, NPR helped us contextualize what had happened. Facebook informed my wife that all of our friends and family who were running or volunteering at the race—sister Jen, friends Drew, Jeff, and Stu, another Jen, old friend Chris O., babysitter Catherine, many others—were all fine, all safe. Then came news that one of the fatalities was an eight-year-old boy. We had one of those in our backseat.

I’m not a marathoner, but I get it. A good-Karma, life-milestone kind of day. Months of training invested in getting across that finish line.

And then, in the space of fifteen seconds, no one cares about the finish line anymore. The painted blue stripe in Copley Square seems arbitrary suddenly, and what was a celebration of the limits of the human body becomes instead a poignant example of the limits of the human body.

But the spirit of the race, and the stubborn strength of the city, will endure.