"The people of Boston know how to put on a show," he had been saying.
Then came the first explosion, so deafening, and then, after a few stunned moments, the next.
Not toward the hotel, he screamed at his scattering friends, thinking of the 1972 Munich Olympics terror attacks. The Fairmont Copley Hotel was the headquarters for the marathon, where most of the elite were staying. It could be a target, he reasoned.
Jackson Golden had not been at the race, but he had to come and see on Tuesday. He grew up in New Delhi - where his father worked - and lived - through terror bombings. The 21-year-old anthropology major at Northeastern University was celebrating the race with friends at a party at Coolidge Corner, when the plumes of smoke rose over Back Bay.
In the ensuing minutes, he organized a calling tree to find if his friends at the race had made it out safely. They had.
Now, he sat in the cold shade, on a wall overlooking the barricaded square.
"Everyone feels kind of lost," he said. "One part of me is just awed at the response of the city and the police, and all the people who helped," he said as a guardsman walked near with a bomb-sniffing dog. "The other half is trying to hold back tears."
Many struggled to comprehend what seemed so unreal.
On Arlington Street, in the shadows of Trinity Church, mounds of crumpled Gatorade cups whirled in the wind. Stephanie Berman, 25, stood behind the barrier, arms crossed in the cold, looking at the blowing cups.
A financial analyst who lives in South End, she had been at the parade and had left shortly before the explosions. People didn't know what to say at work Tuesday morning, she said.
"I just can't believe it," she kept saying.
About a 15-block area surrounding the square was still closed Tuesday afternoon. The intersection of Arlington and Boylston, near the Public Gardens, offered a long view of the finish line, and the barricades there became a collective point of grief.
Many marathoners, mourners now, shuffling past a makeshift memorial. Others left running gear, even a bottle of Ben Gay. One person signed a simple note: "We will not be afraid," it read.
A tour bus drove past and people stood in the windows to take pictures.
Heather Aften, 41, of Anchorage, let go of her little girl's hand so she could kneel and lay a bouquet down. Her husband, Anthony Dorsch, had bought the flowers Monday to give to her at the finish line. He and their children, Lily, 6, and Hance, 10, had cheered her on at the mile-25 marker and then avoided the crowds at the finish line by walking down side streets. In the chaos, they had found her at the hotel. The parents said they have tried to shield the kids from images they themselves cannot comprehend.
Kielo Sauvala, 56, born in Finland and a resident of Chicago, was 100 feet from the finish line when the bombs went off and she was struck by pellets. Tuesday she tried to block the images from her mind, including seeing a man holding a child without a leg.
Still - despite the grief - there were signs already that life would go on.
Many restaurants along trendy Newbury Street were busy. The tables at an outdoor café just blocks from the blasts were filled. People sipped wine.
And then there was the police sergeant working the barricade at Newbury and Dartmouth. He was Boston personified, with his thick accent and his needling jokes at the expense of pushy reporters and onlookers.
He had been there Monday, a block away when he heard the first blast.
"I was hoping it was muskets," he said. "You know, those Revolutionary War people with the heavy uniforms from Lexington and Concord."
He ran toward the smoke. He saw the bodies and the body parts.
"There were a lot of people saying, 'Officer, please help me, please help me.' And do you know what it's like when you can't do anything other than carry them to an ambulance," he said, his exhaustion and emotion showing. "It was the worst thing I've ever seen in 32 years."
"But we'll pull together and get through it," he said after a moment. "Now, enjoy our city."
Contact Mike Newall
at 215-854-2759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.