Basically All of Boston Is Offering Stranded Runners a Warm Bed and a Fuzzy Dog

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
April 16 2013 4:14 PM

Basically All of Boston Is Offering Stranded Runners a Warm Bed and a Fuzzy Dog

Rufus, a lab mix who lives in Inman Square, stood ready with his owner Bo Williams to offer comfort to anyone who needed it after the Boston bombings.
Rufus, a lab mix who lives in Inman Square, stood ready with his owner Bo Williams to offer comfort to anyone who needed it after the Boston bombings.

Photo courtesy of Bo Williams

Amid the chaos of Monday’s bombing, paramedics rushed to help the victims, doctors tended to the wounded, police investigated, and bystanders gave blood. But that still left millions of Bostonians on the sidelines and aching to help any way they could.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

So when word broke that street and hotel closures would leave some runners and spectators stranded, some quick thinker set up a simple Google Doc where Good Samaritans could offer food, shelter, and a hot shower to anyone who needed it. The response was astonishing.

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The spreadsheet went up at 5:39 p.m., asking volunteers to post their name, contact information, and a brief description of what amenities they could offer. By 5:42 p.m. there were more than 100 responses. By 6 p.m. the list had ballooned to 1,000 and people were adding their names at a rate of more than one every second. As of Tuesday afternoon, 24 hours after the first explosion, more than 5,500 people had signed up to open their homes to anyone affected by the blasts.

They offered clean beds, futons, indoor hammocks, and sleeping bags. They promised dinner, drinks, showers, toiletries in Quincy, Dorchester, Brookline, and the Back Bay. Those farther afield offered rides and subway fares.

Who knows how many people took them up on it, if any. Clearly the supply of generosity exceeded the demand. But that doesn’t matter. For anyone tempted to question the goodness of humanity in the wake of a very public act of pure hatred, the list is a salve in itself.

One of my favorite entries was among the first:

Inman Sq. is a pretty long walk from downtown, but if you have a way to get here we are happy to help. We have an inflatable mattress and a fuzzy dog to pet.

That came from Bo Williams, a 37-year-old software engineer, and his mutt Rufus, a rescue dog. I called Williams today and asked if there were any takers. He told me there weren’t. “So far the only thing to come out of that is that I’ve gotten a lot of reply-all emails from people on the list telling everyone else to stop hitting reply-all,” he said, laughing. Yes, he and the others on the list gave up some privacy, and perhaps some foul-hearted scammer somewhere will take advantage of their trust by sending them junk mail, or worse. But so far, Williams said, “It’s actually quite heartwarming—I’ve gotten quite a few emails from people just emailing those of us on the list to say thanks for offering.”

Williams was hardly the only one to offer the comfort of a household animal. Others mentioned “a loving bunny,” “a gentle black lab named Bettie,” and “a cuddly cat to love you.” Some apologized in advance to anyone with allergies.

Quite a few offered their own beds, content to sleep on the floor. Hundreds apologized for the modesty of their accommodations. One admitted that the best she could do were a pair of “arguably comfortable” couches. Most played up the positives: “I’m a good cook,” promised a woman in Waltham. A house in Allston touted “beer and cookies.” A Financial District flat advertised “hot pea soup.”

The generosity was inclusive: “Won't hold it against you if you're a Lakers, Yankees or Cowboys fan.” Almost everyone regretted that they couldn’t offer more. By this morning, people were writing in from Pennsylvania, North Carolina, all over. Some had only their condolences to give: “We are praying for all." “Our thoughts are with you." “I’m so sorry for what you are experiencing.” “There are untold numbers of us who care for you.” And then there was this:

I am in Texas and so want to help. I can only offer money to someone that may need it for whatever reason. Family members that cannot afford to get to Boston, etc. Texas is here for you.

Thanks, Texas. Thanks to everyone.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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