• Leslie

A Bottom To Top Kind Of Day in Boston

Updated: Apr 13, 2019


The day started at the bottom and ended at the top.

It was the weekend of my daughter’s “white coat” ceremony in Boston. To most people, the white coat is a symbol of the medical profession. To my daughter Ali, it meant the end of her imprisonment in the classroom. She was ready to begin clinicals, to have a “real job.”

I wondered about this mindset. I recall a rather difficult adaption to my first “real job” in the “real world.” I had rather liked being a student. But Ali prefers people to books.

nasty! hip surgery a month before the white coat ceremony because of a freak accident

And Ali and Boston hadn’t seen eye to eye. For her, after college in sunny California, cold gloomy Boston was a joy sucker. Ali had suffered through stress-induced insomnia, hard partying roommates, an ill-fated romance, and hip surgery.

If she were an artist, I would’ve called it her Blue Period.

Picasso, Woman with Bangs, 1902 -- a blue period portrait reflecting Al's blue mood her first year in Boston

But, wait, hip surgery, you say? Most students would crumble. “I handled that well,” said absolutely no one in those circumstances.

But life doesn’t care whether you’re ready for surgery or not. It doesn’t care if you’re a student or have a big exam or a looming trip to Portugal as a much needed geographical cure. It’s relentless. It just keeps trying to crush you. If you let it. Your lot in life hinges on whether you push back.

Fortunately, Ali is pretty pushy. She faces the sometimes mean-spirited vagaries of fate head on and responds with a tiny pinch of f*ck you. And she is willing to believe that better things are on the horizon, even if that might be wishful thinking.

Ali and Alessandro outside Milkweed

As a reward for Ali’s perseverance and tenacity, her big day finally arrived. And she wasn't even on crutches.

The day began auspiciously enough. We brunched at the trendy Milkweed cafe in the Mission Hill area with Ali's friend Alessandro. We feasted. We tried “shakshuka,” a spicy concoction of eggs, cheese, and challah bread. We chatted amiably about life, love, school, and the sometimes difficult job of parenting.

Sated and light-hearted, Ali and I headed back to the Fenway area to primp for the ceremony in Worcester.

nummy shakshuka at Boston's Milkweed cafe

While donning my usual black dress in my Air Bnb, I got a text from Ali.

“My car is gone.”

Had I read that right? Where were my reading glasses anyway? I squinted, my jaw tightened. I had’t misread. I cautiously wrote back, “Towed?” “Yes,” was the reply, “Come over to my place as soon as you can.”

A dread emerged and slithered in my stomach, turning my insides cold. Worcester was over an hour away. We needed to leave now. Would an Uber even want to take us that far? How could this happen on Ali’s big day?

It was like a weird scene added to a movie to create tension.

Ali's car Brooke, towed the morning of her white coat ceremony

I had wondered about Ali parking in a back alley behind her apartment the night before. It had seemed inadvisable, risky even. But Ali insisted that “It's fine, trust me. I've done it before.” Unlike most of the time in my life, I had been worried for a perfectly good reason.

But this was not the time for “I told you so” or recriminations. A practical and speedy solution was needed. How would we get to Worcester, I wondered. Apparate?

I trundled over to Ali’s apartment on Peterborough Street. While my mind leapt to worst case scenarios, Ali was calm and cool. In a matter of minutes, she had borrowed a friend’s car, pinpointed the location of her stolen car, and determined that we could retrieve it before our post-ceremony dinner at The Top of the Hub restaurant.

Ali making like Wonder Woman

Whew, a whirlwind. It was exhausting just listening to it. My daughter was a tornado of efficiency. A force of nature. I hadn't been that efficient in decades.

I was secretly so proud of her.

Fate had doled out another ill-timed dollop of adversity. But aside from a flash of irritation I saw flicker across her big green eyes, Ali was mostly non-plussed and shrugged it off.

I was envious. As everyone in my family knows, I am not a calm person. I am not calm even when it’s logical to be calm. Worry or hysteria can thrive perfectly well in the presence of logic, I’ve found.

This seems to be a recessive trait.

Ali lets most things slide. It’s not that she doesn’t worry or internalize some things; she's human. But she has perspective. She won’t let small things unnecessarily intrude on her life or bring her down. And she doesn’t panic. Throw Ali in the middle of crazy — whether it’s school crazy or family crazy or run of the mill crazy — Ali will coast through it.

an actual picture of Ali and I trying to outrun a forest fire in rural Croatia

I once got lost in an AirBnb parking lot and thought the apocalypse was upon me. In contrast, Ali successfully plotted our escape from a forest fire when we were lost in rural Croatia. Seems crazy, I know, but it's a true story.

High functioning people in life have this essential trait. They don’t wallow in sadness too long. After a spasm of self pity or fury, they just get up and fix things.

Ali is a fixer. Think Varys in Game of Thrones, only not as oily. She fixes friends’ broken hearts, fixes insurance coverage debacles, fixes her bathroom’s shower head, fixes class schedules, fixes her roommate situation. She gets shit done. She makes it work. Then she flounces off fearless, ready to poke the next offending thing in the eye.

But back to the unfolding graduation drama.

Ensconced in Ali’s friend’s car, we raced to the white coat ceremony. We watched the minutes tick slowly by as we drove. Faster, faster, I mentally urged. Miraculously, we arrived on time. I should have expected no less from Ali.

Ali in her hard won white coat

Ali received her hard won white coat. The first speaker was rather charismatic and regaled us with tales of the history of the white coat (it was once black!) and gross bits about medieval medicine.

The second speaker read monotonously from a script. It was so dull that anyone who wasn’t unconscious was bored. I browsed Pinterest on my iPad during this bit. I had a trip to Portugal with Ali coming up, after all.

Soon enough, the ceremony was over and the after party began. Ali, of course, was the most beautiful and smartest student there. There was no one to compare. Her professors raved about her. We had tasty snacks. We took lovely photos. All was well and good, as it should be on such a seminal day.

worrier mother and calm daughter -- we usually look alike but I recently switched hair colors again

Ali and Professor Afsoon, who adores Ali

But there was no time to waste, not a second. We had to collect the stolen car. And so we were off again, James Bond style.

Off to the skanky, sleazy car towing place. This was a place out of The Wire it was so seedy. It had a ramshackle wooden hut as a “reception area.” And the toothless woman with the bad dye job demanded cash. A cash-only cesspool surely can’t comply with any of the bureaucratic niceties of life. It was clearly a ripoff, a scam operation.

But we grudgingly paid up, reunited with Brooke, and once again raced down the highway back to Boston.

Our next destination? The Top of the Hub, a posh seafood place in the Prudential Center in Boston’s Back Bay. We were going from the bottom to the top. From towing to fine wine with a night time view of Beantown.

view from Boston's The Top of the Hub

About itself, the restaurant says:

Soaring 52 floors above the Back Bay, Top of the Hub’s award winning cuisine, service and ambiance of comfortable sophistication blend with the serenity of Boston’s best skyline views to deliver a truly one-of-a-kind dining experience.

After a one-of-a-kind towing debacle, we were ready to be cosseted with a one-of-a-kind meal. Plus, I was starving. There's nothing like a bit of adversity to stoke an appetite.

Better yet, Ali’s boyfriend David was meeting us there.

Ali and David on their school boat cruise

I believe it’s a brave thing to meet your girlfriend’s parents. This is surely not an enjoyable milestone in life. It must be fairly nerve-wracking. But David was perfectly at ease, as if in a Seurat painting.

He was delightful — an intelligent-thoughtful-cool kind of person. I was convinced he had good intentions, which was all that mattered really. This was confirmed when Ali later revealed that he had fretted about his choice of shirt.

Ali's lobster treat

We dined on lobster, shrimp cocktail, and various other delicacies. I met a new love, Bastianich wine, a luscious complex blend of white grapes. We enjoyed the “best view in New England,” which is surely the main attraction of the place. The service was impeccable and Ali was presented with a well-deserved celebratory treat.

my new love, Bastianich Italian wine

Ali with her chocolate cake. Her one vice is a sweet tooth.

Ali also received a fancy stethoscope to commemorate her rite of passage. Ever unique, Ali had requested a turquoise one, not the standard black variety. And I complied, despite my affinity for black. After all, turquoise is a symbol of wisdom and nobility.

a turquoise stethoscope to go along with the white coat

Sometimes in life you get more than you deserve. Sometimes in life the hard work of parenting actually pays off. Sometimes you feel like you've created something great, something that will have a positive impact on the world. Sometimes life is turquoise, not black.

That is my Ali. A shimmering blue jewel in a sometimes blackish world.

That night, as I meditated on the chapters of my life, I felt on top of the world at The Top of the Hub.

-- Leslie