The Day After


My father and I went for a walk today. I had to go to the post office and the bank; he wanted to leave the house. So we walked and as we walked, we talked about simple things: the weather, gas prices, potholes, a neighbor’s magnolia tree. He told me not to waste money on a cup of coffee; he would make some when we returned home. The conversation became even more mundane when we entered Walgreens and he made a passing comment about how he should avoid the candy aisle.  And then we walked home.

It was a perfect walk.

My father is a character. I frequently make fun of him, his non-sequiturs, and his inexplicable love for Notting Hill on this blog. But I do it out of love and respect. Every so often, I’m reminded how the things I have come to appreciate about my father, the things I didn’t appreciate about him until after he retired and I moved back home, could very easily not exist.

Days like yesterday, when the city I used to call home is devastated by the first act of terrorism in the US since 9/11.  After checking in with my sister and friends, my only reaction was to observe my father as he watched the news coverage. I was reminded of being 12-years-old, sitting in the same TV room, watching the news coverage on 9/11 and waiting for my dad to call. This is a strange memory I constantly live with. It’s an uncanny feeling and one that I’ll never fully grasp.

The experience of observing a terrorist attack from a distance is equally profound. When bombs go off in cities overseas – it doesn’t matter whether it is in Kabul or London – there is a false sense of security.  We tell ourselves that because the attacks are happening over there and not here, we are safe. Because there hadn’t been a domestic terrorist attack since 9/11, we were safe. I sometimes think that since I experienced a terrorist attack in one of the worst imaginable ways, nothing else can happen to me. This is my own futile, self-preservation tactic.

But with Boston it is different. The city has been one of my second homes.  I escape there as often as I can. My sister and many of my friends live there. Family and friends have run in the Boston Marathon.

There is also the fact that I am now old enough to process and understand this attack. Unlike 9/11, which forced me to realize that the world existed beyond my self-involved pre-teen self, I can see a bigger picture.

So I’m met with an overwhelming numbness, a sense that “Okay this happened. Now what?” I’ll be supportive when I need to be. I’ll follow the news. Maybe I’ll be more observant of a stranger’s behavior when I’m in public. But mostly I’ll just go about my day.

My father and I won’t discuss what happened in Boston yesterday. We don’t need to. When something of that magnitude happens, there is an understanding that once the initial shock wears off we are to continue with our lives. We don’t analyze the event and we don’t watch the news. Tomorrow my dad will give a tour of the National September 11 Memorial as he does every week and I will go to work as I do every day.

And I’ll continue to cherish the simple act of going to Walgreens with my father as he debates what mouthwash to buy. (He always picks the discounted store brand.) I know all too well how it couldn’t be happening like this.

A Moment from Goodbye Solo

One of the frustrating downsides of living in Boston is when the public transportation stops running and you are forced to take a cab. Last night was one of those nights when I missed the last T by a millisecond, had to put my stubbornness aside and take a taxi. This cab ride ended up making my night because of the resemblance it had to Goodbye Solo, Ramin Bahrani’s 2008 film about a Senegalese cab driver in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

Goodbye Solo is one of the three independent films my senior thesis examined and this film has a very special place in my understanding of American film. I have spent hours, days, weeks analyzing scenes from this movie, only learning to love it more the more often I watched it.

Solo, the protagonist in Goodbye Solo, is a Senegalese immigrant searching for his American dream. He is married with a sassy stepdaughter and a baby on the way. (His son’s birth cements Solo’s status as an American citizen.) He dreams of leaving his taxi behind and becoming a flight attendant, an aspiration dripping in symbolism. Solo’s life is turned upside down when he meets William, a cantankerous elderly man who asks Solo to drive him one way to Blowing Rock, a place entrenched in North Carolina legend.

Solo suspects that William wants to commit suicide and decides to show William kindness and the greatest aspects of life in an attempt to prevent his decision. Solo introduces William to his family and his friends. The two men develop an odd-couple relationship that builds from contempt to a mutual respect that is so touching that the final sequence, set at Blowing Rock, is absolutely heartbreaking in what it does and doesn’t reveal to us about what will happen to these two characters we come adore.

Solo is in infallible character and, in my opinion, he is one the best to emerge from American cinema in the past decade. His spirit and passion for life is contagious. This is how director Bahrani intended Solo to be read and appreciated by viewers. When he began production on Goodbye Solo, Bahrani saw an overwhelming number of depressing films and documentaries about the Iraq War and the general state of the country. He saw the need for a character who could inspire audiences and remind them of the goodness of the human spirit.

For me, having watched Goodbye Solo more times than you can even imagine, just thinking about Solo or being reminded of him in any capacity makes me beyond happy. That is why when I set foot in a cab where the driver was a real-life Solo, exuding the same charisma as this fictional character, my night was made and my bitterness over having to take a taxi in the first place washed away.

It is moments like this one reinforce that why I love the cinema more than anything else and why, if I am lucky, I can find my way back to studying it one day. Movies have this unparalleled way of finding their way into your life. Stories, characters, performances, scenes – everything on the screen – has a way of only enhancing the banality of the real world. A seemingly mundane cab ride, meant to take me from point A to point B, become something special. That’s the magic of cinema and why movies are just wonderful.