WRITTEN: JUNE 2018
Last month, our high school graduate had to attend her college orientation. Having been through my own college orientations and those of her older siblings, I knew what to expect but this was unfamiliar territory to her. Naturally, she was filled with anticipation, angst and butterflies, which manifested itself in a parade of outfits as she searched for the perfect one, straightened hair to hide the frazzled emotions inside her brain, and an occasional foot-stomping tantrum. On Thursday morning, we arose from restless slumber at 5:30 a.m., showered and dressed, packed and preened ourselves for our trek to the city that she will call home for the next four years. I sit shotgun in the Rover, pull the seatbelt across my chest and lock it in place. Suddenly I feel the weight of the moment, and I peek over my left shoulder into the back seat. Carly has her earbuds in, her fingers tipped with the chipped remnants of her senior prom manicure, her hands grasped tightly around her iPhone. We lock eyes for a moment, and she scowls because we are departing later than she wanted. I smile back. Yes, this is life, and she is leaving me now. The path she will follow will be her own, navigated by the compass we have instilled in her for the past 18 years. My heart is still for a second, as I flash back to that time when the most common place she could be found was on my right hip, tender auburn curls framing her delicate face, her chubby arm tethered to my own. My daydream is interrupted by the sound of bagpipes arising in the distance, growing ever louder. Larry has turned on the radio and the Dropkick Murphy’s are blaring from the car speaker. We are shipping up to Boston, wayyyyy-yoooo!
If you look up the definition of orientation, it is described as “the determination of the relative position of something or someone, especially oneself.” Indeed, Carly is now on her way to a new home in a new state, she will be starting a new life and making new friends, and while she will struggle at first, she will determine her relative position amidst it all, and she will adapt. Just like I and my sister Camille did when we left Prospect to attend college in Boston. Like her father did when he left Boston to make Prospect his home. Soon, she’ll be so oriented to city life, she’ll likely lose her connection to Prospect. Once oriented to a new neighborhood, it becomes your relative position, and sometimes you lose the fluency and familiarity with your former one. It takes time to re-orient yourself with the place that once was the center of your compass. But conditions and surroundings change, and suddenly the old neighborhood doesn’t look the way it did when you last knew it. There are new roads and new buildings, and the local pub on the corner has been replaced with a Starbucks. Re-orienting yourself can be just as challenging as orienting!
Parents were shacked off campus by dinner time and we were left to find our own supper, while Carly and the incoming freshman faced that awkward moment trying to secure a seat next to a friendly face in the cafeteria. Larry and I spent the afternoon meandering around Boston, gleefully identifying places that once were our old hangouts, while exploring new places and embracing our new identity as tourists rather than residents. We enjoyed fresh muddled strawberry and thyme margaritas and hand-fried tortilla chips with a trio of dips at Mija Cantina and Tequila Bar, a new restaurant in Faneuil Hall located next to the Salty Dog, the legendary spot where the story of Larry and Carla began back in 1992. We then traipsed through Government Center, marveled at the stunning new building that now houses my alma mater Suffolk Law School on Tremont Street and walked through the iconic Boston Common, where the diversity of the city is in full bloom. We took a moment to admire the glimmering gold-dome of the beautiful capital building and the window boxes of the brownstones that line the sidewalks by the Public Garden.
For the very first time in our lives, we descended the infamous stairs to the spot where everybody knows your name, Cheers Pub, and snapped plenty of touristy selfies! It was humbling to sit at the bar and take in the surroundings of the television series that served as inspiration to us when creating Jesse Camille’s Restaurant. We swear we saw Frasier Crane and Diane Chamber’s feet descending the stairs through the basement window, and Carla the waitress and Sam Malone pouring beer behind the bar! After Cheers, we went onto some bargain shopping at Nordstrom Rack on Boylston Street, observed public yoga classes in Quincy Market and listened to a barbershop brass quartet outside of Sal’s Pizza. We were intrigued by the string of after-work business professionals waiting for happy hour at the open-air Trillium Brewery, located in the Fort Point area of the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Not only was the concept of an open-air brewery in the middle of the city fascinating, but a mere 20 years ago that area of Boston simply did not exist, as it was dominated by a hulking highway and traffic which Boston diverted to an underground tunnel.
We were heading to the newly developed Seaport area, which back when Larry and I were Bostonians, was mostly a working industrial place where fishing boats docked, fisherman’s markets thrived, and Whitey Bulger took the liberty of a few unfortunate folks’ lives on the abandoned wharfs. We met our daughter, Jesse, whose compass now points to Boston as her home, at Strega Waterfront for dinner. If you ask Larry, he thinks Strega Waterfront is one of the best. If you ask me, I think it’s overrated and prefer the more humble restaurants of the North End.
The next morning, we three decided to take advantage of the Blue Bikes, rentable public bikes which are docked at over 190 stations throughout Boston. For $10, you can rent a bike and ride for 2 hours anywhere in the city, from Boston to Brookline to Cambridge. It’s as simple as inserting your debit card in the machine, which then releases the bike from the locked port, and you are free to roam! Nothing is more invigorating than a bicycle ride along the scenic Charles River Esplanade. We rode from Charlestown to Cambridge, then crossed over the river and peddled back to Charlestown alongside Memorial Drive, taking in the amazing city skyline and beautiful MIT campus.
Indeed, we worked up an appetite, and after returning the bikes, we had lunch at one of our regular spots, The Fours on Canal Street. Known for its New England Clam Chowder, Chicken Nachos and Steak Tips, be sure to try to the Bobby Orr Steak Tip Sandwich which is served with a crock of famous Boston Baked Beans. (And you might notice its stunning similarity to Jesse Camille’s “Mikey Moose” sandwich!) As we walked through the Charlestown Locks, our youngest Sammy discovered Paul Matisse’s Charlestown Bells, a series of handles along the lock gates connected to hammers that gong metal pipes emitting chimes in various octaves. How many times had we walked through the Locks on our way to TD Garden but never noticed them? The exploring continued onto the Charlestown Navy Yard, where we came across the hidden spot where Paul Revere landed his boat in the dark of night before jumping on a horse announcing the impending arrival of the Red Coats. Again, not an obvious nor well-marked location, and one I had never noticed before, despite having lived and worked in Charlestown for almost two years, but a delightful discovery on this journey of re-orientation.
As we walked from the Navy Yard to Charlestown proper, we passed by the Bunker Hill Monument where the Battle of Bunker Hill occurred on June 17, 1775. Ironically, I passed that monument daily when I lived in Charlestown, but I never climbed to the top of the obelisk. Back in 1993, my sister and I shared an apartment on the corner of Monument Square. We passed by that old flat, and how I wish I could have opened up the front door and walked back in time to see my sister as I remember her best – young and vibrant, witty and funny, blue-eyed and beautiful. All those years ago, there we were, embarking on the journey of our lives, establishing our relative position in the world, somewhere between a college graduate and an adult, taking steps forward to becoming independent, but gratefully relying on that internal compass instilled by our parents guiding us always to be responsible, kind and curious about life. My two oldest children, Jesse and Mikey, are already aboard their journeys, and soon, Carly will be embarking on her own. Let’s hope that compass works!
Our Boston re-orientation ended with our family converging upon Fenway Park, but not for a ball game. The Red Sox infield was converted to a towering stage, and we, along with droves of other people, were there to see Zac Brown Band. The skies were starry, and so were our eyes, especially when Zac took the stage, and the band didn’t disappoint playing songs for over 2 hours. As we danced to Chicken Fried, the music was filling the stadium, but the message of these lyrics was heard loud and clear:
It’s funny how it’s the little things in life that mean the most,
Not where you live, what you drive or the price tag on your clothes
There’s no dollar sign on a piece of mind this I’ve come to know
So if you agree have a drink with me, raise your glasses for a toast
To a little bit of chicken fried, and cold beer on a Friday night
A pair of jeans that fit just right, and the radio up
No matter where you roam, no matter what you own, the place your compass will always point to as home is where you have the love of family, the friendship of good people and a sense of comfort and happiness, or as Zac Brown calls it, “a little bit of chicken fried.”
For “a little bit of chicken fried,” fresh lobster rolls, garlic crusted prime rib, and a “cold beer on a Friday night,” all compasses point to Jesse Camille’s Restaurant in Naugatuck. Join us on the patio overlooking scenic Hop Brook! 203.723.2275 www.jessecamilles.com
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