A GREAT UNEASE — CROWDS
By Eleanor Jaffe
I grew up in Brooklyn, so you’d think that I’d be totally comfortable with crowds of people. After all, our apartment was crowded as were the schools I attended, likewise the streets—especially the shopping streets, and certainly the subways. When we celebrated, it was to go into Manhattan (crowded), to attend Radio City Music Hall (huge and crowded), the circus (a mob), shopping (cutthroat with crowds vying for bargains.) Almost always, I’d have to wait my turn, wait for the long lines to slowly dwindle, and be prepared to be jostled or poked by people in the City, all kinds of people.
Now I live in the heart of Boston, the Marathon heart of Boston. Every year, from my living room window, one week ahead of the Marathon, city workers construct a small city of tents in Copley Square to accommodate the runners as well as the supports and services they require when they finish their 26 mile ordeals. Soon after, the stadium seats on Boylston Street along the Boston Public Library are erected, and the metal barriers are put in place along the gutters. Huge trailers park on the side streets. Enormous television cameras are hung from corner buildings so that crowds of people—as many as 8-12-24 people deep— can visualize the runners on television because they can not possibly see the runners through the density of spectators. Indeed, I recall not being able to walk at all on Exeter Street on my way to Boylston Street to join the cheering spectators.
By Friday at the latest, thousands of tourists and runners have invaded Boston. Every hotel room is full. Crowd controlling barriers keep people in or out of these few blocks. Mounted police patrol while police cars and, later, ambulances park all around. Hawkers will soon be selling t-shirts, pennants, and souvenirs. I may have to present identification to show the police that I do indeed live in “that building,” so please let me pass beyond the barricade. Of course, all day and well into the evening on Marathon Monday, we are not permitted to drive our car in or out of our garage or, for that matter, drive for at least one mile in any direction. Although I live on the second floor, when I look down from my window overlooking Copley Square, I can relate to a princess isolated in her tower. I cannot leave. No one can enter.
All this before the Marathon Bombers cursed us with their explosives. Now, my aversion to crowds is complete. Not only do the crowds seem to suffocate me, but they may also be dangerous. Someone among those thousands of spectators. might very well have malicious intent. Someone might cause mayhem. Some others might even die — which is not what those spectators bargained for.
Which is why, now, I leave Boston before Marathon Monday, Patriots’ Day, a day designed for citizens to celebrate and come together. But not with me… Somehow, over the years, my comfort with crowds has dwindled and disappeared. My urge to celebrate and shout encouragement is gone. Many years ago, I would stand on the sidelines in Newton near Heartbreak Hill and cheer on the valiant runners. Now, I am awed from afar by their feats.
I wonder, is this aversion to crowds age-related? Or terrorist- related? How much does my comfort enter into it? It’s a whole lot different than just becoming blase or jaded. Have I seen too many marathons? I doubt that it’s just my “comfort.” A great unease overcomes me, and I want to flee. Fortunately, I can–and I do.
Eleanor says that, “as I grow older, I am more interested in the conditions, changes, services, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of over 50 years, my friends — and my over 100- year-old mother. What does it mean to be growing older in today’s society?