At Boston Marathon bombing site, all signs point to normality

BOSTON — On an April morning a year after two bombs tore through the crowd at the Boston Marathon finish line, there's little sign that destruction once visited Boylston Street.

Bleary-eyed students and hard-hatted construction workers wait at Dunkin' Donuts as a bus rattles past. A bellhop scrubs the shiny door handles at the Lenox Hotel, while a jogger in orange running clothes snaps a photo of the finish line, recently repainted on the pavement in advance of this year's race.

"This is where it happened? Here?" says one man walking down Boylston as a friend points knowingly to the sidewalk outside Forum Bar & Restaurant, where the second pressure-cooker bomb went off.

Photos: Boylston Street one year later

The photographs, notes and running shoes that formed impromptu memorials last year have been carted away for display at a nearby library. Tammy Baker, in from Texas to visit her son and daughter-in-law, found the absence of overt signs of the tragedy puzzling.

"I think my biggest impression is that I don't see any recognition of it," Baker says. "I understand Bostonians don't want to glorify it, but it's not a matter of glorifying it. It's more — recognizing it."

In a town dotted with historical markers, the scene on Boylston is indicative of how Boston, which prides itself on being tough, endeavors to move on after the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

Not that Boston has forgotten the three lives lost and more than 260 people injured. A civic memorial service will be held Tuesday, the first anniversary of the April 15 attack, and there's still anxiety here — a dread that things won't ever get back to normal. But there's a determined sense, too, that they already have.

So if visitors to this two-block stretch of Boylston Street aren't sure this is really where the carnage unfolded, to some Bostonians that's a good thing.

"That's what the bombers want: They want to be memorialized in history. You kind of want to take that away from them," says Jason Reed, a Boston cop for 25 years standing near the former LensCrafters, whose blown-out storefront appeared in countless news photographs.

Still, Reed says, he sometimes thinks that it's strange that the area doesn't have a name, like ground zero in New York.

"This is the spot where the bomb went off, but I think to Boston, it's just the finish line. And I think that's symbolic," he says. "In Boston, you take a lickin', and you keep on tickin'."

This is, after all, a prime area for locals and tourists alike, just blocks from Boston Common, under the glimmering shine of the John Hancock Tower. Duck Tours come down Boylston on their route around the city. Instead of memorials, there's a New Balance ad on a bus stop that reads, "Love Boston," and banners inside stores reminding residents to be "Boston Strong." The ravaged storefronts have been repaired.

"It was a year ago," shrugs George Simopoulos, district manager at Dunkin' Donuts.

But if the external scars are gone, Simopoulos adds, others will take longer to go away.

"It's not just what you see outwardly," he says, "but what people are experiencing inside."

Jose Cruz, who works at Lord & Taylor, thinks of the bombing when he glances at the fashionably dressed mannequins posed at the store's spacious Boylston Street entrance.

He was working in the menswear department when he heard an explosion and suddenly saw people stampeding in, running toward the back of the store. He recalls later seeing the trampled and dismembered mannequins they left behind.

Cruz now avoids large crowds, and saw a therapist the store brought in for employees. He's already asked for the day off on Marathon Monday, April 21, so he won't have to be near those mannequins.

"I was crying for a week," he says. "I'm not planning on being here this week. I don't want to go through it again."