My thanks to everyone for their kind words and offers of help over the last couple of days. This post might appear haphazard and scatter-brained (or more so than usual), but my building was evacuated–much of Back Bay is a crime scene–and I’m writing on very little sleep.
The two explosions, in a straight line, were about forty and sixty yards from my apartment. When I heard the bang, I ran downstairs and headed out to Boylston Street along with other people in my building and a lot of other Bostonians.
After giving some people directions to Commonwealth Mall and the Esplanade (note to emergency planners–don’t assume people from out of town or who don’t speak English well will understand where things are, even if they’re really close by), I returned to the lobby of my building, at which point we were told to go upstairs as it is a glass-enclosed lobby and the police were worried about shrapnel from other explosions. About ten minutes later, police were banging on all of our doors, and we were evacuated to Commonwealth Mall. Once there, several of us stayed with an elderly neighbor until late in the evening to ensure she found her way to shelter.
As bad as it was, the residents of Boston rose to the occasion. People were giving runners food, water, and trash bags to cut down on the chill wind. Several people I know opened their houses to anyone who needed water or a bathroom. Boston PD and EMS should also be commended: they kept their cool and were extremely patient with very frustrated and upset people. By contrast, the press gaggle at Exeter and Commonwealth was hackneyed and vile–disaster journalism is really insulting to those actually suffering from the disaster (for those watching lots of television, here’s what Exeter and Commonwealth looks like sans assholes). In fairness, the cameramen (I talked to one from WUSA in DC) seemed to be pretty decent, but the ‘talent’ was nauseating. This, however, was to be expected.
But the overall failure goes to Boston’s political class, especially Mayor Menino and Ward 8 Councilman Mike Ross. Simply put, they abandoned us. Their constituents were standing around Commonwealth Mall with no idea what would happen on a very cold spring night, and no one from their offices was there. Not a single goddamn person. How hard would it have been to walk up and down Commonwealth Mall asking if people had places to stay? People literally had only the clothes on their backs. Many needed help figuring out what their options were. This is ‘retail politics’ at its most elemental: you get a bunch of ‘fixers’ walking up and down Commonwealth making sure that everyone had some place to go, and making it clear what would happen next–perhaps the most frustrating thing was that, in hindsight, it was obvious that hundreds if not thousands of people wouldn’t be returning home that night. Someone should have figured that out, made the call and then in person told people what was happening. This is all the more critical when hotel rooms are scarce due to the marathon (and several hotels being evacuated on top of that). And a lot of people, some of whom saw some really awful things, needed the push: people really wanted to return to their homes which is a perfectly normal thing in that situation. Leadership was required. Menino and Ross–or at least their staffers–needed to be where the problem was, not where the cameras were.
The Rascal King is spinning in his grave right now.
Several people, when hearing someone ask where Councilman Ross was, snarked something along the lines of “He must be too busy running for mayor.” I thought Ross was smarter than that. Not only should he have been down there, along with his staff, he should have sent some staffers to bring some coffee. Like I said, city politics follows the Mad Biologist’s Fundamental Political Theorem: people have to like this crap. Despite Menino’s view of Back Bay as a giant magic money machine (by the way, regular readers will know I’m fine with that–I was actually going to vote for Menino before he decided not to run), I always thought that if many of us were made temporarily homeless (the bureaucratese is “displaced”, as if we’re some sort of quantum mechanics phenomenon), if we were hit hard, he would be there. That’s the kind of thing I expected from the Urban Engineer. I was wrong.
Equally frustrating is that there is no clear point of access for citizens. No one has any idea who to talk to if they have problems. There were no upper level police officials, and, as I noted, the political aides were absent. The city hotline was not helpful, and the political offices had no response. This made many people feel completely adrift since they didn’t even know to whom to bring problems. By the way, when people are being evacuated rapidly, you can’t have everything on a website: at some point, people’s cell phone batteries drain. The human touch not only helps but is required (and remember that these evacuations were mad scrambles–two bombs had just gone off; this must be considered by planners).
Worse, no one appears to be standing up for the residents. Absolutely, we need to be concerned about all of the security and investigative issues (before you gripe about my attitude, remember where I was that day). But someone needs to push back and remind the powers that be that the neighborhood needs to start living again, and that means you have to think of the people in the neighborhood, including getting them back as soon as possible. Back Bay isn’t just a crime scene, it’s a city, it’s a home. Someone needs to advocate for getting people’s lives back on track, and I’m not getting any sense that anyone is. No one is saying anything that’s useful to us, so who the hell knows what their priorities are?
So thanks to my fellow Bostonians, marathon runners and guests, and to the first responders. Many people were decent and humane and display what makes Boston great. But Boston’s political class failed Monday, bold speeches for a television audience notwithstanding. Our political leaders have been unworthy of such a fine people.
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