Friday, 19 April 2013

Love that Dirty Water

Oh, Boston, you're my home.

As many of you know, I spent my very happy childhood in the City of Boston. So this week has been surreal. We say "surreal" but what does that mean? What is real? Surely explosions, highspeed car chases and my family being told not to leave their homes is very real. It certainly feels real. And also, very far away.
T-shirt design from Chowdaheadz


All this week, I have been wondering what I should write about all this. At first, I thought about how close to home this all was. About my teenage years, which suddenly seemed to center on that particular part of Boylston Street. About eating bad food in the Prudential food court. About burying myself in the musty stacks of the Copley Library. About watching the Marathon every year - my friends and I always shouted for "Bob", reckoning that sooner or later someone with that name would run by. It was funnier when I was ten. I thought about how I used to work just yards away in Copley Square - all my former co-workers are fine. About a friend who walked out of the blast area just moments before the explosions. Then, Richard Lawson (a highschool friend of mine) wrote an excellent article with a similar sentiment, so it didn't seem that ground needed retreading. Read his article here.


So, really, what I can tell you is that it is very odd to be watching my childhood city from 3,000 miles away as it is consumed by these events. In some ways, though, I feel incredibly connected with Twitter and Facebook providing instantaneous updates ahead of and more reliable than the BBC. On Monday evening, I was on Twitter when I noticed that Boston was trending. Now, as pretty as Boston is, it doesn't generally trend, especially not amongst the bookish crowd I follow. Suddenly, I was inundated with news that explosions had gone off at the Boston Marathon. My first thought was of a friend that I knew was going to the finish line. Fortunately, she soon posted on Facebook that she had left the area only moments before the blast. I immediately rang my parents to make sure the family was all out of danger and ended up being the one to deliver the news of the explosions to them. It was only after talking to them, that I realised that my main source of breaking news has changed from television to social media.

It was through social media that I learned the official statements of the Boston Police Department, the Mayor's office, the White House, the JFK Library (which was just a fire, not a bomb, and thought to be unrelated) and Boston media. As soon as the police released information I knew it and, when I finally thought to turn on the BBC, I found that I knew the information before the BBC reported it. Friends and family immediately took to Facebook and Twitter, connecting, saying they were okay and sharing the information they had.

Now, today, I'm watching footage of a neighborhood, which I know very well, and is now the center of a manhunt after a high speed chase and shoot out. The streets they're showing, the media staging area, these are all part of my childhood. It feels very strange to see international media camped outside the Friendly's at the Watertown Mall. You can't see the restaurant in the footage, but, trust me, that's where they are. There were rows of State Police ("Staties" if you're from Massachusetts) standing under the rainbows of the Arsenal Mall that I used to imagine were from Reading Rainbow when I was a kid. I was always waiting for LeVar Burton to slide down a read me a story. This isn't exactly the story I was expected.

Residents of the immediate area are being asked to stay indoors and to only open the door to uniformed police officers. Officers are conducting a thorough search of the area where they believe the suspect to be and asking the public to basically stay out of the way. There is no rampant shooting in the streets, there are no other explosive devices, there is no reason to panic. Getting sucked into this 24-hour media cycle, especially with social media getting in on the excitement, is a dangerous thing. Of course this is a serious situation, but how much of this repetition of the same news and speculation is helping and how much is sowing seeds of panic and worry that just aren't necessary?

For my readers who know me and my family personally: they are all fine.

2 comments:

  1. The weird part is how quickly everything is back to normal. I'm just outside of oak square. Business as usual already.

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  2. Thanks, Lisa. Your comment really got me thinking about why that would be. Maybe it's because events like this don't fit into the story that we create from our lives. Or maybe it's just that there's nothing else to do but move on. It's an interesting question.

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