Until I got to college, I had no idea most people call cabs instead of hailing them. I recognize random street corners when I watch Sex and the City—and am offended when people don’t recognize that “the City” refers only to Manhattan.
My love for my birthplace and hometown is rooted in the endless choices of culture and dining, the 24-hour public transportation, and the way you can take a cab from the corner of Eldridge and Delancy up to 83rd and Lex without stopping if you hit the right green lights up First.
More importantly, though, I love the uniqueness of growing up in New York. Being a city kid I learned independence and responsibility early on. As the only child of two working parents, by the age of 11 I was a latchkey kid, navigating the streets with my hand tightly on my bag and my head held high and alert. In high school, my friends and I mimicked the young professionals surrounding us, spending our weekends dining out, visiting museums, and partying at bars after finishing our homework.
By senior year, a favorite game was “pretend it’s your future.” Hanging out at the local coffeehouse, we were 22, recent graduates from our top-choice colleges, working in banking, fortune-telling, anything, when strangers engaged us in conversation. For me it was an easy game, since it was the future I’d envisioned for myself since eighth grade: Go to Harvard. Come back home.
Accordingly, for the past three and a half years, I have on some few occasions considered my time in Boston as a form of exile. It’s like “diet city”— one-tenth the population and half the dining options. But when the craving for the deep-fried, chocolate-covered, cherry-on-top real thing hits, Amtrak gets me there in four hours.
As expected, coming to Harvard has expanded my horizons, or at least stretched them further along the Northeast corridor. I’ve learned to navigate an entirely new and un-grid-like city, adjusted to life without round-the-clock pizza delivery, and come to appreciate the charm of Boston’s brick-laden, cobbled-street neighborhoods. Despite the grudging fondness I’ve developed for Beantown, when senior job panic rolled around, I spent my fall submitting applications, racking up frequent flier miles, and assuming this July would see me safely back in the City, where I belonged.
My first job offer came from a wonderful firm in Washington, D.C.—200 miles south of the mark. Firmly convinced that Amtrak has consumed enough of my student budget in the past several years, I elected to keep looking.
Late in February, getting desperate and reaching out to the sorts of places that fall under OCS’s radar, I did a final search for jobs through eRecruiting. There was one last interesting opening, so I sent my application on its way with a certain amount of indifference. The accomplishments I value most have often been achieved through the more unorthodox path, and I had already resolved that I would appreciate whatever I was doing next year far more if I had reached it on my own.
And then I got the interview. It was an inauspicious start, as I’d nearly forgotten and arrived five minutes late. I walked into 1414 Mass. Ave and shook hands with my interviewer, a second-year analyst and Harvard class of 2003. He asked me about my favorite courses (marine bio), my experience at The Crimson (exhausting), and which key I envisioned myself as on the keyboard (the “[”). He handed me his business card, smiled, and then casually dropped the bomb.
“By the way, you know we’re only hiring for our Boston office, right?”
I gulped, restrained my double-take, and contemplated telling him the truth.
“Oh of course! I’m very excited about being around here next year.”
Either I was very convincing, or the firm was desperate. A few days later, I drove out to Waltham for a final round of interviews—late again. I did my usual, trying to convince another set of potential employers that cubicle-dwelling, soul-sucking investment banking is truly my lifelong dream.
And at last, someone believed me. I’d landed myself another job, the same magical 200 miles away from the City. Evidently, my Job Fairy Godmother has a wicked sense of humor. Was this a sign?
Living with extended uncertainty takes its toll, and for the sake of my friends, my family, and my sanity I needed to have my plans for next year settled. “Boston’s great,” people said. “It’s an amazing place to be right out of college.” I couldn’t blame them. They’d never been to New York.
“You need a job,” my parents said. “We need you to have a job. We think you should take this one. New York is not going anywhere.”
A more persuasive argument.
So I took it, and postponed fulfilling my eight-year-old dream. Suddenly things look very different for next year. I’ll have to find roommates, and an apartment. I’ll have a driving commute. I won’t have my father’s shrimp scampi or my mother’s mocha cake every weekend. Guess what? I’m a little excited.
Staying in Boston is a chance to really live in Boston. To know where the border lies between Back Bay and Beacon Hill, watch the marathon and understand Patriots’ Day, and take other T lines besides the Red. Much of the Class of 2005 is sticking around to go to graduate school or work at other local firms, so I won’t be too lonely.
I have a hard time letting go of things, memories, people and places, and now I don’t have to. While my classmates face the long goodbye of Senior Spring, I know I can always come back to visit friends or grab a drink at Daedalus. All the things I meant to do these four years, like walk the Freedom Trail or skate on Frog Pond, don’t need to be expunged from my extended “To Do” list quite ye
And now that I am gainfully employed—and therefore, in the words of my mother, an asset rather than a liability—when I need my full-calorie City I can sometimes take the Delta shuttle. It’s only two hours that way.
Ashley B.T. Ma ’05, an economics concentrator in Leverett House, was business manager of The Crimson in 2004. The way she drives, it’s only three hours to the city.