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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Travelers put lives on hold as Boston shuts down

Thankfully, Allison Smith had an escape route from the chaos, to Bow, where she grew up.

Otherwise, the 24-year-old executive, fresh from a business trip in Los Angeles, might still be on line, waiting for a cab.

Instead, she noticed a bus at Logan Airport, with a destination sign above the huge windshield that read “Nashua,” and she knew what she had to do.

Get out of Boston, until the world made sense again. She sure didn’t want to go home to Cambridge, where yesterday’s surreal manhunt began.

“That line for a cab, it was the longest I’ve ever seen it in my life because there was no T service,” said Smith, soon after arriving at the Concord bus station. “I saw that bus and I told myself that I had to go to New Hampshire, that I can’t deal with this. That Nashua bus was just the inspiration for fleeing.”

Smith was one of the lucky ones, with an inviting place to go, on the day a city stood cold and still. Four days after two explosions changed Boston forever, public transportation was shut down as the police killed one suspect in the marathon bombings and captured another in the nearby suburbs.

In a scene resembling a science fiction movie, the streets of Boston fell silent, on a day normally packed with drivers thinking about a spring weekend or baseball at Fenway Park.

Instead, trains, buses and cab service were halted while law enforcement officials tried to end a story line bizarre enough for Hollywood to reject.

And with it, came the edges to the plot, about changing plans and inconvenience and resourcefulness, as travelers tried to figure what to do, where to go and how to get there.

Like Smith.

She grew up in Bow, graduated from Vassar College in New York State and now analyzes how social media drives marketing and corporate strategy. She’s lived in Cambridge, in Porter Square, the past 2 1/2 years.

That’s where the two men are accused of robbing a 7-Eleven, killing a cop and car-jacking a Mercedes SUV. That’s where the world’s attention turned when the sun came up in the morning.

“I’m just not interested in being on the streets when they’re talking about a car chase, about tossing bombs out the window of the car,” Smith said. “I need that to be wrapped up before I go back to my apartment.”

She watched news reports on her red-eye flight from the West Coast, mindful she was flying into the eye of a criminal storm. “They had a TV at every seat,” Smith said. “I said okay, maybe they can catch this guy by time I land. Then it was 30 minutes away and they still didn’t have him. I stayed up all night on the plane to watch the news, and when I landed I asked a state trooper if it was safe to take a cab.”

It wasn’t, meaning Smith’s family in Bow has an unexpected guest this weekend.

If only life could have been as easy for Anna Gilbody of Dalton and Nancy Dimond of Vermont. They sat in the terminal, wondering, worrying and relaying their stories to each other.

They were brought together by a lockdown and family deaths, with Gilbody trying to attend the funeral for her mother-in-law in Rhode Island, and Dimond looking to pay her respects to an uncle in New Bedford, Mass.

That had been the plan, when they boarded a bus in Littleton, to be dropped off at South Station and continue from there. South Station, though, closed early.

So Gilbody tried to rent a car, from three agencies. As of noon, she’d come up empty.

“They didn’t have any cars because of this,” Gilbody said. “Everybody is renting cars instead of taking buses. Enterprise said wait until 3, see if someone canceled. The next bus back to Littleton is 7 tonight. I could get home at 9:30 and then see if we can do this again tomorrow.”

Dimond? She called family and friends, looking for a ride to New Bedford.

“They’re working on it,” Dimond said. “My sister, my cousin. I’m hoping. The funeral is tomorrow morning, so I’ve got some time, but with all this going on, I don’t know.”

Jen Whelan, a 31-year-old mother of two, boarded a bus in New Hampton, bound for South Station and, ultimately, Quincy, where her dad lives.

An easy trip, Whelan figured, one she’s made dozens of times. Take the bus down. Hop on the train to Quincy Center. Dad will be there waiting.

“My plans have changed,” Whelan said. “They’re going to have to pick me up at the airport, at Logan. I’m just kind of rolling with it, keeping in contact with them.”

The stories kept coming, from Tim Fox and his fiance, Nicole Arel, former residents of Bow and Gilford, who flew in from North Carolina and took the bus here. They saw Boston and I-93 like they’d never seen them before.

“Quite a bit of confusion at Logan,” Fox said. “But the city was really quiet, and there was no one on the highway, north or south.”

There was Kathy Driscoll of Newfoundland, who landed at Logan and saw “police everywhere and more weaponry than you could imagine. The officers would come out and just watch when the bus was doing a routine stop and pickup.”

And there was Deodonne Bhattarai, raised in Contoocook and now living in Washington, D.C. She attended graduated school in Cambridge and lived there for five years, moving to D.C. six months ago.

She waited at the bus terminal for a ride to Logan and a flight back home, after visiting family here this week. She had attended a professional conference last weekend in Boston, near the site of her college days, the home to several cousins, the center of a nightmare.

A friend of hers had been seriously injured last Monday, near the finish line. A cousin was caught in the lockdown, unable to leave his Cambridge gym after a morning workout.

Her plane was scheduled to leave at 4 p.m.

“It’s been a tough week for our family and our friends,” Bhattarai said. “It’s been a tough morning just knowing that I’m heading in, like we’re going into this chaos. This is not the Boston we know and love.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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