Thursday, April 25, 2013

Boston Strong

I have had an interesting couple of weeks. On Monday 04/15/13 I was struggling with an awful problem set for my data mining class when I found out that there had been explosions in the Back Bay a few blocks from my office.

My initial thoughts were mostly annoyance--I need to finish this problem set before the weekend is over! I can't be distracted by drama--I have a box plot to build! I took a walk to clear my head and the implications of what had happened sunk in. I work a few blocks from the finish line of the Boston Marathon, so we usually have the day off. On the other hand, I work with a bunch of workaholics. Also, it was April 15th and I work at a financial services firm, so there were a few people in the building that day. I texted them and found that they had gotten out safely (I later found out that our doorman had to be hauled out of the building by the cops because he didn't want to leave until he knew everyone else had gotten out safely.)

I got most of my info that afternoon second hand from a colleague who owns a TV. But even at second hand with unreliable info from "15 blocks around the incident are closed off" stood out. "Are we going to work tomorrow?" I texted my buddy? It seemed unlikely to me that we would and I felt relieved--for two reasons. One was that I did not want to go back to the neighborhood where I had worked for over a decade and see the evidence of explosions.

The other was that I had the worst problem set ever--not only did I have a bunch of statistics problems, but our professor expected us to teach ourselves Perl and Perl DBI. In the grand scheme of things, these are not at all equal thoughts, but at the time the daunting problem set--or rather my fear of being unable to do not just this but all the rest of the work for my current course--was just as big a deal in my head as the fact that a bomb went off near Sugary Heaven--which I walk by almost every week day.

On the day after the marathon I got calls and e-mails from former colleagues, vendors, former vendors (one of whom knew the family of the little boy who was killed) everyone wanted to know we were okay. Everyone wanted to offer whatever assistance they could. In spite of the circumstances I was touched.

 We all worked from home for the next week. This meant that I got to sleep in and take a walk to the beach before starting the work day. It also meant that I got to talk to my sister more often--she could call during the day when some of her children were at school. It gave me more time to obsess about my statistics/Perl problem set (although without making much headway.)  Meanwhile they found the "suspects"--turns out they lived on the same street as I did in Cambridge.

On Sunday I turned in the problem set--the programs I wrote didn't do everything the were supposed to do but I was so very grateful to have written code that did *something* that I didn't care. Monday the professor held a tutorial starting at 4:30 (class starts at 6). I went to the tutorial but was nervous--I am happy to spend more time working on this with the professor--but what if this doesn't help?

Actually, after working at home for a weird week it was nice to encounter a group of people and do something relatively normal (like gripe about the homework) for a while. The tutorial helped a little--but not as much as seeing everyone. Some of it was seeing that almost everyone was as frustrated as I was, but some of it was just seeing everyone--even my study buddy who found last weekend's assignment "fun." I realized that it was probably not the end of the world that I had failed to assimilate Perl on my own--yes it would have been nice, but it didn't mean that I wasn't going to get a degree in June.

On Wednesday they re-opened the Back Bay and we all went back to work. I was grumpy--it was rainy. In the North Station T station the guy who normally sells Bruins and Celtics T Shirts was selling Boston Strong T-shirts that said "never forget 4-15-13." I was repulsed--who sells commemorative bombing t-shirts?

But then I got off the T at Arlington and went into Pret for a croissant and an OJ. "Have you been open all along?" I asked the cashier "No we just opened for the first time today since the accident." "It's good to be back!" I said. The cashier agreed--yes you read that right--accident?

When I got to the office one of the owners came and hugged me as soon as he saw the light in my office go on. The office manager hugged me.  Our NJ office sent us flowers to welcome us back. We all went down to the memorial together at around 9:30. I'm glad we went--before the mobs and the TV stations showed up, but it was more emotional heaviness than I usually have before 10 AM. I was glad to get back to my desk to send out e-mails to various folks to tell them that we were back in the office.

I took a walk with a colleague after lunch to look at the rest of Bolyston Street--apparently so did everyone else in the 617 area code.  At one place where one of the bombs went off--by Marathon Sports and Sugary Heaven--there was concrete drying. There were a few bouquets of flowers and a Boston Marathon medal. There were several people taking pictures and looking (The concrete pouring guys smirked and posed) but everyone kept a respectful distance.

But that wasn't all--all of the restaurants and shops had signs that said "Boston Strong" or "Welcome Back--free coffee!" All of the servers at the outdoor cafes were wearing Sox shirts or Boston Strong shirts. Seeing the t shirts cheered me--maybe they weren't such a bad idea.

Today after work my colleagues and I all went out to Solas for dinner and drinks. (Solas is an Irish bar on Boylston Street.) When we all had our beverages I raised my glass and said "To the Boston Marathon!"And we all toasted.