, Salem, MA

April 20, 2013

T service shut down, many find themselves stranded

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — Freddie Wooten looked a little lost late yesterday morning waiting for a ride at the all but deserted Salem MBTA station. He was one of thousands who suddenly found their daily routines shaken by the chaos in Boston.

Wooten, a Lynn resident trying to get home on the commuter train, knew that public transportation had been locked down throughout the region, while a small army of law enforcement officers conducted a manhunt for the surviving Marathon bombing suspect.

“But I thought the train would have been running by now,” he shrugged. Instead, he was forced to call a friend for a ride.

Polly Wilbert of Salem never bothered to go to the station.

“I work on the 54th floor of the Hancock Tower,” she explained. Ordinarily, she would drive to Wonderland and take the Blue Line into Boston. But not only was the transit system shut down, so was her job at a biotech investment firm.

“You have to take these things day by day,” she said. “They’re only doing what is safe.”

She had an eerie sense of deja vu. On Sept. 11, 2001, Wilbert was also working in Boston, in a high rise. “I can remember how frightening it was,” she said — and is. “What these two did was devastating. It’s not the same as flying planes into towers. But it’s terrifying. And that’s what terrorism is.”

Rob Brown, a professor of communications at Salem State University, had to do all his communicating electronically yesterday as he was stranded by police order in his home.

“I’m in Belmont which abuts Watertown,” he explained. Police had ordered residents in Watertown and the surrounding communities to remain at home while they combed the area for Dzhokhor Tsarnaev, “the man in the white hat,” considered to be armed and dangerous.

Among the classes Brown canceled was “Crisis Communication.” Looking out on leafy, upscale Belmont, he said, “We haven’t slept that well. We were up early. It’s exhausting. But we’re not in the kind of danger ... that the people at the Marathon were put in.”

The dread is there nonetheless, however, and far different from the anxiety of the Cold War years when people lived in fear of nuclear war between super powers.

“Now there are many actors who can put tactical weapons into backpacks,” Brown said. “We live in a far more dangerous world.”

Peabody City Councilor Barry Osborne, a safety expert for Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail, got to work via car.

“I had to come in pretty early,” he said. The day started with steps to cancel the trains, which was no small thing. “We bring in 50,000 (people) a day.”

But the public, he said, has been “pretty understanding.”

“It’s a little crazy,” he said of the chaotic day, “but I guess we’ll get through this.”

Ahmad Berdeguez of Salem was planning to fly to Virginia for the funeral of his sister-in-law. He arrived at a strangely quiet Salem Station and realized, “I’m going nowhere.”

He had expected to find some alternate way to make the trip, but that wasn’t the case.

For Salem Taxi driver Rafael Moia, the vacant MBTA tracks were a morning blessing. Several people showed up at the station, he said, only to discover that the trains weren’t running. One hopped in his cab and asked to go to Somerville.

By afternoon, however, the word had gotten out, and a line of cabs, like a yellow caterpillar, waited with nary a customer in sight.

“I came back and it was cleared out,” said Moia, gesturing to the empty lot. “Right now it’s dead. Nothing.”