BOSTON — The barricade separating the rest of Boylston Street from the active crime scene that was the Boston Marathon's finish line has become a shrine. Ed Starbuck has become its "unofficial manager."
As people step across the velvet ropes to lay a bouquet or write a message on one of the cards laid out in the street, Starbuck's 5-year-old beagle, Rosie, thanks them with a lick or a nuzzle.
"A couple of days ago, I was on the couch and getting mad like everybody else," the 57-year-old retiree in the red-white-and-blue windbreaker said as a stiff breeze tugged at the flags he has fastened along the metal gates. "And I decided to come and volunteer at the memorial."
Each day since Monday's bombings, Starbuck boards a bus from his home in Hyannis on Cape Cod for the hour-and-a-half ride. During one of his trips, he sewed together a string of small American flags to hang beside a collection that now stretches the width of Boylston and includes the iconic "Don't Tread on Me" banner with the snake.
The barricade runs along fashionable Berkeley Street. Starbuck sat on a plastic milk crate at one end, beside three white crosses erected in memory of those who died in the twin blasts. A pair of running shoes and a marathon medal with its unicorn symbol hung from the barrier behind him, and a string of brightly colored Buddhist prayer flags flapped in the breeze in front of the gathered crowd.
Thursday afternoon, two members of the Massachusetts National Guard's 747th Military Police Company, in fatigues and black bullet-proof vests, laid a unit and American flag patches on the sidewalk in front of Starbuck.
"Thank you," he said to the men, one of whom had a tear clinging to the end of his nose. "You guys are doing a great job," he said of the troops who have been helping patrol the city.
Others take turns volunteering at the barricade. But Starbuck is perhaps the most faithful, arriving home at 2 a.m. Thursday, then turning around and coming back on the morning bus that arrived just before noon.
Starbuck says he's been a sailor, computer operator, landscaper, carpenter and painter over the years. He says he was in an accident that cost him his left eye and most of his hearing, but he won't elaborate. He says he recovered from a bout of post-traumatic stress disorder.
He says manning the memorial is therapeutic.
"It makes me feel a lot better," he says. "The interactions I have with people are really incredible."
Starbuck describes himself as a Libertarian who thinks some of the gun proposals that recently came before Congress went a bit too far. But he shudders at the notion that the bombings might have had something to do with that debate.
"I cherish the values that we have, and I would hate to think of somebody that was born and brought up here and didn't get it — didn't get what America's about," he said. "I mean, part of the strength of democracy is we know what people think. And if there's a problem, the proper authorities take care of it."
Seeing the outpouring of grief and support at the barricade reassures Starbuck that things will be OK.
"When we get into these situations is when we pull together," he says. "And I think this is a reminder that we're all Americans, no matter what political bent we have. And our strength comes from diversity, And we'll get through this."
Except for the bus schedules, Starbuck says "time doesn't exist" for now. He says he will stay and volunteer "as long as it takes."
As he packed up and headed for his bus after dusk Thursday, bank employee Patrick MacDonald of Weymouth stopped to shake his hand.
"Sir," he said to the grizzled volunteer, "What you're doing here is fantastic."