A runner walked away from the finish line in tears / Taylor Dobbs

Confusion and fear on the ground in Boston

The bombs sounded like fireworks. The screams sounded like the cheers that had poured through my open window for hours. It wasn’t until I saw “explosion at the finish line” on Twitter that I took out my camera bag, snapped on my zoom lens and ran out the door, shoes untied and sockless.

A mother was comforting her crying child – no older than the boy who I would later learn was killed minutes earlier. The crowd from the marathon was streaming past me, north toward the river.

From across the street, it still looked much like the marathon always has: Police in bright green vests managed crowd control as spectators milled around, waiting for the runners. But as I approached the metal barriers on Commonwealth Avenue and Hereford Street, three blocks from the finish line, I could see it was all wrong.

A runner wept in the arms of a man who led her back up the street she’d just passed through, exhausted.

Another runner stumbled, supporting herself on the barrier. She hadn’t finished. Her name was Kit, and she asked me to send a text message to her family in Florida.

“Did she fall?” they replied. The news was still young.

Those were the only runners. It was just after 2:00 on the afternoon of Marathon Monday, Boston’s moment in the spotlight, and the flow of delirious athletes had stopped. Only men in uniform were running to the finish.

The ambulances started arriving before the crowd dispersed. The blaring siren joined the others echoing down Hereford St. Police tried to clear a path through the chaos.

The crowd thinned, and Boylston Street cleared. The police presence had thickened and a few members of the National Guard were arriving, as if out of nowhere.

Spectators left at the urging of police and a growing number of Guard troops. Those who remained frantically checked their cell phones, dialing and redialing to try to reach their runners on the overburdened cell networks. Despite rumors of cell blackouts in the afternoon, I was able to send text messages and tweets all day.

A few lucky families connected with their loved ones. Others remained panicked, holding out hope, for the first time all day, that theirs had been the slow ones, stopped on Commonwealth Avenue, about a mile short of their goal.

“The runners are starting to suffer from hypothermia,” a Boston police officer said. “We need to get them out of here.” They tried to coordinate busses to bring people across the Charles to MIT, but a crowd that large – even one made up of runners – doesn’t move quickly. Family members made their way toward the stagnant mass of runners, holding their last-mile signs high for all the wrong reasons.

Eventually, the runners were allowed to proceed, but instead of turning right on Hereford and left on Boylston, down the final stretch among cheering fans, they’d turn left, away from the finish. Some jogged anyway, determined to run 26.2, whether it counted or not. The onlookers that remained applauded.

A couple found each other then. They shared a long hug, then he shared a sweater.

Many other runners passed wearing only trash bags to cut the cold.

Half a dozen more ambulances filed in, then the trucks. Bigger, blacker trucks rolled into the city all day.

Some looked bulletproof, some I’d never seen the likes of before. They were all filled with people wearing dark clothes and guns.

The runners, an officer told me, had been moved to the Common, where they would gather their things and find a place to stay for the night. But there were a lonely few of them there, and they were far outnumbered by men with guns.

A young father, the baby strapped to his chest nearly tangling in police line, had a question, and a SWAT officer who looked more fit for a war than a Boston sidewalk on a Monday afternoon, casually answered. “They haven’t told us anything,” was a common response on the Common, even when I asked where the runners were.

Across the field a person sat awkwardly, hands bound, in the grass. Two officers stood casually nearby. I took to Twitter with a photo of the scene. In the pixelated sunlight, I could make out a white hooded sweatshirt, the hood down, and the bright white orb of the detained person’s headwear. It was impossible, from such a photo, to draw any conclusions.

Tweets came back fast. “What is the guy wearing that they are standing around?” and “Maybe it's just me, but is the individual wearing a headscarf?”

Next Story — Rolling Stone was too hard on Tsarnaev
Currently Reading - Rolling Stone was too hard on Tsarnaev

Rolling Stone August 2013 cover/Rolling stone

Rolling Stone was too hard on Tsarnaev

The magazine didn’t glorify him, they stripped him of his rights.

There’s a mountain of evidence against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. There are photos of him smugly walking away from the death and destruction wrought in April. He was found bloodied hiding in a boat at the conclusion of a manhunt of historic proportions.

But he wasn’t declared guilty.

The high-horsed rage spilling from the internet and the Boston community over the new Rolling Stone cover is misdirected. Nearly all of it is based entirely on a presumption of guilt, despite the fact that Tsarnaev plead not guilty to all charges against him.

The wounds those blasts opened aren’t closed, and so many feel so much raw hurt and loss still today. How could someone, some monster, come to Boston and ruin families and futures of so many innocents?

We haven’t yet healed, and Rolling Stone is asking us to stare into the eyes of the person with whom we associate so much pain. But our painful memories and the holes in those lives don’t make him guilty, they don’t make him a monster.

The Tsarnaev brothers haven’t been proven guilty in the court of law, and we haven’t yet given Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the fair trial he’s entitled to. The publication that proclaims his guilt in massive letters and calls him a monster is being ostracized for being too easy on him, for putting him in the sacred company of societal idols like Snooki and Justin Beiber.

The First Amendment, which gives Rolling Stone and anyone else the freedom to print and say what they want, is in near-constant conflict with the Sixth Amendment, which gives people like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the right to a fair trial.

As soon as we take that away from anyone, we’ve already lost.

America shouldn’t be mad that the Rolling Stone gave attention to an alleged terrorist, we should be mad they didn’t say “alleged.”

Next Story — Racing News: Hunting the Manhunt in Watertown
Currently Reading - Racing News: Hunting the Manhunt in Watertown

Racing News: Hunting the Manhunt in Watertown

Squeezed between two infant seats in the back of Seth Mnookin’s Subaru Forester, I found it almost impossible to know what was going on. The engine was probably roaring, I knew, but I couldn’t hear it over the sirens of the passing police cruisers — a steady stream racing past us and into Watertown. Seth’s iPhone was producing noises I’d never heard before. Gunfire sounds more like punctuated static than a “pop” over police scanners. My iPhone advised us to turn — the path illuminated on the screen was a dull glow compared to the string of flashing lights pointing us to the scene.

I’d hooked up with Mnookin and photographer Brian D’Amico at MIT. When I got a text message from my girlfriend, “There is a shooting at MIT,” I tied my shoes, took my laptop, and headed out the door. I ran across the Massachusetts Avenue bridge. “On my way to MIT,” I tweeted. “Will update ASAP.” Officers sent me to Main Street, where cameras were already set up and a string of police line made its way across the road. “Large media presence already,” I tweeted, showing a picture of the TV trucks on the scene. Mnookin sent me a Direct Message right away. He was there too. He came over and introduced himself, and, being an MIT professor, explained the layout of the area. We stood idly as police pushed us further back. I tweeted updates about the number of police cars and where they were from, and where Main St. was closed. There was no hope of discovering the victim’s identity, and the police didn’t want to talk. Via Twitter, we learned that the officer who’d been shot, died. Police began to pour out of the crime scene. Not “situation-resolved-let’s-get-back-to-the-station” pouring, but “engine-rumbling-that-reporter-better-move” pouring. They were going somewhere.

Having been relegated to foot travel for my three years in Boston, I shrugged. End of the line for me.

‘“I brought my car,” Seth said. I knew who he was, but we’d only just met. I couldn’t tell if he was a maniacal professor or a reporter with a nose for the news. He teaches at MIT, so the odds were split. Amico and I hopped in and Seth unplugged his headphones and the chatter of a very excited police department filled the car. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but Seth hit the gas. “Where’s 800 Memorial?” The shooters had jacked a car and kicked their victim out at a Shell station. When we pulled up, there were about five police cars and the Shell station was taped off. Nothing was going on. We walked around, took some photos, and checked Twitter.

“Lowjacked to Watertown,” I read aloud. I hadn’t looked up and Seth was making for the car. “Let’s go,” he said.

Again I climbed between the child seats in Seth’s car, a routine that was becoming almost comical. I wedged myself in there and asked for an address.

As we drove, the mood in the car shifted from boyish thrill — what reporter doesn’t dream of being in front of the pack, chasing a story before the police arrive? — to serious. Officers were yelling to each other amid gunshots. “They’re throwing explosives!” we heard. Seth didn’t react, eyes focused on the road. He’d been to Iraq, he’d covered the D.C. Sniper. If I was going to be safe on this scene, it would be with him.

We pulled up behind the last cruiser, which had just stopped in residential Watertown. I climbed over the seat and stayed close to the edge of the road. An officer was jogging down the road past us and called out a warning.

“We got shots fired. Somebody's throwing explosives,” he said to us. I tweeted the quote and stopped walking. It was a dark, unfamiliar street full of flashing lights and scared people with guns. But then they were running back to their cars, taking off down yet another street. We debated taking the car. Brian wanted an escape plan if things went bad. Seth wasn’t so sure. We drove as far as we thought we could and parked. I got out of the car slowly, leaving my bag behind. If there was going to be a gunfight, I wouldn’t be wearing a messenger bag. I looked for a street sign. Nichols and Dexter, it said. An officer hurried past, gun drawn. This was real now.

“Identify yourselves!” a voice boomed. I turned quickly into the bright light pointed at my face. I might’ve hesitated long enough to enjoy a faceful of pavement, but Seth snapped off, “Press,” all of our hands instinctively raised. The man with the light paused. “Screw!” a voice from behind us. Seth: “Where?” I was still trying to figure out how to identify myself, knees shaking, as Seth carried the circular conversation quite well. “Screw!” again.

“Where do we go?”

“Get out of here!”

In an unintentionally confrontational voice, I somehow got a “tell us where to go” out of my throat.

“Can I at least move my car?” It was no use.


We chose a street and jogged a block. They were arresting a driver. America would see him later, naked, loaded into a police car.

The police line went up. Seth tweeted every aspect of the arrest. I was in a daze. By now, Seth had figured out that he, Brian, and I might very well be the only three reporters watching the arrest of the Marathon bomber. I was still thinking a simple 7-Eleven robbery had gone out of control. A comically off base assumption, considering the police response and explosives, but it was late. I hadn’t slept much since covering the bombing Monday. I was again live-tweeting what I thought was an amazing metro story, and it again became the center of national attention.

People had caught on, and I couldn’t even get all my incoming @ replies to load in one refresh. Seth had more. We fell into a rhythm. Things were happening fast, and it was impossible to know which shouted command from police would be the most important quote of the whole night.

“Are you tweeting that?” I’d ask.


“Okay, I’ll retweet. Brian, do you see anything?”

We almost always had at least one pair of eyes on the action, and we almost always had tweets going out when something was happening. When it seemed like there was no update to give, we just weren’t looking hard enough. I glanced down cross streets, watched the photographers with the big lenses. Seth, I’m sure, had his own cues. Brian, an experienced breaking news photographer, knew what to look for when police moved around a crime scene. We’d talk a lot sometimes. Should we move? Did you hear that? What’d they say? Scanner says the suspect was hit. Did you see an ambulance?

The crime scene started to fade. Cars were leaving one by one. A State Police spokesman, David Procopio, updated us. Seth and I tweeted quotes furiously.

“One more suspect at large.”

“One accounted for,” I tweeted. Press would be staged at another area. This scene was mostly done, Procopio said. We could stay, but there would be no more press briefings.

Seth’s car was well inside the police perimeter, and we weren’t getting to it any time soon. Our laptops and charging cables would have to wait for us.

A gracious L.A. Times reporter, whose name I forget, gave us a ride to the staging area and allowed me to charge my phone.

In the car, I got a tweet from Wired’s Adam Rogers in response to the news that I was heading to the staging area.

“And that's the end of on-scene usefulness. Sorry, Taylor.”

It was true. Anything I would find out at the media staging area would be streaming live to TV audiences everywhere. We were done. We kept tweeting updates and answering questions. People nearby offered to bring us phone chargers via Twitter. Someone offered me a sandwich. Around 4:30 a.m., we cleared out. The news had broken, and we’d been there.

I collapsed into my office chair at 5 a.m. Boston was being closed down, one system at a time. We were entering lockdown, and we’d left just in time. I replied to tweets and followed others I knew were still on the ground.

At around 7 a.m., my groggy roommate walked into my room, rubbing his eyes.

“Dude,” he said, reading alerts on his phone, “did you hear what happened?”

Next Story — How I Used & Abused My Tesla — What a Tesla looks like after 100,000 Miles, a 48 State Road trip…
Currently Reading - How I Used & Abused My Tesla — What a Tesla looks like after 100,000 Miles, a 48 State Road trip…

How I Used & Abused My Tesla — What a Tesla looks like after 100,000 Miles, a 48 State Road trip, 500 Uber Rides, 20 Rentals & 2 AirBnB sleepovers.

Most $100,000 cars are babied by their owners. Never taken out except on a warm Sunday. Garaged and kept with extremely low mileage. Only driven by the owner, not even allowed to be driven by a spouse, much less a stranger.

Not my poor Tesla.

I’ve worked that thing like a rented freaking mule.

So, you ask, how did the Tesla hold up? What’s it actually look like now? What are the exact operating costs, repair numbers and dollars spent & earned on this car over the 2 years of ownership?

Read on to find out all the gory details…and the photos to prove it.

It all started on August 27th, 2014 when I purchased my Blue Tesla Model S P85. I bought it used with 35,000 miles from a local Phoenix owner for $79,000. It originally sold for well over $100K when new.

Here’s the car when I bought it with the original 21" Turbine wheels:

In just under 2 years, on August 16th 2016, I reached dual milestones: 100,000 Miles and 500 Uber Rides.

100,000 Miles & 500 Uber Rides happened within the same hour on August 16, 2016

As this was the first really expensive car I’ve owned, I needed to find a way to help pay for the car. Naturally, Uber came to mind so I signed up and actually gave the first official Uber ride in Flagstaff AZ when they opened the market on September 17th, 2014. As it turned out, this would be just one of many firsts for this particular Tesla. Here’s the tweet from the Uber rep in Flagstaff:

I ended up getting commercial insurance as I wanted to do UberBlack, the high end service. However, I didn’t actually get activated on Black for another 5 months as there was a waiting list in Phoenix. My first UberBlack ride was worth the wait: It was during the SuperBowl in Phoenix, and it was a ride that cost $305 of which I made $225.

My First UberBlack ride during SuperBowl 49 in Phoenix

During the same SuperBowl week, something crazy happened. My Tesla was getting world wide press.


Oh, just this little story about how I rented out my Tesla as “The World’s Fastest Hotel” on AirBnb. The story went completely viral as it was on CNN, CBS, ABC World News Tonight, and more blogs than I could count.

And yes, while I turned down several potential renters I did have 2 automotive reporters pay $85 & $385 (after I upped the price hoping to discourage more guests) to sleep in my Tesla as it was parked in my garage.

Awkward? Oh hell yes.

Funny? Certainly.

A real business idea? Ummm, that would be a big fat NO.

That media frenzy is what inspired my next Tesla adventure, the admittedly poorly named “Million Dollar Tesla Trip”. It was a 4.5 month, 27,615 mile journey across all 48 States plus Canada where I video interviewed interesting & inspiring people in the Tesla as we drove across the country. Interviewees ranged from founders of incredible charities, to the former Driver for Martin Luther King, several authors, lots of fellow Tesla owners, and another cross country road tripper who was volunteering with 50 youth organizations in all 50 States. It became the longest continuous road trip in an electric vehicle (unofficially) and I was the first Tesla owner to visit 200 SuperChargers. Read about my Top 11 Tips for Road Tripping in a Tesla.

After completing the massive road trip, I started renting my Tesla out on Turo.com, the “AirBnB for Cars” in October of 2015. Since my job is renting out Vacation Rentals, it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to rent out my Tesla. Turo provides the match-making service as well as insurance, so it’s worth their 25% cut.

Since I ditched my commercial insurance before the trip and wasn’t too excited about the low UberX rates, I didn’t restart driving for Uber till July of this year. I’m able to do UberX, the cheapest service, along with Select which is reserved for nicer cars and is about 2X the price although only about 1 in 15 rides is Select. Once I started though, it’s become somewhat addicting, but the beauty is I can quit or slow down any time.

Uber’s prices are so low, it really doesn’t pay to drive for Uber in an expensive vehicle especially if earning an income is your only goal. Personally, I wouldn’t Uber in any car besides a Tesla. I do it for several reasons: a great excuse to drive more, sharing the Tesla experience, and it’s fun meeting the mostly cool passengers. If you use it smartly, it can be a lot of fun, and slightly profitable.

There is no better way an individual owner can help Tesla achieve its mission “To Accelerate the Advent of Sustainable Transport” than to drive for Uber or Lyft.

One of the ways to Uber with very little time investment is to use Uber’s commute option where it only offers you riders going your same direction. This way you are paid for going where you were going already. Make someone smile while making some lunch money. Not too bad.

Total Cost of Ownership:

Cost of Tesla: $79,000 used with 35,000 miles

Regular Maintenance Cost over 65,000 miles in 24 months:

  • “Annual Service”: $600 (Yes, I’ve only done this once at 49,000 miles. Probably not a bad idea to do another soon)
  • 2 sets of tires: $1700
  • Oil Changes: Hahahahaha
  • Brakes? Nope. The regenerative braking does 95% of the work and recharges my battery at the same time.

Total Maintenance = $2300

Out of Pocket Repairs from 50,000 to 100,000 miles:

  • 12v Battery $400
  • Door Handle Repair $1000
  • Wheel well fasteners $80

Total Repairs = $1500

Total Maintenance + Repairs = $3800. Keep in mind, 65,000 miles is 5 years of “normal” driving at 13,000 a year.

I’d love to hear about any other $100K car go that far (with 50,000 miles out of warranty) and cost less than $4000 ALL IN? Oh, and I’ve probably spent less than $1,000 on electricity as well.


Uber — 500 Rides totaling $6,142.47 in 9 active months = $682 average per month. Less than 1 month was on UberBlack. Most of it was on UberX & Select.

Other Rides: $360

Turo — 20 Rentals totaling $6652.25 in 11 months = $604 average per mo.

AirBnb— 2 Rentals totaling $470

Total Tesla Income =$13,624.72 / 24 months = $567.69 a month average

Tesla Road Trip Savings: My 27,615 mile (the circumference of the Earth is 24,901 miles) 48 State plus Canada road trip cost $8.37. I had to pay for electricity 2 times, the rest was FREE thanks to the Tesla SuperCharger network. There were about 180 SuperChargers when I started the trip. There are now almost 300 in the USA. Gas savings assuming a 25 MPG car using a national average of $2.75 a gallon = $3037.

I also used the “Tesla Hotel” about 20 times out of the 132 nights on the road since the Tesla allows you to run the A/C or heat all night with no issues. With an average hotel cost of $75, this saved me $1500.

Total Road Trip Savings of just over $4500.

Should I have purchased the Extended Warranty?

As 50,000 miles approached, I had to decide whether or not to purchase the Tesla Extended Warranty for $4000. This would extend the regular warranty to 100,000 miles. My choice? I was confident in the Tesla so I rolled the dice. No warranty for me.

As I hit 100,000 miles, I finally found out if I had made the right decision.

As noted above I spent $1500 out of pocket versus $4000 on the warranty so I made out by $2500.

Tesla also has an 8 year, unlimited mileage warranty for the Drive Train & Battery. This was great, as I did have the drive train replaced at about 65,000 miles and the battery replaced at about 76,000 miles. Tesla service was beyond fantastic in dealing with both issues and I was on my way with zero out of pocket cost.

The moral of the story? The Tesla isn’t a typical prissy $100,000 car. It’s meant to be driven, and driven hard. It’s not just a daily driver, it’s a high performance yet practical and extremely safe car. It’s better than a traditional car in so many categories it’s fall down funny.

So, you want to see the 100,000 mile photos??

Tesla with 100,000 miles and 19" Cyclone wheels — not as sexy as the 21’s but more economical
A few bits of road wear. The Xpel protectant has helped avoid rock chips
Some Road Rash courtesy of the concrete jungle: Manhattan, NYC

In my opinion, the Tesla has held up very well. Most of my Uber riders are very surprised when I tell them the car is almost 4 years old. Yes, there are a few more minor blemishes on the paint, but nothing out of the ordinary for 100,000 miles. I really don’t think you could tell any difference between my car and any other with similar milage even though I’ve given 500 Uber rides and rented the car out 20 times to complete strangers on Turo.

I implore any Tesla owner to throw out any notions of keeping your Tesla to yourself because you are worried you will ruin the car.

Share the hell out of it!

Sign up for Uber or Lyft and give people rides. Trust me, their reactions alone are worth it when they hop in your Tesla. Let others get a taste and they will soon realize what we already know. Let’s help spread the word about these world changing cars. My experience should prove that your car can take all the abuse you can dish out and then some.

Bonus Prediction:

I think even Tesla fans and industry analysts are massively underestimating what Tesla will do in the next few years with the cheaper Model 3 that should be fully autonomous shortly after it’s released. I think Tesla could sell 1 to 2 million units a year by 2020.

Tesla Model 3 starting at $35,000

To clarify, I believe the demand for that volume will be there, but the hard part is being able to ramp up production that fast. Odds say that will be tough to pull off.

However, once people realize they can pay $35,000 for a killer car that can earn them $30,000 in a year by simply pressing a button and telling your car to go pick up passengers for you while you work or sleep — it’s game over.

Wait, a car that makes me money?

Wait, a car that can drive me across the state for free, while I sleep or get work done? It can autopilot me through stop and go traffic, but I can drive it like Mario Andretti on the weekends?

Yes, please.

Not only will this affect car sales, but airlines will see more people shifting to driving vs flying and it will even make not owning a car more practical. This, along with many other ripple effects we are not even thinking about yet.

Bring on the disruption. It’s coming and coming fast. Just like a Tesla.

Next Story — Gene Wilder Was Right: Gilda Radner Didn’t Have To Die, And We Need To Talk About Why She Did
Currently Reading - Gene Wilder Was Right: Gilda Radner Didn’t Have To Die, And We Need To Talk About Why She Did

Veteran actor, comedian and writer Gene Wilder passed away this weekend after battling Alzheimer’s — unbeknownst to any of us. His family said in a statement that Wilder hadn’t wanted the public to know he had the disease; mostly that he didn’t want children to know. After all these years, he’s still immortalized for many, kiddos and grown-ups alike, for his titular role in Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. Wilder was, even in recent years, frequently recognized by tots passing him by on the street. How could he not be with his striking corn-flower blue eyes that were a little wild, his electro-frizzy hair, his somewhat sad, worried face?

Wilder hadn’t wanted to frighten, or disappoint, “the countless young children that would smile or call out to him, ‘There’s Willy Wonka’” — which to me anyway, seems exactly like the kind of thing I’d expect Gene Wilder to do. Just what he always did, what he made a life, a career out of doing: tucking away his own grief, his own world of sadness, so that he could focus on making people laugh.

Perhaps the only time in Wilder’s life where his grief bled through, where it permeated every aspect of his life and turned the spotlight away from comedy and onto the often times devastating consequence of falling in love, was after the death of his third wife, beloved Saturday Night Live comedian Gilda Radner. Wilder met Radner on the set of a film aptly titled Hanky Panky, (in her memoir entitled It’s Always Something, she wrote that he was “Funny and athletic and handsome, and he smelled good.”) They married a few years later in the south of France (“Because Gene loved France,”).

Radner was a comedian who (not unlike Wilder, not unlike the late Robin Williams) had intense internal struggles and deep grief that informed her talent for making people laugh; for making them happy. As a child and teenager, Radner struggled with her weight and had “every possible eating disorder from time [she] was nine-years-old.” When she was 12, her father was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor that caused him to slowly deteriorate over the course of the next two years before he died, during which time he was completely bed-ridden and could not speak.

As she went off to college and eventually got her shot at stardom as a cast member on Saturday Night Live, the details of her eating disorder began to emerge via stories from cast mates, and Lynn Redgrave (who was bulimic as well) admitted that the two of them had discussed their disordered eating while sitting next to one another on a plane; reportedly the first time Radner had ever owned up about her condition to anyone.

Flash forward to 1985. She was 38-years-old and had been married to Wilder for a year. They wanted to have children, but she was struggling to conceive. In fact, she’d been struggling to conceive for at least a year before they were married, when she’d stopped using birth control entirely.

She had a procedure to assess the function of her fallopian tubes, which showed that she was infertile, and may have been a harbinger of what was to come. In her memoir, she recalls the look on the nurse’s face as they ran the test, thinking it odd that she looked so sullen: “What could be lovelier than Gilda Radner and Gene Wilder having a baby?” she wrote, “The hair alone would make people squeal with delight.”

She was offered the possibility of in vitro fertilization, an option that Wilder supported so long as the trial of it didn’t impact their marriage negatively, saying that “A baby was best off coming into the world to two people who were happy together.”

In recalling the consideration of in vitro, she talks about having an illegal abortion when she was 19-years-old (“that probably influenced the messy state of my reproductive organs”) an experience that returned to her as she tried to come to terms with the fact that she might never have a baby at all.

For me the issue became less whether I wanted a baby or not and more my inability to accept not being able to have one.”

She did a lot of research about IVF. She and Wilder went through the slog of preparation that many a couple does when they’re trying to conceive this way: the ultrasounds, the laparoscopies, the coming-into-a-cup. She describes the sequence in her memoir and one can’t help but feel incredibly worried by the image of Gene Wilder, with his big, sad eyes, trying to ejaculate into a cup next to a stack of Playboys in some nondescript, sterile closet-like hospital room at UCLA. When they had completed the entire cycle of IVF — and no pregnancy resulted — it was Wilder who said “never again.”

So, she instead elected to have her tubes opened surgically — a fairly risky procedure in the mid-80s, when this type of “microsurgical technology” was still relatively new. Once her tubes were opened, she was tasked with figuring out when she was ovulating so that they could be sure to have sex in that window to optimize her likelihood of conceiving. She got those little at-home ovulation kits (“Where you are the scientist,” she wrote) but didn’t tell Wilder. She recalled the fervor of one morning when she couldn’t get the cap off the test vial. Desperate, she raced into the bedroom, poked a still fast-asleep Wilder, and said, “Don’t ask me any questions, just take the lid off this vial.” He did, and he never asked her about it — having done so while still fast asleep.

You could say a lot of things about Gene Wilder, but you can’t say that he didn’t love the devil out of Gilda Radner.

My ovaries became the center of my universe,” she wrote, and it’s with an incredible sense of irony that we can think about this statement now. We know that, within five years from that image of exhaustedly buoyant Radner skidding to that bedside with a little ovulation kit, she would be dead from ovarian cancer. As many nights as she lay awake with anxiety about not being able to have a baby, that she worried about her “closed tubes” or the painful cycle of IVF, of whether or not her anxiety was driving her husband up the wall — she never would have suspected those little almond-sized organs, which she was trying to nurture into submission, would take her life.

It was during the filming of the third (and final) film she did with Wilder, in England, that she began experiencing some troubling symptoms: extreme fatigue, bloating, leg weakness. She’d also missed a period. Could it be that, because they had stopped focusing on having a baby and started focusing on the film, that she’d somehow gotten pregnant? She sent her dresser to the local pharmacy to get a couple of pregnancy tests. One, which she took right away (positive) and one that she would take home to do when she was with Wilder. That one was positive, too, and Wilder put the little blue stick in his pocket as they walked through their neighborhood.

“The weather was warm and we held on to each other and sang quietly while our brains darted through this new phase of our life. We like to sing the song “Ohio” in harmony when we are happy, mainly because I’ve got the harmony down for the whole song except for one line near the end. I never get it right and that always makes us laugh.”

A few weeks later, as she continued to feel not-so-great but chalking it up to early pregnancy, she began to bleed heavily on set. She assumed she was having a miscarriage and called her doctor, who told her to lie down and rest. She was supposed to shoot a scene in the afternoon where she would mostly be sitting. She told Wilder what was happening and they agreed that she might as well stay on set; they hadn’t told hardly a soul that she’d been pregnant, and they both agreed they needed work, and each other, to get through it.

She bled for two weeks, during which time she recalled also getting a rather terrible flu that had been going around the set. By the time filming wrapped up and they returned to Los Angeles, she was feeling run down, but assumed that everything she’d been through was just catching up with her.

One otherwise ordinary Sunday in 1986, she and Wilder were headed to a friend’s to play tennis when she suddenly fell asleep in the car, apropos of nothing. She wrote that it was like “being hypnotized into this deep sleep” and “like a fog rolling in over my brain.”

Wilder recalled the event too — the day in his mind when everything about their life began to unravel: “She said, ‘’I can’t keep my eyes open. I think I’m going to fall asleep.’’ She lay back and looked like she had taken a sleeping pill.”

By the time they arrived for their tennis match, she’d rallied. But she still made a doctor’s appointment. “There was nothing wrong with me,” she recalled them telling her — except that she had some elevated Epstein-Barr virus antibodies, as many people do. Epstein-Barr is the virus that causes mononucleosis, among other fairly common conditions. In the mid-to-late 1980s, Epstein-Barr was also a popular “garbage bag” diagnosis for all kinds of fatigue-related symptoms.

Her internist also suggested that her symptoms could be due to depression. He patted her on the back and told her to relax.

A week or so later, she began running a low-grade fever. She called her doctor who told her not to worry about it. The “weird life” as she called it continued. She would be fine for maybe ten days and then, “seemingly around my menstrual cycle, I would go into this severe fatigue and run a low grade fever, then I would be okay again.”

She recalled trying to do as much as possible on the days she felt well, because she knew that there would be a few days where she’d hardly be able to get out of bed. Then, just when she thought she’d spotted a pattern, it started to strike her seemingly of its own volition. By this time, if she hadn’t been before, she certainly was depressed about her health.

And who wouldn’t be?

But she did wonder what came first: the illness or the depression? Her doctor continued to suggest that she was just “emotional” and prone to worry — that the events of the preceding years, paired with her turning 40, were causing her to become depressed which, in his mind, was in turn causing her cache of symptoms.

That spring, she began having pelvic cramping on top of everything else. She went to her gynecologist who assured her that nothing was wrong; it was just “mittleschmerz”, the sensation some women can feel at the time of ovulation. “Now I had Epstein-Barr virus and mittleschmerz,” she wrote, “Fitting diseases for the Queen of Neurosis.”

She and Wilder made their annual trip to the south of France, where they had married, and she noticed that each afternoon she’d need to take a nap. She’d started taking a heap of vitamins, hoping to bolster her immune system, but to no avail. She was dizzy, tired, uncomfortable. She kept running low-grade fevers. Their last night in Paris she got so sick after dinner that Wilder had to call a cab to get them back to their hotel room. She chalked it up to nerves about flying home.

Over the next few months, the grinding fatigue continued as well as a seemingly never-ending plague of stomach and bowel problems. Her doctor said she was probably taking too many vitamins. She saw another doctor who thought her stomach problems were — surprise! — the result of her anxiety and depression.

Then she got a new symptom: aching, gnawing leg pain that started in her upper thighs and spread into her already weak legs. It began slowly, like a dripping, and then progressively got worse and worse. Her doctors told her to take a Tylenol.

Though at this point, there was one doctor who thought doing a pelvic sonogram would be useful, just to “rule out” anything serious. Like cancer. Her ovaries “weren’t exactly in the place where they were supposed to be,” but the doctor told her that wasn’t really a cause for concern. There was some “congestion” in her pelvis, but that didn’t seem too serious either.

“Everything is fine,” they told her, “There is nothing to worry about.”

She took Tylenol. She played tennis. For a while, she began to feel a little better. She wasn’t quite so tired, she wasn’t quite so worn down. But the leg pain got worse, and her doctor gave her a high-dose of anti-inflammatory medication which caused her to have terrible nausea and vomiting. So her doctor gave her medication to reduce the acid in her stomach so that she could take the anti-inflammatory medication.

All her tests were normal.

But she began to notice a gauntness in her face, and she seemed to be losing weight in her arms. She was losing weight everywhere, and too much. For a woman who had struggled with her weight, who had been bulimic even, to notice that she was getting too thin was quite a realization. The pain, the illness — it couldn’t have been in her head. Or could chronic pain, she wondered, make you lose weight?

She went to see a doctor in Boston who gave her an antidepressant. When she didn’t seem immediately placated, he asked her what she was so afraid of. “I am afraid that it is cancer,” she told him.

He told her to just keep having her blood drawn and to stay in touch with her doctor “so that you can set your mind at ease.”

She went home. She saw a new gynecologist. He did a pelvic exam and told her that she had some scar tissue, but everything else was normal. He told her that she could keep trying for a baby, if she wanted to.

She was sick, exhausted, on all kinds of medication — and frankly, recalled having no interest in sex whatsoever, given how lousy she felt every day, and how much pain she was in.

She tried acupuncture. Holistic medicine. She took supplements.

Still, the pain in her legs kept her up at night. She bloated so severely that she really did look pregnant — which must have been such a fantastically cruel reminder of what she had not been able to have.

Her doctor told her she was literally “full of shit” and gave her laxatives. She went back to her holistic practitioner and had a colonic. “I will never forget looking past my swollen stomach at the tube, and the only thing that floated by was a bean sprout,” she wrote, “Just a single bean sprout went by.”

October 20, 1986. Radner’s doctor calls with the results of her recent blood tests. Her liver function, he says, was irregular.

She asked him what that meant.

“It’s probably nothing,” he said, but he wanted her to come in anyway.

That night she didn’t sleep — “Gene held me, talked to me and finally got me to take something to sleep,” she wrote — and how many nights over the preceding months that she had been so sick had that scene played out in just the same way?

She was checked into the hospital the next day for more tests. “We’ll get to the bottom of this,” Wilder told her as they sat in her hospital room, waiting. Exhausted, the both of them.

A few days of tests came and went. By Friday, a doctor came into her hospital room where she and Wilder had been chatting, just watching television and waiting.

They told her they had found a malignancy. Cancer.

“Gilda cried,” Wilder recalled, “but then she turned to me and said, ‘’Thank God, finally someone believes me!’’

On Sunday morning, they operated.

When she woke up in recovery, Wilder was at her side. “They got it all, everything they could see,” he said. And he held her.

She got a fever. Then she got pneumonia. She was in intensive care for 5 long days. While she remembered little of what happened, Wilder later filled her in. Journalists were hounding the hospital trying to find out what had happened. He had to change her name on all the medical records, (“Lily Herman” was what he came up with — Lily, for what they had dreamt of naming a daughter, and Herman, for her father’s name).

Hospital staff eventually changed both of their names to “Lorna and Stanley Blake”, which became something of an inside joke between them and the nurses that cared for Radner over the next few weeks.

It was also during this time that she realized — after the surgery was already over — that she had been given a complete hysterectomy.

She would never have a baby.

She remained in the hospital and started chemotherapy. Incidentally, this brought about one of my favorite passages from her memoir, where she talks about how a nurse tried to calm her down and help her sleep at night without too many drugs:

Radner and Wilder, two people who had known such a deep pain that they could somehow transmute it into bringing joy into other’s lives, lay entangled in a hospital bed night after night, trying to find the tiniest bit of joy in the situation they’d found themselves in. In one another.

“I would cry as easily as I’d laugh,” Radner wrote of that time, and she spent a good deal of her days trying to come up with ways to make the nurses laugh, the doctors, her family and friends — and her husband.

Radner’s doctor told her she was lucky. There could be a cure. The chemo might mean the cancer would never come back. But the reality was no one, not Wilder, not Radner, not the doctors who misdiagnosed her, the doctors who treated her (kindly and unkindly) knew enough about ovarian cancer to help her. Wilder points this out in the now recirculating op-ed for PEOPLE where he talks about why he opened up about Radner’s struggle after her death.

For weeks after Gilda died, I was shouting at the walls. I kept thinking to myself, ‘’This doesn’t make sense.’’ The fact is, Gilda didn’t have to die. But I was ignorant, Gilda was ignorant — the doctors were ignorant.

With Wilder’s passing this week, we lost not just a phenomenal comedian, a beloved actor and artist, but a champion of a women’s health issue that is simply not talked about enough. After Radner’s death, when she was just 42-years-old, Wilder continued to advocate in her honor. He found out everything he could about ovarian cancer. He asked about how he could help — and then he used his fame, his resources, to do exactly that.

Wilder remarried and, when he died, had been happily married for 25 years. While he is so often remembered as being paired off with Gilda Radner, he was only married to her for 5 years. It’s easy to get wrapped up in their quirky, comical love affair — which was, at its best and brightest, a tale of two probably near insufferable goofs who fell in love and did something about it.

But it was the 25 years after Radner’s death, when Wilder sought to change the world for the better as a tribute to a woman he once loved, whose life was cut tragically short, that is the true testament to not just the love they had, but to the kind of man Wilder was. The legacy of not just laughs, but love, that he’ll leave behind.

“I wanted a perfect ending,” Radner wrote toward the end of her life, “Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”

Abby Norman is just another writer/asshat on Twitter. She’s currently writing a memoir for Nation Books and is represented by Tisse Takagi in NYC.

Sign up to continue reading what matters most to you

Great stories deserve a great audience

Continue reading