Inside the Fishbowl Living Inside a National Story

The Boston Red Sox have won the World Series. Again. And this year, not just the win but also the playoff run that went with it, meant that we all heard a lot about the bombs that shook the city in April. For people unfamiliar with the unique experience that is Boston baseball, how a sporting event – arguably among the more trivial of human pursuits – could come to play such a role is hard to understand.

The idea that winning a baseball championship can help a city heal is a hard sell to a lot of folks. Perhaps surprisingly, the Red Sox themselves have demonstrated a level of perspective that even the local media has lacked. “It’s hard for me to put sports over a tragedy like that,” starter John Lackey said after the championship win, “but hopefully people that were affected by it can forget about it for a few hours at least.”

That echoes something Jonny Gomes said in the immediate wake of the attacks:

This situation is a lifer. You’re not putting this behind you. At the same time, if we can get some people’s hopes up, give people a breath of fresh air […] we’re in [the] entertainment business. That’s what we can do to help the area. We’re not getting anyone out of surgery with a win or a loss[.] We’re going to keep trucking, and hopefully set that character, that attitude throughout the city.

With that, Gomes made himself one of my favorite players.

But that caution shouldn’t detract from the fact that Fenway Park is as close to a town square as you’ll find anywhere. Fenway Park is where the city goes to talk to itself, and it’s where the city has gone to cheer in the tens of thousands the men and women who personally dealt with the aftermath of the senseless violence the country witnessed on Patriots’ Day. In the civic life of a city, these moments matter.

But the Marathon bombings and the World Series are not just local stories. That was plainly obvious from Joe Buck’s setup of the national broadcast earlier this week, when he described the city’s mood after April’s events as ‘scared’. I probably wasn’t the only Bostonian who rankled a bit at that assertion.

The truth is that in the aftermath of the terrorist attack, what happened in Boston became a bit of a political football. I listened to a national narrative that argued about a police-state mentality, with law enforcement closing off the city to go on a manhunt. And I listened to people talk about how bad it was that we had allowed the state so much latitude because we were so scared.

I found it bewildering. From inside the city, the description of the area as being on lockdown – with the coercive threat that term implies – felt flat-out inaccurate. Law enforcement asked people to stay home because there was an emergent situation that was potentially dangerous. On the ground at the time, that felt like it made a lot of sense. The relationship between the police and the public felt as cooperative as it ever has. Likewise, fear was an inevitable part of the response to a random and dramatic act of violence, but it’s not how I would describe the city’s mood. Shaken, yes; scared, no.

But there was Joe Buck, taking the prerogative to tell the world how we felt – how I felt – in April.

* * *

In the week following the bombing, I went down to the site of the attack. It’s an area I know well, and I felt compelled to go and be there. And because the world often makes more sense to me though a viewfinder, I took my camera.

I took two kinds of images that day. First, I took images that helped me understand what was happening in my city. Images of community and images of grief.

A makeshift memorial to the victims went up on the corner of Boylston and Berkeley Streets. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

A makeshift memorial to the victims went up on the corner of Boylston and Berkeley Streets. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

Hundreds gathered at the Boston Common for a vigil. The words “Boston, you’re our home” echo lyrics from Dirty Water - the song played at Fenway Park after every Red Sox win. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

Hundreds gathered at the Boston Common for a vigil. The words “Boston, you’re our home” echo lyrics from Dirty Water – the song played at Fenway Park after every Red Sox win. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

Someone left this message to Boston residents at the corner of Boylston and Hereford Streets. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

Someone left this message to Boston residents at the corner of Boylston and Hereford Streets. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

Red Sox hats and flowers were left as tributes. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

Red Sox hats and flowers were left as tributes. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

From all over New England, people brought service dogs to Boston. For days, there were few smiles on Boston’s streets - except where there were dogs. This Labrador came from Cape Cod. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

From all over New England, people brought service dogs to Boston. For days, there were few smiles in the city – except where there were dogs. This Labrador came from Cape Cod. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

But also startling images of military personnel on my hometown streets.

A national guardsman watches over one of the barriers that cordoned off the crime scene. In the hours after the attack, guardsmen could be seen carrying rifles - but by the next morning the long guns were out of sight. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

A national guardsman watches over one of the barriers that cordoned off the crime scene. In the hours after the attack, guardsmen could be seen carrying rifles – but by the next morning the long guns were out of sight. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

A national guardsman stands watch near Copley Square. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

A national guardsman stands watch near Copley Square. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

Second, I took images that showed what was happening to my city. Images that showed the media response to a must-cover event.

Members of the international news media filed reports from the Back Bay. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

Members of the international news media filed reports from the Back Bay. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

Shepard Smith, from Fox News, delivers his evening report from outside the Public Garden. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

Shepard Smith, from Fox News, delivers his evening report from outside the Public Garden. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

A Spanish reporter practices her lines with her cameraman. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

A Spanish reporter practices her lines with her cameraman. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

The most startling part of so many of these scenes was to see the contrast between the raw emotional response of locals and the cool, business-like attitude of the media. The media were there to do a job, and it was probably the same job they’d done wherever they had flown in from and would do wherever they went next.

One image in particular captured that contrast.

A woman lays flowers in front of the Berkeley Street barricade while the media rushes to capture the moment. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

A woman lays flowers in front of the Berkeley Street barricade while the media rushes to capture the moment. © Pedro Alberto Arroyo

In the picture you can see a woman’s act of grief turned into photogenic spectacle. What you can’t see is the photographers running over each other to get into position when they saw her approach. There was a similar media mob the next day when a man in military uniform approached the fence with flowers and an American flag.

I saw a lot of those images in the newspaper over the next few weeks and months. The photographers had a great eye for the moment, but they weren’t in the shot themselves. The greatest trick that media framing ever pulled was to convince the world it didn’t exist.

* * *

In the end, I get it. Being part of a country means you don’t own all of your local stories. Boston isn’t the first place to have its local tragedy turned into material for national conversation. Ask Newtown, ask Joplin, ask New Orleans. A lot of the conversations we have after those moments are important, even if they don’t feel terribly relevant to the people who were most directly affected.

Every time a reporter asked the same question during Wednesday’s post-game mayhem – “What does this championship mean to this city after what happened in April?” – I cringed. The question, shoehorning a precooked narrative into a 30-second soundbite, felt like the interviewing version of photographers scrambling over each other to get the shot. Some of the players, like Lackey, stressed perspective. Others, like slugger David Ortiz or the uncannily timely Shane Victorino, simply repeated the city’s slogan of the last six months: “Boston Strong.”

But on Wednesday night, the Red Sox won it all on Fenway’s hallowed ground and the city spoke to itself again. The baseball, the championship, the city’s elation at being elated…all of that felt authentic. All of that felt right. All of that felt like Boston in October.

Follow Pedro on Twitter @IamPedroA.

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