Good sports


Pregame huddle

The couple in front of us arrives soon after we do: he in a puffy black jacket, she in a leopard print scarf, sleek ponytail, and large hoop earrings. Immediately they snap pictures of their raised beers, carefully posed. Later she brushes crumbs from his lips, an act both intent and affectionate.

Sideline report

Three rows ahead of us sits a slim and angular young couple with asymmetrical haircuts. He snaps a photo of his food, which looks like macaroni in a white cardboard carton. They share one pristine black ball cap that she artfully arranges, first on her head, then his, then hers.

Strike a pose

A grown man and his elderly father sit next to me. The younger man gently helps his father out of his coat and pats his knee. “These are pretty good seats, aren’t they?” The father nods and looks around, more interested in the crowd than the game. The younger man occasionally leans to ask a question: “You’re not getting tired, are you?”

Snapshot

The family behind us keeps a running commentary throughout the game. “Post it up, Sully!” I never turn around, so they are invisible to me, just a row of voices straight behind and to either side. “Ref, he traveled!” When I stand at halftime, their stray peanut shells crackle under my feet. “Hey, that’s a foul!”

Sea of screens

Twenty rows ahead of us, the sportswriters sit tightly packed behind a sea of screens. During the first half, those screens flash tweets, game stats, and highlights from other games. At halftime, the sportswriters’ fingers fly as they tap out updates, reports, and other missives: everything that’s happening here and now.

Jump ball

We leave at the end of the third quarter in deference to my still-weakened lungs; the elderly man beside me seems surprised when we rise to go. As fans flood into the crowded concourse in search of beer and snacks, we silently glide down a wide, empty stairway, slipping unnoticed into the night on our way to the train.

This is my Day Eight contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Head of the Charles regatta

Several weekends ago, J and I took the T to Harvard Square, where we had lunch then walked to the Charles River to watch the Head of the Charles Regatta, which every year attracts rowing crews from around the world. This is the third year J and I have watched the Regatta: today’s photos, in fact, come from last year’s race. J and I don’t know anything about rowing, but we’ve learned from experience there’s nothing more relaxing than walking along a river in mid-October when the weather’s brisk and the foliage is turning.

Head of the Charles regatta

Annual events like the Head of the Charles are one way we keep time here in New England. If it’s April and the daffodils are blooming, it’s time to watch the Boston Marathon, and if it’s October and there’s a nip of chill in the air, it’s time to watch the Head of the Charles. In either case, it doesn’t really matter if you know much about the competition you’re watching: all you need to do is show up, mingle alongside other spectators, and enjoy the show. With both a marathon and a regatta, you can’t possibly cheer for every participant at every stage of the race, so instead, you cheer for whoever happens to be running or rowing past right now. It’s the epitome of an in-the-moment activity where you show up and enjoy whatever floats past.

Head of the Charles regatta

On our T ride home from Harvard Square, J and I struck up a conversation with a fellow from North Carolina who was visiting Boston with his girlfriend. They’d come for the weekend to see Clemson play (and, unfortunately, beat) Boston College in football, and in the course of their tourist wanderings, they encountered a fellow in a Navy sweatshirt who was on his way to watch his son compete in the Regatta. “Right then, we knew we’d have to check it out,” the fellow from North Carolina said. “Folks come from all over the world to see this race, and we just happened to be in town the same weekend!”

Head of the Charles regatta

The river of life has many twists and turns, and typically it’s helpful to know what’s ahead of you as you navigate those movements. But sometimes, the river of life throws up a surprise, and you just have to roll (and row) with it. J and I are lucky to live in a place where world-renowned athletic events happen to happen within an easy T commute away. Other folks come from afar to row the river that wends through our lives every single day.

This is my Day Three contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

All out

When J and I went to Suffolk Downs the weekend before last, we had no idea it would be the last time we’d watch live horse racing in Revere. Last week the Massachusetts Gaming Commission granted permission for a swanky new casino in Everett, thereby dashing Suffolk Downs’ hopes of building a casino there. Casinos bring in big bucks; live horse racing does not. After the casino decision was made, Suffolk Downs made an announcement that saddened but didn’t surprise me: the 79-year-old track will be closing, with live racing ceasing at the end of the month and simulcast betting continuing through December.

They're off!

The part about horse racing that interests me is the horse part, not the gambling part, so neither simulcast betting nor swanky new casinos interest me. Had Suffolk Downs won a casino contract, J and I would have gone there to slide a quarter or two into the slot machines, briefly ogle the table games, and otherwise mind our business on our way to the track, where the horses are. But there will be no horses or horse racing at Everett’s new casino, so I’m unimpressed by the proposed development. Why do we need a casino in Everett when the casinos in Connecticut are such a short drive away?

Into the Winner's Circle

When J and I arrived at Suffolk Downs the weekend before last, there was a little girl loudly cheering for her favorite jockey as she made her way into the Winner’s Circle: Janelle Campbell, the same jockey I’d photographed last year as she sat beaming atop her mount. Being a jockey, I explained in that post, is every horse-crazy girl’s dream job. After Suffolk Downs is shuttered, who will horse-crazy little girls cheer for? Their favorite poker stars or blackjack dealers?

Winner's circle

Suffolk Downs is a place past its prime: it’s clean and well-kept, but clearly run down. Every time we’ve gone to Suffolk Downs, J and I have wandered the grandstand, meekly exploring the empty upper concourses and wide, carpeted entryways. In its heyday, Suffolk Downs was packed with enthusiastic race fans; today, sparse handfuls of people watch horses race outside while the serious gamblers stay indoors, where races from other tracks are simulcast on rows of TV screens.

Jockeying for position

Simulcast races are something you can watch (and bet on) anywhere, including online…and simulcast racing is where the big gaming money is. My personal preference to watch horse racing in person might be shared by horse-crazy little girls, but apparently it’s not shared by the adult population at large. Why do we need live horses racing at Suffolk Downs when it’s so easy to watch (and bet on) horse races on TV? Why even leave the house when you can gamble online?

The winner

It’s too bad that Suffolk Downs is closing, as it was a place with a history. Both Seabiscuit and Cigar raced there, back when horse racing was glamorous and fast horses were celebrities. The racetrack where my father used to watch (and, yes, bet on) harness horses in Ohio added a casino several years ago, and the place never felt the same. Men now drop their wives at the casino while they go to wager on simulcast races, and my dad stays home to follow the stock market: a different kind of gambling.

Muddied

I’m saddened to think of all the horse-folks who will be out of a job when Suffolk Downs closes for good. The new casino in Everett will provide jobs for waitresses, cashiers, and card dealers, but where’s a good groom, jockey, or trainer going to go for a new job?

A dirty job

The horses who raced at Suffolk Downs will move on to other tracks, or they’ll retire from racing and find homes with folks looking to adopt sleek saddle horses. It’s a slower life after you’ve been put out to pasture. The world races on, and you get left behind.

2014 Boston Marathon

This year was the sixth straight year J and I watched the Boston Marathon from a vantage point between Miles 18 and 19, and this year was the third time in those six years we saw the same sign encouraging a runner named Rhonda to reach “Boston or bust.”

Go Rhonda

I have no idea who Rhonda is, but it’s encouraging to know she’s still running and she still has at least one loyal fan rooting her on, recycling the same sign with different balloons year after year.

Go Rhonda!

Shalane Flanagan takes an early lead

Today J and I joined more than a million other spectators in taking the final step of purification after last year’s Boston Marathon bombings: we took back the Marathon. Last year I wrote about the sense of outrage I felt after Marathon Monday—Massachusetts’ high holy day of hospitality—was hijacked by cowards with pressure cookers. Today, one of those cowards is dead and the other is behind bars, awaiting trial. In the meantime, a record number of spectators showed up along the 26.2 mile route between Hopkinton and Boston today to make one simple statement: we won’t be bombed into hiding.

Eventual winner Meb Keflezighi far ahead of the pack

Cowards with pressure cookers can kill and maim, but nearly a year and a week later, surging crowds of enthusiastic spectators came outside on a gorgeous spring day to clap, cheer, ring cowbells, wave signs, and remember. To paraphrase David “Big Papi” Ortiz, this is our fucking marathon, and nobody’s going to dictate our freedom.

'cause you're kicking ass

Today’s act of reclamation was a long time coming. Last April, less than a week after bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, J and I went to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park: a way of reassuring ourselves that it still was safe to congregate with strangers in a crowd. A week after that, A (not her real initial) and I went for a walk and dinner in Watertown: a conscious attempt to reclaim the sleepy little town that became the site of Breaking News during the manhunt for the bombing suspects. And a few weeks after that, J and I visited the massive makeshift memorial at Copley Square: an act of purification in which we visited the very spot where people were killed and maimed, taking back Boylston Street as a peaceful place where remembrance happens.

This princess loves Boston

There was an increased and very visible police presence at today’s Marathon, which J and I watched from our usual vantage point between miles 18 and 19 in Newton. But this presence felt more reassuring than oppressive: the more eyes watching, the better. Given changes in official policies about what spectators could bring to the race route, I wondered whether families with small children would stay away from the race, uncertain whether strollers, wagons, picnic baskets, and coolers were allowed. I needn’t have worried, however, since families showed up with the normal accoutrements of a day at the Marathon, willing to submit those items to random searches but otherwise behaving no differently than they would any other year.

Three divas

If anything, there were more people lining the race route in Newton this year, not less. I think that others felt as J and I did: that showing up to the race today more than any other year represented a kind of civic duty. If we stop going to the Marathon—if we stop celebrating Patriots’ Day by holding a huge 26.2-long block party that happens to have a race running through it—then the terrorists will have won. Today wasn’t a day to cede victory to terror; today was a day to assert the fact that love, inclusion, and good neighborliness is stronger than any bomb.

2014 Boston Marathon

After spending a couple hours clapping and cheering ourselves hoarse between Miles 18 and 19, J and I headed home while even more spectators streamed toward the Marathon route, many of them wearing Boston Strong shirts and carrying an assortment of signs and noisemakers. J summed up my sentiments exactly as he watched the surge of happy, enthusiastic people and remarked, “I guess you lost, bomber guys.” On a beautifully sunny spring day in New England, how could the bad guys ever prevail?

Thank you for running

Click here for more photos of this year’s bright and sunny Boston Marathon. Enjoy!

Eventual winner (Jeptoo)

One year ago today was a beautiful day in the Boston suburbs. It was sunny and cool–perfect race weather–as J and I walked from our house to Commonwealth Avenue, were we watch the Boston Marathon every year. “Our” corner is situated between Miles 18 and 19 of the race, about a mile before Heartbreak Hill. Last year like every other, J and I arrived at the race in time to see the last of the wheelchair runners, the first of the front-runners, and the swarming throng of average Joes running, jogging, or limping their way toward Boston.

Calf sleeves

Folks who live within walking distance of the race route often make a day of watching the Marathon, arriving with picnics, kids, dogs, and sporting equipment in tow. On our way to watch last year’s Marathon, J and I saw two young boys—brothers, best friends, or both—taking turns pulling a red wagon heaped with soccer balls, Frisbees, and a baseball glove that tumbled to the sidewalk. “Hey, kids,” J and I cried. “You lost your glove!” The boys stopped, retrieved the glove, and carefully tucked it back into the wagon, fussing over the contents as solicitously as any new parent would swaddle a newborn.

Blind runner with guide

It looked like a scene straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and I’ve thought of it occasionally over the past few weeks as updated security measures have been unveiled for this year’s Marathon. This year, backpacks and coolers are no longer allowed along the race route, and there will be no more military troops marching with laden rucksacks. One of the unfortunate but understandable effects of last year’s attack is a heightened suspicion toward anything large enough to hide a pressure cooker, whether that be a backpack, baby stroller, or red wagon heaped with soccer balls and baseball gloves. Officially gone are the days of watching the Marathon in blithe disregard of any danger.

Second sole

One of the still-unbelievable aspects of last year’s attack was the way it bisected an otherwise beautiful day into the irreconcilable categories of “Before” and “After.” J and I walked to the Marathon in the morning, watching and cheering runners for a few hours before heading toward home, stopping for lunch along the way. Seeing our cameras, the guy behind the counter asked if we were going to the Marathon, and we explained we’d already been and were heading home. Over lunch, J and I remembered the previous year’s Marathon, which had happened days after we’d put Reggie to sleep. That year, we remarked, had been a trying one, but this year promised to be better. “Unless disaster strikes,” I remarked without any sense of foreboding.

No stopping

One year ago today, disaster did strike, but it missed J and me. By the time the first Boylston Street bomb went off at 2:49 pm, we were already home, sorting through the pictures we’d taken and planning to spend the rest of the afternoon working. I was planning to blog a handful of photos and tried to access Boston.com to look up the names of the winning runners, only to find the site sluggish and unresponsive. Only after J and I got a voicemail from a concerned relative did we realized Boston had made the national news for all the wrong reasons.

Never give up

One year later, I’m still struggling to reconcile the two halves of that divided day. How could a bright and sunny morning so quickly turn into something dark and sorrowful? Today is a gray and drizzly day in the Boston suburbs, and that seems appropriate for a day of remembrance. Next Monday, we’ll show up in our usual spot to cheer on the runners, but we’ll be ever-mindful of the lives, limbs, and innocence that were lost one year ago today.

One year later, the post I eventually wrote about the 2013 Boston Marathon still feels spot-on.

Two teams, one anthem

Later this afternoon, J and I are going to Boston College for a men’s hockey game. J and I used to be in the habit of going to Bruins games on Black Friday, as the Bruins typically have a matinee home game the day after Thanksgiving, when both J and I are off work. After the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, however, their ticket prices skyrocketed, so now we go to far fewer professional hockey games.

Face-off

Fortunately, Boston College is within (healthy) walking distance of our house, and BC hasn’t raised ticket prices after winning three national championships in the past five years. Attending a college hockey game is a different, more “family friendly,” experience than attending a professional hockey game. There’s no alcohol served at college games, so you’re far less likely to sit next to drunk and rowdy fans; instead, BC hockey games tend to attract parents shepherding flocks of hockey-crazy kids whose hooligan antics are more likely fueled by sugar and pent-up energy than anything alcoholic.

Opening face-off

On the ice, college hockey games feature far fewer fights than in the pros: although the competition gets just as heated, college players who fight get tossed from the game rather than simply spending five minutes in the penalty box. As much as I appreciate the unwritten rules of professional hockey fights, I also appreciate the calmer, more “focused” energy apparent at college hockey games. At a professional game, you get the sense that a good number of the fans are more interested in drinking and watching fights than they are in following the actual game. At college hockey games, on the other hand, you’ll often encounter hockey parents who use the game as a teachable moment, coaching their kids on how to apply in their own games the techniques they see on the ice.

Baldwin's bunch

BC’s mascot, Baldwin, also apparently sees home hockey games as a good change to mingle with young hockey fans, both on and off the ice. On a day typically devoted to shopping outings that occasionally turn violent, it seems downright wholesome to spend the afternoon watching a fierce but family-friendly competition that ends in handshakes.

Good game!

The photos illustrating today’s post come from a February, 2009 game against the University of Massachusetts. This is my Day 29 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

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